Why shouldn’t pro-lifers be discouraged? 

After all, since its legalization in 1973, there have been roughly 50 million abortions in the United States. After a steady decrease since the 1980s, the annual number of abortions has stuck at about 1.2 million. 

According to the abortion-industry-allied Guttmacher Institute, a shocking 22 percent of all American pregnancies (excluding miscarriages) end in abortion. The numbers are even higher among racial minorities and the poor. 

Pro-choice advocates were among those expressing shock and dismay when New York’s health department released detailed abortion statistics last year showing that 41 percent of all New York pregnancies (excluding miscarriages) end in abortion, but the number is closer to 60 percent for non-Hispanic blacks. 

And for the Church in the United States, it is a sobering and distressing reality that even today, after decades of intensified pro-life advocacy and catechesis, 28 percent of American women obtaining abortions identify as Catholic. 

But as we mark the Roe v. Wade anniversary, and the annual March for Life in Washington that draws hundreds of thousands of motivated young demonstrators for the dignity and value of all human life, it is also worth noting that the pro-life movement is bearing much good fruit. 

First is the much-discussed evidence that an increasing number of Americans identify as “pro-life” rather than “pro-choice” — even, in some polls, a slender majority.  

Some of that, as two staunch pro-choice advocates noted somewhat grimly in a Washington Post op-ed a year ago, is that science has made “the fetus more visible. Today, the first picture in most baby books is the 12-week 3D ultrasound, and Grandma and Grandpa have that photo posted on the fridge.” This picture, like the ultrasound image of the baby’s beating heart, has done more to change people’s perceptions than all the angry debates and sloganeering. 

That increased awareness of the humanity of the fetus has been reflected in a raft of new legislation restricting abortion. Half a dozen states have enacted “fetal pain” legislation, banning abortion after 20 weeks. And at least one state is toying with limiting abortion to before fetal heartbeat is detected, usually at 6 to 10 weeks. 

In fact, reports the Guttmacher Institute, 2011 saw a record number of new state laws — 80, which is more than triple the previous year — restricting abortion in some way, whether through “fetal pain” laws, or through measures designed to ensure that women are not being coerced into the procedure or making the decision on limited information, like mandated counseling or ultrasounds, increased waiting periods, and parental notification and/or consent. 

Such incremental improvements should give pro-lifers hope and renewed firmness of intention to end abortion in this country. 

Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput said it well not long ago when he noted the ultimate goal is renewing a culture of life. 

“If we change one heart at a time,” he said, “while we save one unborn life at a time, the day will come when we won’t need to worry about saving babies, because they’ll be surrounded by a loving and welcoming culture. 

“Will I see that day with my own eyes? I don’t think I can hold my breath that long. But then, I never expected to see a Polish pope or the fall of the Iron Curtain, either. ... 

“The future depends on our choices and actions right here, right now, today — together.”

Editorial Board: Greg Erlandson, publisher; Msgr. Owen F. Campion, associate publisher; Beth McNamara, editorial director; John Norton, editor; Sarah Hayes, presentation editor.