There was a fascinating short article in the latest BBC History Magazine (as well as a really helpful pull out section on the anniversary of slavery’s abolition) about some recent research into the history of the abortion debate. It is worth quoting in full:
“Going to War Over Abortion”
The current debate over abortion in the USA is polarized, with pro-choice opinion coalescing around the political Left and pro-lifers being associated with the Right. yet, as Richard Hughes of Illinois State University reveals in Burning Birth Certificates and Atomic Tupperware Parties: Creating the Antiabortion Movement in the Shadow of the Vietnam War (The Historian, vol 68, no 3), when the anti-abortion movement took off int he 1970s it had much more in common with the radical anti-war movement.
As the Vietnam War drew to a close in the early 1970s, former activists became instrumental in the pro-life movement, in response to a Supreme Court decision overturning abortion restrictions. They saw similarities between the violence conducted against the Vietnamese and unborn babies. Protesters sang “All we are saying / Is give life a chance.” One jailed anti-abortionist said, “We can’t fight for peace and kill children.”
The tactics used by the anti-abortionists also echoed those of the anti-war activists. Opponents of the Vietnam War organised a March Against Death in 1969. In 1974, the March for Life began. in both campaigns, horrific photographs of young victims were used to engage on an emotional level. The haunting image of a napalmed Vietnamese girl became an aborted foetus left in a bucket. According to Hughes, it was only with the politicization of the abortion debate in the 1980s that the links between fighting war and abortion began to fade. BBC History Magazine, Vol 8, no 3 (March 07) p66.
This sort of research is helpful because it reminds us how fluid political creeds and public opinion actually are. It seems extraordinary today to imagine that a pro-life stance was a battle-cry of the left – almost as bizarre, I suppose, as it was for a left-wing British Prime Minister to be so wholeheartedly supportive of a right-wing American president’s determination to invade Iraq. But a close study of history often reveals how much things do change – the status quo is never as stable as we might imagine, wish or fear. Just look at how focal green (environmental) or pink (homosexuality) issues have become to British politics in just a few years (or even months in the case of the former).
Yesterday’s taboos or irrelevances become today’s causes and battle cries, and these in turn become tomorrow’s assumptions or norms. And what is true in politics is too often true of theological preoccupations and debates. And so we have to be very careful whenever we mount our particular hobby-horses that what we are doing is consistent and faithful to the Word that is the same yesterday, today and forever (John 1:1, 14 and Hebrews 13:7-8).