The Pro-Life Movement’s Aspirational Moment

In the fall of 1973, horrified by the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision earlier that year, a lawyer in the Labor Department organized a meeting of a small group of women in her home. Nellie Gray, a Texan and veteran of the Women’s Army Corps during World War II, worried that the anniversary of the monumental decision would pass by without being remembered. And she had reason to think so. Many considered this the end of the conversation over abortion.

While the Catholic Church was vocally opposed to the practice of abortion, evangelical Christians had a mixed response. Christianity Today condemned the ruling as “counter not merely to the moral teachings of Christianity through the ages but also to the moral sense of the American people” while the largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist convention, was initially ambivalent. A poll taken a few years before Roe found 70 percent of Baptists supported the right to abortion. Few pundits and prognosticators thought this would be a contested issue in American life.

Yet what Gray and others catalyzed in those early days grew: 20,000 people showed up in January 1974 to march past the Capitol and on to the Supreme Court in what would become an annual rite for those who care about the sanctity of life. Evangelical philosopher Francis Schaeffer toured the country with Boston pediatric surgeon C. Everett Koop, giving lectures on the moral horror of abortion and touting their video and book, Whatever Happened to the Human Race? Pro-life ethicist Richard Land became the Southern Baptist Convention’s chief public policy spokesperson. Ronald Reagan, who had signed legislation loosening abortion laws in 1967 as governor of California, ran for president in 1980 promising to oppose the practice. Shortly after he wrote a small book, Abortion and the Conscience of the Nation, outlining his beliefs.

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Daniel Darling is an author, pastor and Christian leader. Prior to his leadership of the Land Center and faculty role at Texas Baptist College, Darling served as the Senior Vice President for Communications of the National Religious Broadcasters. He also has served the Southern Baptist Convention as the Vice President of Communications at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

Dan is a bestselling author of several books, including The Original Jesus, The Dignity RevolutionThe Characters of ChristmasThe Characters of Easter and A Way With Words. He is the general editor, along with Trillia Newbell, of a small group study on racial reconciliation, The Church and the Racial Divide and is a contributor to The Worldview Study Bible.