As we mark the solemn 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, I would like to address my column this week to our teens and young adults, who I believe will ultimately prevail in restoring a sense of respect for all human life, including the innocent baby in her mother’s womb. Please feel free to share this column with a young adult in your life, or ask them to look for it at www.cny.org.
For much of the 40 years since the Supreme Court’s tragic Roe v. Wade decision ushering in an era of abortion on demand, we in the pro-life community have had little to cheer about. In the battle for hearts and minds, it has at times seemed as though we were losing ground, and fast. We could preach about the sacredness of all human life, about the harm that abortion does to women who are so often coerced by others into doing the unthinkable, and the lifetime of pain and regret so many of them, and the fathers of the aborted baby, face as a result. For a long time we were overwhelmed by even louder voices proclaiming “choice” to be the ultimate right. For too many of my generation, that argument was effective and catchy, and there is no changing their minds.
This civil rights issue of our time—the right to life of the innocent baby in the womb—won’t be won by the older generation; it will be won by the young. It is to you that I address this message on this solemn anniversary.
Popular culture calls you the “Millennial Generation” because you came of age at the dawn of the Millennium. But I think of you as the “Ultrasound Generation.” You are different than any generation that came before you in that your very first baby pictures were taken not with you in your mother’s arms, but you alive in her womb.
Your generation is defined by technology. You have come to expect almost annual revolutionary technological breakthroughs that change the way we live and work. You have seen staggering medical advances that have given doctors wonderful new tools in fighting disease and injury. And you have grown up with ultrasound technology that has opened a window into the womb, allowing us to glimpse preborn babies from the earliest weeks of gestation.
You have seen your little brothers and sisters before they were born in these grainy videos and photographs pinned to the fridge. Your mom or your dad has shown you those first images of yourself. Some of you have even seen your own children for the first time with newer, clearer 3- and 4-dimensional ultrasound technology. You have gasped with wonder at the sight of little arms flailing and legs kicking, heads bobbing and hearts beating, mouths sucking thumbs.
You have seen, and you believe.
Let’s face it, you figured out a long time ago that your parents’ generation isn’t always right. So many have tried to convince you (as they have allowed themselves to be convinced) that an unborn baby is nothing more than a “clump of cells.” College professors, politicians, Hollywood glitterati, and media talking heads have hammered you with the message that the decision to abort has no more moral significance than having a wisdom tooth extracted. To be an enlightened adult, you will be told, you must support the “right to choose.” (They won’t tell you what, or who is being chosen.)
You are rightly skeptical. They may believe what they say, but in this matter they are wrong. Think of your first baby picture, the one on the flimsy paper with the dark background and the unmistakable image of you. You know better.
You have seen, and you believe.
I know it is not easy to go against the prevailing culture. But your generation has not been afraid to be countercultural. Besides, I have good news for you—you are not alone. The pro-abortion movement’s dark secret is that it has been losing the hearts and minds of young people for a number of years. And now the secret is out.
Just last month, the head of the nation’s largest abortion advocacy organization, stepped down, citing the need for someone younger to try to engage youth. Interestingly, she seemed to acknowledge that her side is losing you, the “Ultrasound Generation.”
“The intensity on that side will not go away,” she told the media. “They come to this issue as young people who want to overturn Roe v. Wade, and they’re going to do everything in their power. That view might change as they grow older and reality hits and personal experience happens, but right now the personal intensity is pretty high on that side.”
You know what? She’s right! I have seen that intensity myself in the young New Yorkers who pray at abortion clinics, lobby in Albany and climb onto buses in the pre-dawn darkness to join their fellow pro-lifers at the March for Life in Washington, D.C., as we’ll do this Friday. When I look out into the sea of faces out on the Mall in the shadow of the Washington Monument, I see you. You know who I see when I look at the rallies on the pro-abortion side? I see people my age and older.
That pro-abortion leader and others like her are counting on you having some sort of grand epiphany once you get older and, as she said, “reality hits.” But what they aren’t counting on is that when you saw yourself, your kid brother or sister, your own child, in that ultrasound photo, reality did hit. And it hit hard.
You have seen, and you believe.
But here’s the tough part: It is not enough that you believe. It is not enough that you are sympathetic to the cause. Don’t get me wrong, I am thrilled to know that so many of you in the “Ultrasound Generation” are pro-life. But this can’t be a secret anymore. You need to proclaim it. It can’t come from me or from people my age; our time is rapidly passing. Now is your time.
My time has seen 55 million abortions in the United States since 1973. That is almost exactly the population of New York State and California combined. A number that big can seem abstract, but you know intuitively that these 55 million people were your peers, your siblings. One of them could easily have been you.
In New York City, four out of every 10 pregnancies end in abortion, double the national average, mostly poor Black and Latino women. In some parts of New York City, the number is 6 in 10. Yet some of our elected officials in Albany are pushing a bill, believe it or not, to expand abortion access even further. It’s as though, in their minds, our state motto, “Excelsior” (“Ever Upward”) applies to the abortion rate!
Sometimes, it falls to one generation to clean up another generation’s mess. And I’m afraid we have left you quite a mess. I am asking you, the “Ultrasound Generation,” to set the course right, to change hearts and minds, to change the law so that your children’s generation is given the legal protection that your generation so tragically was not. Ultimately, I am counting on you to change our culture.
My faith in you is high. For I have seen, and I believe—in you.
Timothy Cardinal Dolan