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Forty Years since Roe V. Wade—what to Know, Feel, and Do

Jan 21, 2013 // By Marcus Brotherton

I encourage you all not to let this date pass by unnoticed—Tuesday, January 22, 2013.


It marks the 40thanniversary of Roe Versus Wade, the landmark decision by the Supreme Court that effectually makes abortion legal in the USA.
Since the case’s decision in 1973, roughly 50 million abortions have taken place legally in America. That’s about 1.2 million abortions last year alone.
Let that number sink in—more than a million per year. Picture all the American cities you know with a population of about a million people. Portland. San Diego. Philadelphia. Dallas.
Each year, one of those cities is wiped out.
What might you do with this information?
1.    Know that this decision affects you.
These days, about 4 out of every 10 unintended pregnancies end in abortion (that’s about 22 percent of pregnancies over all, excluding miscarriages). Chances are good that you know someone who has had an abortion. So one of the first—and most immediate—decisions you face is how you treat her. With condemnation? Or with support?
When I was in graduate school I was friends with a girl I’ll call Sally. She had it all—hair, smile, tan—enough to keep a squad of poets busy for weeks.
One day we went to the beach, and she said there was a secret that she needed to tell somebody. Her parents were out of the question. Her current boyfriend was away. I was her next choice.
Something had been inside her body, she said. About a month earlier, her hips began to mature. She had become queasy. She went to a playground one day just to look around and wonder—and she liked what she saw.
But not now, not then, she said. There was no money to raise a child by herself. College wasn’t finished, and she didn’t want to go live with her parents and work as a checker at night to pay the bills.
So Sally decided to terminate her pregnancy. Outside the clinic someone yelled at her: “Fornicators go to hell.” One demonstrator coached his little girl to say “Mommy?” as Sally walked inside.
“That kid is going to grow up messed up,” Sally told me.
When the abortion was over she joined other women eating crackers and drinking Gatorade in the clinic. Then she got really sick and threw up a lot.
That was all.
At the beach Sally watched the ocean with a long, faraway look in her eyes. I hugged her and meant it in the best possible way. Because she smoked I shared a cigarette with her, simply to let her know she was a friend and not alone in the world. 
And when I drove back to my apartment I ached an unfathomable pain.

2.    You should feel somber—whatever camp you fall in.


Fast forward two decades and meet my newest daughter. As I mentioned in this blog a few weeks back, my wife is pregnant again. The child’s due date is at the end of April.
At 26 weeks past conception, our daughter won’t meet my wife and me face to face for another three months. But there are some unmistakable facts about her already.
She weighs about two pounds and is viewed well through ultrasounds. She can hiccup and sleep and stretch and bat her fists around. Books tell us she can hear and feel.
My niece was born prematurely at about the same stage my daughter is now, just before the start of the 3rdtrimester. Today my niece is a perfectly functioning 13-year-old.
Also at 26 weeks, if we wanted to, my wife and I could legally end our daughter’s life. It would be deemed a “later-term” abortion, and it would be controversial. Some States ban it, but others don’t. Some countries like China, Vietnam, and our neighbor to the north, Canada, have no legal limit on when an abortion can be performed.
Bottom line: we could get it done. We could legally end our daughter’s life.
I hope that reality never gets too old to discuss.
And I hope—whatever camp we fall into—that reality makes us somber.
3.    Know that no matter what camp you fall in, the issue is more complex than a one-line slogan.
Truly, much of the pro-life/pro-choice debate is a false dichotomy—meaning that if people fall into the “pro-life” camp, they’re not actually “against choice.” And if people are “pro-choice,” they’re not actually “for abortion.”
So, what would happen if a new camp were created, one that didn’t accuse the other side of being forabortion or against choice? Maybe if we stopped yelling at each other all the time, we could come together and press for real solutions.
A few years back when I worked as a reporter, I interviewed a chief official from our State’s branch of NARAL—a predominant pro-choice organization. I asked her, a gracious and well-educated woman, if being pro-choice was the same thing as being in favor of abortion.
“Heavens no,” she said. “Abortion is a horrible thing. We simply want to keep it safe and legal.”
Did you catch that? And did you catch who said it?
No one’s actually for abortion. No one, not even the head of NARAL, goes around saying, “You know, abortions are great, and every woman should get one.”
So let’s agree on this.
Abortion—even safe and legal abortion—is a horrible thing.


