Our nation stands upon an ideal. We believe all people are created equal, and that we are endowed by our creator with the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. These rights are, as the Declaration of Independence asserts, “unalienable.”
And yet, since the Supreme Court handed down its infamous decision in Roe v. Wade, those principles have been in question. The most vulnerable among us — children in the womb — no longer have a right to life and liberty. Whatever happiness they might have had and whatever dreams they might have pursued can be snuffed out before they are even born.
Forty years ago, the March for Life began in an effort to right this wrong and overcome this injustice. Nellie Jane Gray — a corporal in the famous Women’s Army Corps during World War II, a Labor Department lawyer, and a Democrat — led 20,000 marchers in a rally for the unborn on the steps of the United States Capitol. Last year’s event, held only a few months after her death, drew 650,000. As the March for Life has grown in strength and prominence, so too has the pro-life movement.
Abortion divides our nation on a very personal basis, but because of the hard work of the pro-life community and remarkable advances in medical technology, attitudes are changing. Most Americans now believe that abortion should be as rare as possible. According to Gallup, a majority of Americans support limiting abortion after the 20th week of pregnancy — entering the sixth month under most metrics. When it comes to the abhorrent practice of late-term abortions, 80 percent of Americans support banning the procedure. And young people are increasingly pro-life. It is estimated that half of March for Life attendees are under the age of 30.
Some of this shift in public opinion stems from a deeper understanding of the stages of pregnancy. We know now that babies in the womb can feel pain, and new technology allows us to detect heartbeats earlier than ever before and gives us a view into fetal development that was previously unimaginable. These same advances have enabled doctors to perform veritable miracles that go far beyond what was possible when Roe v. Wade was decided. In my visits to children’s hospitals throughout the state of Ohio, I have seen first-hand the work that is being done to save the lives of babies who were born prematurely. Because of the efforts of the doctors and nurses and the amazing advances that have been made in the last few decades, these children — who probably would have died only a few years earlier — will have an opportunity to live normal, healthy lives.
These medical advances are also influencing legislation in the states and in our nation’s capital. I have joined some of my colleagues as an original co-sponsor of the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, introduced in the Senate on November 7, 2013. Our legislation would prohibit abortions after the 20th week from fertilization. This bill, one that is in keeping with the views of most Americans, is a crucial opportunity to take concrete action toward reducing the number of abortions in our country and giving every child a shot at a full and happy life.
What began as a small demonstration in support of the unborn has grown to a national movement that will be on full display today at the 41st annual March for Life. We never could have gotten here were it not for the dedication and compassion of the pro-life community. Members of this community generously support adoption and foster programs; in addition, many families open their homes to needy children. This compassionate approach has been key to changing hearts and minds across our country.
This work and our successes, decades in the making, are not over. But it is my hope that every year we will move closer to the day when the next March for Life will be the last one.
— Rob Portman is the junior U.S. senator from Ohio.