Right-to-life advocates applauded their movement's continuing response to Roe v. Wade, the Jan. 22, 1973 decision that struck down all state bans on abortion.
"Forty-one years ago, if you had asked someone, 'What will the pro-life movement look like in the year 2014?,' they probably would have replied back, 'Are you kidding? There won't be a pro-life movement in 2014,'" said Russell D. Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), in a statement for Baptist Press.
"And yet, today I watched thousands of people march down the streets of our nation's capital to protest laws that dehumanize and destroy living human persons," said Moore, who participated in Wednesday's March for Life, which is the centerpiece of pro-life activity each Jan. 22 in Washington.
Tens of thousands of pro-lifers participated in the annual event despite snow on the ground, a temperature of 15 degrees and a wind chill of minus 1 when they began the procession to Capitol Hill.
Rick Santorum, formerly a Republican presidential candidate and U.S. senator, told participants at another event Jan. 22, "No one would have predicted that 40 years after Roe versus Wade that teenagers and 20 year olds would be more pro-life than the generation that gave us Roe versus Wade.
"The bottom line is: Truth is on our side; science is on our side; young people are on our side," he said at ProLifeCon, a conference for pro-lifers who blog and use social media. "This movement's winning."
Rep. Chris Smith, R.-N.J., the leading pro-lifer in Congress, said at the rally on the national mall that preceded the March for Life, "he pro-life movement is alive and well and making serious, significant and sustained progress.
"Rather than dull our consciences to the unmitigated violence of abortion, the passage of time has only enabled us to see and, frankly, better understand the innate cruelty of abortion and its horrific legacy -- victims -- while making us more determined than ever to protect the weakest and the most vulnerable," he said, according to a draft of his speech.
The 41st anniversary of Roe followed new reports released by both pro-life and pro-choice organizations that documented the grim toll of legalized abortion, as well as inroads by its opponents:
-- An estimated 56 million unborn babies, or more, have died by abortion since Roe.
-- The annual total of abortions has fallen from 1.6 million in 1990 to between 1.1 and 1.2 million in recent years.
-- States have enacted 205 laws restricting abortion during the last three years, including 70 in 2013, according to a Jan. 2 report by the Guttmacher Institute, the research arm of the abortion rights movement.
State restrictions "have helped immensely" in reducing the number of abortions, said Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), in a Jan. 21 news conference.
"he right-to-life movement is succeeding because even after 41 years and more than 56 million abortions, the conscience of our nation knows that killing unborn children is wrong," she told reporters.
Pro-life advocates need to maintain and change, pro-life leaders said.
"As churches, we must continue to call for justice for the unborn while pointing burdened consciences to the forgiving mercy of God through the blood of Christ," Moore said.
Santorum told the ProLifeCon audience at Family Research Council's headquarters in Washington, "e are a movement that I think has learned lessons, and we continue to learn lessons about how to ... put our foot forward.
"We just need to keep loving, keep working and do so with a smile on our face," he said.
Also at ProLifeCon, Joe Carter, the ERLC's director of communications, urged pro-lifers -- especially those operating online -- to stop considering themselves "activists" and accept the role of persuading others "to recognize the intrinsic dignity of all humans."
"In order to be more persuasive we need to change the perception of our movement," Carter said. "Instead of being viewed as pro-life activists, we need to be viewed as normal people who simply want to champion the cause of human dignity."
Neither the March for Life nor Twitter -- despite their ability to rally pro-lifers -- are means of persuasion that will produce a pro-life America, he said. Yet, social media can be helpful to the pro-life cause, Carter told the ProLifeCon audience. A photo of a baby on Facebook is the "most powerful and persuasive pro-life tool," and posting, "liking" or sharing such a photo can produce change, he said.
"If we want to be more persuasive for the pro-life cause, we need to find more ways like this to change the context," Carter said. "We don't need to do this by showing pictures of bloody fetuses to trigger a gag reflex. We need to do this by evoking our neighbor's natural love and protective instinct for children."
"We need fresh thinking about what methods work, and a ruthless weeding out of methods that don't," Carter said. "Too often we've simply been late, sloppy adapters of tools that were already created.
"For far too long we've judged ourselves on the nobility of our cause rather than on the effectiveness of our efforts. But it's because our cause is so noble -- and so urgent -- that we have to do better."
In a report it released Jan. 21, NRLC included the following in chronicling the successes of states in enacting pro-life laws:
-- 29 states have enacted effective parental involvement laws.
-- 27 states have passed measures requiring informed consent for women considering abortion.
-- 24 states have approved bans on coverage of abortion in insurance plans.
-- 23 states have enacted provisions requiring clinics at least to offer an abortion-minded woman the opportunity to see an ultrasound of her baby.
Americans United for Life (AUL) released Jan. 14 its annual state rankings in protecting unborn babies and their mothers.
AUL's 10 most protective states were: (1) Louisiana; (2) Oklahoma; (3) Arkansas; (4) Arizona; (5) Pennsylvania; (6) Texas; (7) Kansas; (8) Indiana; (9) Nebraska; (10) Missouri.
The organization ranked Washington as the least protective state for the fifth consecutive year. The next nine least protective states were: (2) California; (3) Vermont; (4) New York; (5) Connecticut; (6) New Jersey; (7) Oregon; (8) Hawaii; (9) Maryland; (10) Nevada.
On the federal level, Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia announced at the March for Life that the House of Representatives would vote the following week, Jan. 27-31, on the No Taxpayer Funding of Abortion Act, H.R. 7. The House is expected to approve the government-wide ban on federal funds for abortion, but President Obama and the Senate's Democratic leadership oppose it.
Tom Strode is Baptist Press' Washington bureau chief. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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