Column: Let Us Confront What We’ve Lost
An estimated 5,000 people, women and men, march around the Minnesota Capitol building protesting the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision, ruling against state laws that criminalize abortion, in St. Paul, Minn., Jan. 22, 1973. The marchers formed a "ring of life" around the building. (AP Photo)
The generation that came of age during World War I and shortly thereafter felt acutely the disastrous effects that the “war to end all wars” had on them physically, mentally and psychologically. Many good young men went to war and never came back, or came back wounded, often more than just physically. Ernest Hemingway’s and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novels chronicled that ‘“lost” feeling — the moral loss and aimlessness that characterized that time. Gertrude Stein called them the Lost Generation.
The United States suffered 116,000 losses in World War I and had 205,000 wounded. Since the landmark Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in 1973, there have been 55 million abortions in America. That’s over a million a year for 40 years. A “generation” is usually defined as a period of time in which children are born, grow up and have children of their own. We could refer to the 55 million unborn aborted as a generation, except they never had a chance to grow up. This generation, those who would have come of age in the past 40 years, is another Lost Generation, although in a very different sense of the word.
That 55 million is a large number. It represents a lot of blank spaces in our collective family trees. It represents a profound loss in “human capital” — a sterile term, but one that speaks to all the wealth that humans bring to the world through their inventiveness, industriousness,and creativity that we are missing because these 55 million were never born.
As those who support and defend Roe v. Wade prepare to commemorate the 40th anniversary of that fateful decision on Jan. 22, something else is missing, too — any acknowledgment of the generation that we’ve lost.
In recognition of the milestone anniversary of legalized abortion, the ACLU in Kentucky is having a social event in a local tavern’s beer-tasting room. A coalition of groups in San Francisco is hosting a “festive public celebration.” Planned Parenthood‘s various branches are hosting breakfasts and dinners and forums, all designed to “celebrate” the anniversary. The Unitarian Universalist Association has a whole list of ways to “join the celebration.” NARAL Pro-Choice America is hosting a $300-a-plate dinner with Ross Matthews, comedian and TV correspondent, as master of ceremonies.
A comedian! One would think this would be a time of national introspection, not levity. Try to find any remorse or regret or solemnity or mourning for the unborn lives lost in the above activities.
That’s probably because a lot of the mourning goes on in private. One thing that has changed over the past 40 years is the growing recognition that many women suffer negative physical, emotional, and psychological effects after an abortion. Abundant studies, the proliferation of pregnancy care centers (0 in 1973; thousands today) and the number of women (and men) who take advantage of post-abortion counseling attest to that. Some organizations, like the national organization Silent No More, are helping those hurt by their abortion decision turn their pain into purpose simply by letting them acknowledge their loss.
Last year, the former president of Catholics for Choice, Frances Kissling, wrote these words in The Washington Post: “We can no longer pretend the fetus is invisible. ... It may not have the right to life, and its value may not be equal to that of the pregnant woman, but ending the life of a fetus is not a morally insignificant event.”
The day after the Supreme Court handed down the Roe v. Wade decision, a headline in The New York Times proclaimed: “Supreme Court Settles Abortion Issue.” Unlike the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which really did settle the slavery issue, Roe v. Wade has kept abortion as one of the most unsettled issues in America. Forty years after the landmark decision, one’s position on abortion rights is still a factor in elections, confirmation hearings and Supreme Court appointments. The decision did not, as the Times went on to say, provide “a sound foundation for final and reasonable resolution of a debate that has divided America too long.”
It is good that America is still uneasy about abortion. Because of it, we have lost millions of irreplaceable, unique human beings whose absence has made us incalculably poorer.
A resolution under discussion in the New Hampshire House this session calls for “commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision and affirming support for its holding and principles.” A commemoration is a time for remembering, a call to remembrance. Whether one believes, as Roe v. Wade states, that prenatal life is “potential life” or whether one believes that life begins at conception, the marking of this 40th anniversary should be a somber time acknowledging how we have lost – literally and figuratively – so much potential.
If the final resolution comes before the House with no acknowledgement of the loss that Roe v. Wade engendered, it will entail, like many of the events planned for this time, remembering with very selective memory.
Margaret Drye lives in Plainfield.