And let’s continue the discussion from there.


4.    You should take a stand.

There’s a ton of room for debate surrounding this issue, and I welcome all your thoughts in the comments section below.
Yet I, for one, don’t want to just end this article by saying that more debate is the only answer. Sure, abortion is complicated. But, yes, there are solutions. The solutions affect more than how we vote. They affect how we treat people. They affect the decisions we make ourselves.
Here’s one solution.
Fewer abortions. More adoptions.
Here’s another solution.
Better use of birth control in the first place.
Here’s a third.
If you’ve read my blog for awhile, you know I’m a man of faith. I talk about it openly, and I also welcome anybody from any perspective to read this blog, because plenty of people with other belief systems frequent here, and I’m fine with that.
Here’s what I do. I pray a big-time prayer that abortions in America would diminish.

The prayer is that bold. It’s that blatant.


And I invite you to do the same.


Question: Talk about solutions. What can be done?
  • Alan

    Good thoughts! But, typo in #3 should say “than” rather than “that.”

  • Thanks Alan, always appreciate a good copyeditor. 🙂

  • PeeWee

    Assuming 150 million women in America, 1.2 million means less than 0.8 % of the population had an abortion.

    Unless you factor in the amount of births that also occurred last year you can’t conflate that to wiping out a city.

    Average number of births per year is around 4.1 million(2009).

    My biggest issue is with number 2.

    That you can legally choose not to have a child that you in fact want to have, is a complete non sequitur.
    Akin to a man building a house concluding that hammers should be banned because he could bludgeon his fellow workers to death , even though he has no intention or desire to do so.

    You want a child, you deliberately tried to get pregnant , with the intention of raising a happy , healthy child. So rightly the thought of that child being harmed or dying at any step in the developmental process is a somber one.

    I agree that abortion is a major medical intervention and should be a last resort only.

  • Marcus

    Pee Wee, thanks for your thoughts.

    You and I definitely agree on your last comment. But the point is not that we all agree. In fact, feel free to disagree with me. I’m fine that you do.

    The point I was trying to make with # 2 is that the life of an unborn child at 26 weeks can still legally be terminated.

    This same child could viably survive outside the womb and has all the same basic characteristics of a “born” baby.

    So, take it out of the category of “desired child” for a moment, and run the same scenario.

    If a 26-week-old unborn human is not desired, then that unborn human’s existence can legally be terminated.

    But, what separates that unborn human at 26 weeks from a born human at 40 weeks of gestation… other than that she has been pushed through a vaginal canal?

    That why this thought must be sombering.

  • Anonymous

    I have to say, honestly, that every time I’ve gone to an abortion clinic to pray, I’ve never seen anyone treat the women going in as described in #1, and I don’t know anyone that has. But I’ve been yelled at and flipped off many, many times, just for praying. I really believe that those occasions are few and far between, but they’re always held up as the norm by pro-choice groups.
    I don’t believe that this country will ever be blessed until we solve the abortion problem.
    Thanks for the article.

  • Lee


    Abortion is illegal to terminate in my country post 20 weeks but it is certainly not something that my wife and i both agree that we would consider but i do respect other people’s choice to decide what they believe is right for them and their circumstances.
    I believe this even though my wife has had 2 miscarriages,and nearly died in the emergency department during one of them and then during the events of another pregnancy that also nearly self terminated at 20 weeks but for medical intervention, with a cervical stitch and lots of rest. She reached full term and had a somewhat complicated birth and despite our son developing Autism, all is well that ends well and we are lucky to have him and our subsequent daughter regardless.
    But for those that i know who have chosen to do so, they are haunted by their decisions, even if it was the right decision for them at the time, but as you say, all we can do is support them, whether we agree with their choice or not.

