By Tina Whittington, Executive VP of Programs
When we look at images of segregation, most of us just can’t imagine how anyone would have thought that this is ok. Today doing something like this is totally unthinkable – it also happens to have been legislated against in most states through laws and court decisions. I believe that there is a parallel we can draw from the injustice of segregation to the injustice of abortion.
One of our goals at Students for Life is to change culture – we want to make abortion unthinkable. We desire to see campuses and communities that speak out against abortion, show the humanity of the preborn, the harm that the abortion industry does to women, and that offer so many resources to pregnant and parenting women that they just don’t see abortion as an option.
Between 1849 and 1950, blacks were segregated from whites by law and private action in transportation, public accommodations, armed forces, recreational facilities, prisons, schools, and in many states marriage between whites and African American people were also banned. While some communities were moving to desegregate on their own or didn’t have blatant segregation in the public square, many were willing to fight to keep the status quo.
To change the culture on segregation it took brave men and women to speak up, engage in civil disobedience, put their reputations on the line, and then fight for legislation to dismantle the practice of segregation in almost every area of civil life.
Why was it not enough to just speak up and share the truth about the injustice of segregation, dialogue with people to get them on the right side of this issue, and for progressive people to provide segregation free work and life environments to make it unthinkable enough to end? Because when we work in culture change we are trying to influence flawed human beings who like to stay in their comfort zones and cling to what they have always known. This is literally a part of our human nature. Most of the people living during the years of segregation had either lived when slavery was legal and were working through living in the new normal, industry and agriculture without slave labor to depend on or how to adjust to life as a freeman, or they had literally never known anything but segregation for their entire life.
I am in no way excusing the prejudice, ignorance, or hate that people held at this time in our history – it was so very wrong and still haunts us in the United States to this very day! Surprisingly, as unthinkable as segregation is, it still exists in both small and large ways and we need to be ever vigilant to continue to confront this issue. Disappointingly, even in church communities Sunday morning continues to be the most segregated hour in our nation.
Here is the parallel for abortion – most Gen X and Millennials have never known anything other than legal abortion on demand, through all nine months of pregnancy, for any reason whatsoever. In general, we don’t know what the world would look like without abortion, and while abortion makes most of us uncomfortable we think that it is a necessary evil that protects our culture – especially women.
We have abortion advocates like Cecile Richards equating abortion as healthcare, raising the alarm that restricting abortion will harm women, and roll back the progress the women’s rights movement has made. We have the Women’s March that is fighting hard to cement the idea that abortion on demand is a human right. And of course there is the general hysteria that under Trump, a pro-life President, women need to tremble in fear and hurry and get their abortions now before they are all gone.
In the 1960’s, even as much of the country was making progress defeating segregation, there were those raising the alarm that desegregation would cause chaos and harm to both white and black Americans. In 1963, Alabama Governor, George Wallace went so far as to proclaim in his inaugural address, “segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever.” He believed that he was fighting for the protection of Alabama’s culture and people and his statement became one of the most fervent rally cries against racial equality in American history.
If during the civil rights movement people only focused on making segregation unthinkable real change across the nation would not have happened. In some states education, protests, and civil disobedience (sometimes just the civil disobedience seen in the news) were enough to move the needle. While in other states brave men and women had to go to court to fight against segregation and work to get politicians to create legislation for desegregation. There were some people who would not have been moved by anything other than legislation.
Just today as these thoughts were bouncing around in my head I saw the Facebook post below by Abby Johnson, former Planned Parenthood Director, and founder of And Then There Were None.
There is a balance that must be struck between culture change – making abortion unthinkable – and creating legislation to protect the most vulnerable among us. If abortion is the killing of an innocent child, then it would be disingenuous for us to say we don’t want to see abortion become illegal or see Roe overturned. There will be no amount of culture change that can ensure that the preborn will receive the same rights as all human persons; outside of culture change that brings with it legislation and court rulings that cement their value and dignity. Will this bring about the total abolition of abortion? Just like segregation I think that there will be a time of adjustment, illegal abortions, and probably more legislation that we don’t foresee that will need to pass to see the absolute end of abortion. And just like segregation we will have to be ever vigilant that we eradicate it from every area of public life, continuously support women facing unexpected pregnancies, and never stop talking about the value and dignity of life from conception until natural death. At Students for Life we work for culture change but we will also always work towards the day when every human person is legally protected and Roe is overturned.