This past week’s 47th anniversary of Roe v. Wade was marked, as it is annually, by opposing rallies in Washington for either overturning or for upholding the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion on demand.
The occasion brings out those who are stridently pro-life or pro-choice, but public opinion polls have consistently shown that most Americans are somewhere in the middle. They don’t like abortion, but they don’t like outlawing it either. They are more of the mind of making it “legal but rare,” and statistics on abortion in the U.S. show it trending in that direction.
In their most recent reports, the Guttmacher Institute, which advocates for abortion rights, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is neutral, both show that abortion numbers have fallen by more than half since their 1990 peak. In 2017, the latest year reported, the abortion rate among women of child-bearing age, according to Guttmacher, was the lowest it has been since the Roe decision came down.
Although the trends are hopeful, “rare” is not yet an accurate description for the frequency in which abortion is being performed. The CDC’s latest annual estimate was more than 623,000, but it acknowledges that is probably an undercount since not all states provide data every year. Guttmacher put the number at 862,000.
When you only focus on the statistics about abortion, as instructive as they are, it is easy to get lulled into complacency, blocking out of your mind what goes on in abortion mills and how it has dehumanized this nation.
Until something or someone wakes you up again.
Like Kathi Aultman, a retired Florida obstetrician and gynecologist who used to moonlight as an abortionist and had an abortion herself before she entered medical school.
“I’ve killed more people than Ted Bundy,” she writes in her eye-grabbing opening to a recent op-ed column in which she explains her later conversion to the pro-life movement.
“Coming to terms with the fact that I was a mass murderer was devastating, but it compelled me to speak the truth.”
Aultman is not the first abortion-rights defender to have a 180-degree change of heart. Norma McCorvey, the “Jane Roe” of the landmark abortion decision, would later say her involvement in the case, which opened the way to terminating millions of the unborn, was the biggest mistake of her life.
President Donald Trump may be the next-most-famous side-switcher. Twenty years ago he pronounced, “I am pro-choice in every respect,” only to embrace the pro-life movement when he decided to run for president as a Republican. On Friday, he became the first president in history to make a personal appearance at the March for Life annual anti-abortion gathering in Washington.
Trump’s conversion may be more of an act of political expedience than moral sincerity. Still, to his credit he has followed through with appointing conservative jurists who might at least scale back, if not overturn, the specious ruling that took abortion out of the purview of the states and created a constitutional right to privacy that does not exist in our nation’s founding document.
Aultman, however, has nothing to gain personally from her conversion other than to maybe absolve her conscience a little. What her testimony and that of other converts might do is nudge the country closer to eliminating the majority of abortions — those that have nothing to do with rape, incest or the life of the mother but are performed simply because the pregnancy is unwanted or inconvenient.
Aultman said that when she started performing abortions, she had no qualms about it.
“I was amazed by the perfect little fingers and toes but treated fetal remains like any other medical specimen — with no emotion. I even performed abortions while I was pregnant. The difference was clear to me at the time: My baby was wanted; my patients’ babies weren’t. I saw no contradiction in that.”
Her experience, though, with three abortion-seeking women would convince her that she couldn’t do it anymore. One patient, on whom Aultman had previously performed three abortions, came for a fourth, employing the procedure as casually as one might use contraception. The second’s callousness about the life that had just been extinguished caused Aultman, maybe for the first time, to think about an aborted fetus as a baby. The third was a mother of four who felt she couldn’t manage a fifth child but who was overcome with terrible sadness and guilt before, during and after the abortion.
“It was the grief of a woman who knew the moral gravity of what she was doing that ended my abortion career,” Aultman writes.
Even after she stopped performing abortions, the physician did not become pro-life immediately. She began, however, to notice over time in her medical practice how young girls who chose not to abort seemed to do better psychologically than their older, more educated counterparts who did abort.
“Ultimately I could not shake the realization that the only thing that decided the fate of the baby was whether he or she was wanted or not. The former was born. The latter was killed. The life or death of a human being should not be so arbitrarily decided.”
Aultman’s epiphany is exactly the point. The only way to stomach an abortion is to consider that life growing inside the womb as something less than human. Once you see it as a developing child, to end its life is the moral equivalent of infanticide.