Two news items illustrated the state of the debate over the sanctity of human life during the week leading up to the 35th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. It was reported that the abortion rate has continued to decline. It is down 25 percent since its 1990 peak. And scientists in the United States created a human embryo through cloning. It was an advance for the project of using cloned embryos to produce stem cells for medical research.
Pro-lifers have made real strides in fighting abortion. Over the last 15 years, modest pro-life policy victories have been achieved, particularly in state legislatures; public sentiment has moved in a pro-life direction; and the number of abortions has fallen. It is hard to believe that these things happened in tandem by accident. It is more likely that each trend reinforced the others, and that all three were influenced by other factors, such as the spread of better and better ultrasound technology. The Supreme Court continues effectively to guarantee a right to abortion for any reason, at any stage of pregnancy — and it does so without any plausible constitutional warrant. Given that constraint, it is impressive how much pro-lifers have done to limit the damage that the Court has wrought on our politics and culture.
To continue to succeed, however, they must continue to elect presidents who are committed either to pro-life policies or at least to the overturning of Roe, and senators who are willing to confirm Supreme Court justices who would act accordingly. Under this year’s circumstances, that is going to be a tall order. And even so it will not be enough.
For during the very period that pro-lifers have been winning on one front, another has opened. If we begin to mass-produce cloned human embryos — which would be living members of our species — to be destroyed in research, we could easily undo all of our success in reducing the number of legal killings in this country. And worse: It seems highly unlikely that a society that countenances such routinized destruction of human life would limit abortion.
It is commonly said that the public favors stem-cell research. But most people do not favor human cloning, and do not favor the creation of embryos for research purposes — at least when the subject is placed before them squarely and without euphemism. It has become increasingly clear that the medical benefits sought through cloning can be gained without violating ethical principles. Stem cells derived from the reprogramming of adult cells and from amniotic fluid both show great promise. Human cloning should be banned, and these alternatives encouraged.
We have seen a marked decline in abortion without any of the calamities that its defenders might have predicted. There has been no surge in the number of “unwanted children,” for example. Every year, we are getting closer to proving that the country can get by just fine without abortion. We don’t need cloning, either.