Abortion protests in Washington DC

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).

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This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. Bruce

    With each new generation, comes the realisations of some of the mistakes of the former.

    Something to do with evolution I suspect.

    Many practices of the past are no longer practiced.

    Abortion should soon join the practices of old.

    Sometime in the not too distant future, people will look back in disbelief and horror at many of the practices of today.

  2. Bruce

    With every passing moment comes another chance to turn it all around.

  3. Bruce

    Or overturn it into the ground.

  4. Ross Hendry

    I thought you had a typo for a minute given how close the spellings of abolition and abortion are (well in my mind anyway). YOu can propbably give me the history of both words and the latin root to explain why they are similer.
    However, to my main point- I agree with you that research like this is very helpful. In fact the issue of having a consistent approach to life (i.e. you can’t campaign against the violence and death caused by war without being moved about killing unborn children) is picked up very strongly by Jim Wallis in his much publicised God’s Politics, which is worth a read if you have not picked it up yet.
    Oh, and by the way you have one FACTUAL ERROR in your blog. Tony Blair has never been a left wing leader. At best he is a smidgen to the left of centre – though that is to be doubted at times!

  5. Peter Wakeham

    Dear Mark,

    Yes learning from history is very useful, but the point
    “it was only with the politicization of the abortion debate in the 1980s that the links between fighting war and abortion began to fade”, is wrong in that today there is a consistent prolife movement, of non-religious, pro-woman and pro-human rights people.
    In the UK Live & Let Live! (secular pro-life for humans and animals, opponenst of the religious pro-lfe movement) still make the connection between war, abortion and the deah penalty and we illustrate how abortion is more to do with men’s rights rather than women’s. My wife has been a pro-life feminist for 30 yeras plus and she asks doubters to read the views of the feminist pioneers who opposed abortion.
    E.G. Susan B. Anthony In her publication The Revolution, was written: “Guilty? Yes. No matter what the motive, love of ease, or a desire to save from suffering the unborn innocent, the woman is awfully guilty who commits the deed. It will burden her conscience in life, it will burden her soul in death; But oh, thrice guilty is he who drove her to the desperation which impelled her to the crime!”

    Love peace and compassion to all sentient creatures

  6. Christoper Helfer

    I am searching for RSS feeds for my new blog I’m starting and found yours. Will you be writing more on this? It’s always good to find quality information on this subject. Thanks again.

    1. quaesitor

      Hi Christopher – thanks for the comment. I tend not to have a particular agenda in what I blog about. It is merely a matter of whatever strikes or provokes me. So we’ll see what happens…!

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