Catholics' efforts to overcome the culture of death

This month marks the 35th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's fateful Roe v. Wade decision, by a 7-2 majority, that women have a constitutional right to abortion.

Since that decision, nearly 50 million unborn children have been aborted in the United States.

The numbers are discouraging. But as we report extensively in this issue (see insert), the pro-life movement refuses to give up.

Pro-lifers head en masse to rallies like this weekend's March for Life in Washington, D.C. They picket abortion clinics. They lobby politicians. In academic journals, they work to develop further the reasons for their position. And they provide concrete charity to women in crisis pregnancies.

One reason for the pro-life movement's remarkable energy and durability is that the experience of the past few decades has shown that the stakes are higher than just overturning abortion.

Pope John Paul II used to talk about a clash between the "culture of life" and the "culture of death." It's become clear that 50 million abortions has gone a long way to deadening America's sensitivity to the value of human life.

Lest one think this perception springs purely from a religious standpoint, read our interview with famous atheist pro-lifer Nat Hentoff.

"This disrespect for human life that is abortion," Hentoff says, "has led to a much deeper and much more dangerous disrespect for human life, in terms of euthanasia and so-called assisted suicide, and now the ability supposedly to predict the future of an unborn child genetically."

While it's clear you don't have to be a religious believer to be horrified at abortion, it bears noting that U.S. Catholic efforts at all levels -- from lay volunteers to the sophisticated lobbying and public relations of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops -- are undoubtedly the single-largest driving force behind this country's pro-life movement.

There is no other single religious group that has dedicated so much time, talent and financial resources to reversing the legacy of Roe v. Wade. All these efforts promote a culture of life, whether it is dramatic legislative change or the softening of one desperate woman's heart to the life growing in her.

And what's astonishing to realize is that behind every pro-life effort that receives media attention, there are many more that receive little notice. An extreme example is the hidden prayer work of thousands of contemplatives behind cloister walls. But one I just discovered is a lay group that has solicited prison inmates to knit baby blankets for expectant mothers at a crisis pregnancy center.

Write me your "hidden" pro-life stories at

- John Norton