  • Marcus

    @ Anonymous … that’s good to hear. I was in grad school 20 years ago, and that was down in L.A., so it sounds like things may have changed since then, and those who overty oppose clinics are using more supportive tactics, which is undoubtedly good.

    Thanks for your comment.

  • MB

    @ Lee–thanks for the perspective from Australia. Thanks for sharing about your wife’s experience and your son. best to you–MB

  • PeeWee

    “The point I was trying to make with # 2 is that the life of an unborn child at 26 weeks can still legally be terminated.

    This same child could viably survive outside the womb and has all the same basic characteristics of a “born” baby.

    I would assume it has something to do with appointments and time management as not everyone can immediately have their abortion done.

    I was born 5 weeks premature and needed a lot of extra care I was not feeding or clothing myself , i also required an incubator.

    The lack of parents that want you is too important to the development of a child , to claim ” well technically we can continue gestation outside of your body at this point so… you’re a murderer.

  • Brandon

    OK, OK, I’ll join the discussion.

    I’m all for a individual’s right to choose as much as the next guy. I’d say in those early term abortions, ok maybe it’s just a blob of tissue, even if it has a heartbeat, sort of like a gallbladder or whatever that’s got a current of electricity running through it. Of course, even this is tricky, because that blob of tissue has all the potential to become a human, which a gallbladder doesn’t have. But I’m willing to concede the point.

    But in those late term abortions, like at 35 weeks or whatever. Those abortions are still legal in Canada and in some states in USA. But that’s a kid in there. No doubt about it. The kid can do all the things a normal kid could do, he’s just still in the womb.

    So how come that kids life can be taken????!!! Like at 35 weeks. Holy cow, that’s whwere this disussion becomes really really tricky.

    If the kid was 1 day outside the womb. Hey, even 1 hour outside the womb, a doctor couldn’t walk up to the kid with a baseball bat and smash the kid’s head in. But if the kid was 1 day still inside the womb, even 1 hour inside the womb, then it would be legally ok for that doctor to “terminate the pregnancy.”

    And we’re saying that the only deciding factor here is “DESIRE.” Like, if the parents WANT the 35-week old feotus, then it lives, but if the parents DONT WANT the 35-week old feotus, then it dies.

    I’m not going to call anyone a “murder.” But I’d say who the hell set up the parents as judge and jury???!?!?

    That’s a sobering thought.

  • Thanks Pee Wee and Brandon for the continuing discourse.

  • Hazel Jones

    I like the emphasis on solutions–more adoptions, more birth control. In several decades of counselling women, I believe that what the woman in a crisis pregnancy needs is a support network. We need to put our arms around her and offer support. If she has that, few would choose abortion. Having said that, I think if there’s even a remote chance that a real human begins at conception, we should err on the side of giving him or her a chance to live.

  • Good thoughts, Hazel. Thank you.

