In January, on the occasion of Roe v. Wade's twenty-sixth anniversary, pro-life leader Robert Schenck told the Buffalo News that the time for Operation Rescue-like protests was over. "This is a new time, it calls for new methods," said Schenck, and he suggested "clearing the slate and making a whole new agenda for the pro-life movement."

Some consider the idiosyncratic Schenck to be on the fringe of the pro-life movement, but he has often caught media attention, whether for protests or for well-intentioned but ill-received gestures such as his sending flowers to the widow of slain abortionist Barnett Slepian. What shall we make of his suggestion?

We must begin by noting that the climate for the abortion discussion has changed in several ways. Polling data indicate that America is becoming increasingly pro-life. Since 1990, there has been a 13 percent decline in the annual number of abortions performed in the United States. The percentage of entering first-year college students who favor keeping abortion legal has dropped 14 percentage points in the same decade. (The abortion-rights majority now stands at a bare 51 percent among the frosh.) The results of a 1998 Wirthlin poll show a 59 percent pro-life majority among Americans. (An impressive list of similar data can be found at

There is momentum to the pro-life cause. We are winning the battle of persuasion in the minds of many Americans—a necessary first step if we are to become a truly pro-life nation. At the same time, further clinic protests are not the best way to persuade the unpersuaded or to mobilize the convinced but inactive.

That many (perhaps most) Americans hold pro-life beliefs while not actively supporting the movement ...

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