Charles Dickens opened his novel "The Tale of Two Cities" famously: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."
Pro-lifers today in the United States know the feeling.
While there's a tendency to focus on the worst -- the uncertainty of a pro-choice Congress and White House, and stepped-up political advocacy from abortion providers like Planned Parenthood -- pro-lifers can be buoyed by incontrovertible evidence that their movement is gaining ground.
Nearly four decades after the fateful Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, Americans are the most pro-life they've ever been, according to a recent survey conducted by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.
"In Pew Research Center polls in 2007 and 2008, supporters of legal abortion clearly outnumbered opponents; now Americans are evenly divided on the question, and there have been modest increases in the numbers who favor reducing abortions or making them harder to obtain," the center reported in early October. "Less support for abortions is evident among most demographic and political groups."
The data shows that a statistically equal number of Americans think abortion should be legal or illegal in all or most cases. That's an increase of about 7 percent toward the pro-life position in just a little over a year.
All across the board -- Republicans, Democrats, Independents, Republican-leaners, Democratic-leaners, Protestants, Catholics and Jews -- Americans are professing less support for legalized abortion.
Why the shift? Pew speculates that the election of "a pro-choice Democrat may be a contributing factor."
Whatever the reason, it is good news that pro-lifers can expect to build upon.
While the most pro-life age demographic in the United States is now seniors, a significant number of Americans who weren't even born when abortion was legalized in 1973 are pro-life. The study shows that a full 44 percent of those aged 18-29 say abortion should be illegal -- the same percentage as those aged 30-49 and 2 percentage points higher than those aged 50-64.
Our In Focus this week profiles some of these new young leaders in the pro-life movement (see Pages 9-12). Spanning the ages of 13 to 33, they are passionate about their cause because, in the words of one, they see abortion "as the civil rights issue of the day."
"We are the generation that is going to get this done," says another.
To be sure, the data holds some shadows, too. Although it shows that pro-life and pro-choice activists are more committed than ever to their causes, the issue of abortion rates lower in importance for most Americans, likely because of anxiety of the tanking economy. Today just 15 percent of those polled call abortion a "critical issue," compared with nearly twice that number in 2006.
But the 36-year-old pro-life movement -- one that still consistently draws hundreds of thousands of peaceful protestors to Washington, D.C., in the blustery cold of January for the annual March for Life -- not only is not fading away; it shows signs of growing ever younger and more energetic. And as the numbers demonstrate, it gradually is winning the hearts and minds of Americans.
The pro-life vision, ultimately, reflects the generosity and promise of our nation to protect those most marginalized -- the immigrant, the minority, the infirm, the handicapped and the poor -- which is why it must prevail.
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