  • Yuri

    Sorry, long reply here: From the moment we knew we would become parents, we had a connection with the little “pea” inside my girlfriend’s belly. After the first ultrasound we finally met our baby. Although very small, arms and legs could be detected..the shape of a human being formed. I fell in love with this small person right then and there. After the 20 weeks scan, we found out it is girl that is growing inside the belly. My love grows stronger every day. Now I can actually sometimes feel her moving! The thought of ending the life of this beautiful little person is just terrible. I often think about what a girl that has been raped should do. She is carrying a child of her rapist. I can imagine that she wants to remove the child then. Maybe there is a serious complication for the mom or baby, so the baby needs to be removed. I can see this happening for those situations. But removing the baby (child!) after the first 12 weeks should be illegal I think. By then it surely is a small human being. I like the thought of having more adoptions, that might be something to think about for sure. I agree we should consider abortion more serious, and give it more thought. It is the taking of the life of a very small human being. About the praying part: I don’t believe in God, and I will never again say a prayer in my life. The few prayers I have said in my life went unheard. All I got in return was pain. But, I respect anyone who does believe, and prays, and I am happy it gives those comfort. I am not judging anyone, just my feelings. I just don’t think that a prayer will help in this matter. The fact that the Pope preaches that no one should wear condoms surely does not help this matter. Hasn’t he heard of Aids in Africa, or does he want all these women to get pregnant and have abortions? What might be a better solution in my opinion, is to have better education about this. About having sex and the dangers of it, getting pregnant, the details of what an abortion really is, the choices and support available when you do get pregnant. All of this COULD help to create more awareness of abortion. I mainly think it should not be a “yes, it should be legal!” or “no, it should be illegal” matter..It should be worked on to see how we all can influence the numbers in this. It could start with the parents, informing their children in a good way. It could be influenced by education about it at school. Standing outside a clinic with signs that contain bad words might not be the solution. Maybe I am wrong, and the praying does help. Who knows? All I know is what happens here on this earth right now, and I think of the things we can actually see, grab, and make use off. I think this blog entry is great Marcus, and I wish more people would think about these things. I know that seeing my first born child in May coming into this world, will be the most beautiful seconds in my life. Life. That’s what it’s all about.

  • Yuri, such good thoughts, through and through. Thanks always for your perspective.

  • PeeWee

    Brandon ,

    We can’t discount “desire” , it began the whole process: courting , sex , bonding.

    If you didn’t desire your partner , you wouldn’t have seduced her = no child.

    If you and your partner didn’t desire each other enough to have sex while dating = no child.

    The link between desire and reproduction is too strong to say, that the end bit, that lasts the rest of your life , no desire is not a factor there.

  • I’m new to the blog, and this was the first post I read. It struck me profoundly, as did many of the comments.

    Abortion is such a polarizing and difficult topic to discuss. I love my daughter more than anything; she suffered a head injury during an accident when she was about five months old, and remember sitting in the hospital unable to bear the thought of anything bad happening to her (today she is perfectly healthy). I cannot fathom idea of destroying the life of an innocent baby, even one still in the womb; equally, however, I cannot fathom the anguish of a woman facing that decision because of a crime or any other circumstance. I agree entirely that we as a society spend far too much time pointing fingers and calling names when we often agree more than we care to realize.

    Your comment about faith is what provoked my thoughts the most; I too have a profound belief if God (I am a Christian). Only God can correct the inherent injustice of a baby’s life ending before it can begin, and only God can truly heal the wound in the heart of a women who went through an abortion. I don’t claim to have the wisdom decide which abortions are justified and which are condemnatory; however,I do know that no matter the circumstances surrounding the abortion, the child will go right back to where he/she came from: to a loving Father in Heaven who will always want them. Also, God’s infinite love extends to the person who received the abortion; I believe that in the end only he will be able to sort out the complicated mess that is abortion.

  • I apologize for the handful of typos in my post; I accidentally pressed “Submit” instead of “Preview.”

  • Brandon

    @ Pee Wee … we’re going to need to agree to disagree on this one, brother.

    I get that “desire” is woven all through the topic. But I think you’re pushing the concept of “desire” too far.

    If I don’t desire my girlfriend anymore, I can terminate the relaltionship and break up with her, but I can’t end her existence.

    If a man doesn’t desire his wife anymore, he can divorce her, but he can’t terminate her life.

    If parents don’t desire their kids anymore, they can, I dunoo–send them away to the grandparents or whatever. But they cana’t drive a van into the river and drown them.

    So … take that illustration of the 35 week old baby in the womb again. If the parents don’t deisre that kid at that point, what gives them the right to terminate that baby’s existence?

    I think “desire” becomes a moot point then. You don’t desire the kid? Then give him up for adoption.

    Maybe you can make the case today that if the feotus is like 2 weeks along or whatever and just a blog of tissue without a heartbeat, then maybe desire factors in then.

    But when that same blob is 35 weeks and has all the characteristics of a living baby and could feasiably live outside the womb, then I don’t think desire factors into it then anymore.

    Canada, China, and Vientam, I think have made a mistake in thtat law, as well as all the States in America that hold to later term abortions.

    Just my opnion, though. I’m not trying to push it on anyone.

  • @ Cory. Thanks for leaving a comment, glad to have you on board. I checked out your family blog. Your little one looks like a great kid. Thanks for sharing that story of her, and glad she’s perfectly healthy now, after her accident.

  • @ Pee Wee and @ Brandon.
    Thanks for having a civil discussion, gents.

  • Hank

    I applaud you for addressing this most difficult of subjects.

    These are excellent points you make, and I do appreciate your point #3. We all know the emotion that this subject elicits and I think that people are so busy YELLING their point of view, that they fail to stop for a moment and consider that very point.

    I guess you could argue that some women get abortions with little regret or regard, but I’d like to think that’s a very small number. More often than not, it’s a scared girl who doesn’t feel like she has another choice.

    Unfortunately, we, as a society, have become so hell-bent on focussing on our personal rights, we’ve become blinded to the rights of anyone else around us. Even, and especially, those of a tiny baby. I might just be a simple guy, but when I hear people try to wax eloquent on the importance of a woman having the right to choose, all I can think of is, “But it’s a baby!”

    How do we keep missing this fact? How can we possibly ignore it?

    Our world is seeing, all too vividly, the effects of not valuing life. Sex trafficking, human slavery, murder, abortion. All these things are outpourings of one issue – the loss of value of human life.

    My mom was 16 when she gave birth to me. Her dad had died, and she knew she couldn’t take care of me on her own, so she gave me up for adoption. I don’t know if she considered aborting me, but I’m sure thankful she chose to carry me for nine months.

    Frankly, we can all share stories until we’re blue in the face. Adoption stories like mine. Rape victim stories. But when it’s all said and done, I just keep coming back to one simple question: “Do I value the life of that baby?”

    It definitely doesn’t provide for an easy road. But then again, when did we buy into the lie that life was easy?

    To answer your question, “What can be done?” I guess one answer is that it comes back to education and support. I believe that if girls/women were provided with real information about alternatives, and also on the emotional pain caused by abortion, they’d be more inclined to carry the baby and then adopt them out. There are plenty of parents who can’t conceive who would love to have kids.

    The other solution is a bit tougher to quantify. It’s to place a higher value on life. If we valued life more, a lot of things would be different in our world. But we can’t give up, or give in. There are a lot of little boys and girls counting on us to continue to fight for them.

  • Hank, you are a wise man. Thank you for sharing your perspective. It’s particularly powerful, given that you are adopted yourself.

  • PeeWee

    My last effort to nullify 2 # is to reframe the circumstances , the most likely cause of the late term abort isn’t elective birth control, it’s an emergency medical situation , where your wife or girlfriend’s life is at risk.

    Most elective abortions are done at the blastocycst stage.A human blastocyst comprises 70-100 cells, for comparison a living brain has about 86 billion cells not including all the blood cells need to fuel it.

    And much respect to all the fathers commenting , you have a perspective I can’t yet even imagine.

  • Thanks for the clarification, Pee Wee. I’ve enjoyed reading your comments and the discussion that’s resulted. Best to you–MB

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the bestselling author or coauthor of more than 25 books. Welcome to my blog. Thoreau pointed out how too many people lead lives of quiet desperation. Their lives are bland and meaningless, or they make choices that trap them in despair and darkness. By contrast, I want to help people lead lives of excellence. Meet here regularly for powerful stories and insight into how to live and lead well.