Fifty years ago a single woman in California became pregnant unexpectedly. She was in her early 30’s and thought she could not get pregnant. She was divorced and certainly was not looking to start a family. Most of her family lived far away in Wisconsin, and like many then she journeyed far west some years before to find new job opportunities. At the time she was the manager of two very successful restaurants in LA. Her baby was born late in December, 1960, and because she had smoked during the pregnancy the baby had a somewhat lower birth rate. With a smaller cervical opening there was additional concern about her safety during the delivery. Matters were complicated further when the baby came out with the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck. Less than two months later this baby would have emergency surgery to correct a double hernia. Yet despite all this the child survived and grew into adulthood. He later went on to school, earning a master’s degree, became a pastor and a father himself of three children, one of which may one day become a teacher to our future children. The person standing before you today is the result of that unexpected pregnancy half a century ago.
In 1960, the year of my birth, there were only 292 abortions in the U.S., one hundredth of one percent of the population. That statistic would skyrocket to over a million by the time I turned 15. Today the lives of over a million unborn babies are still terminated annually, a figure that has stayed in the six digits now for 36 years, in large part because we legalized the procedure in 1973 in that infamous Supreme Court decision Roe vs. Wade, the anniversary of which brings us here today.
I can only imagine how different my chances might have been had I been born today. California currently accounts for more abortions than any other state in the union. According to the CDC at least 80% of all abortions are performed on unmarried women. The abortion ratio for these women is 510 for every 1,000 live births. For married women it is 61. I would have stood a less than 50% chance. On average, women give at least 3 reasons for choosing abortion: 3/4 say that having a baby would interfere with work, school or other responsibilities; about 3/4 say they cannot afford a child; and 1/2 say they do not want to be a single parent or are having problems with their husband or partner (AGI). I can only imagine what my chances would have been if I had been born today.
I am here today purely by the grace of God. Statistically some might say that the “odds were stacked against me”: single parent, unexpected pregnancy, health concerns for mother and child. And based on how many might have grown up in similar circumstances, some may have predicted that I would become a problem child and grow up working my way through the legal system. My mother later remarried and I grew up with parents who were recovering alcoholics. They met in a halfway house here in Wisconsin. Yet none of us became victims or just another sad statistic. By God’s grace we studied and got degrees and held jobs and raised families and contributed to our churches and our society. We were not perfect. Like many Americans we struggled with mental illness and substance abuse and disease and financial setbacks. Still, we survived and thrived…by God’s pure grace.
Abortion is a tragedy that cuts short the potential of precious lives that might have had the same opportunities offered to me. It’s an action that says nothing good can come of an unexpected pregnancy, that the future is too dark to take a chance on the possibility of an unwanted child, that we are better off making our own choices and controlling our own futures. But are we? I am but one living example of what God can do with a less than ideal situation, how God always remains in control and brings success out of what we consign to failure. Thankfully God was making the choices in my life.
When I was married 23 years ago abortion rates were at some of their highest rates, over 1.5 million. They would peak to their all-time high three years later. Even though my parents grew up and lived during some of the greatest wars of the modern era, I have lived in a time of even greater death. During their lifetime a little more than half a million people died in combat operations. My father fought in WWII, which accounts for most of those deaths. Admittedly every casualty is a painful loss. Yet since the legalization of abortion 38 years ago as many as 52 million babies have died to abortion. The deaths in these wars equal only 1% of that total! Still, these deaths are largely unknown to our communities. It is a silent holocaust of our time.
I pray that in my children’s lifetime this unnecessary war against the unborn will cease and that we can again value life as the gift given us by God. While laws to protect them are necessary, and I value the role our government can play in protecting all life, a complete shift in the attitude of our nation must ultimately take place if the trends in this last half a century are to be reversed. The world has changed dramatically since I was born, and one of the things that changed was our view of life. We have cultivated a culture of death. As a pastor I realize that the change in this culture can only come through the power of God’s life-giving word in Christ. Only he can transform our world. To that end I will dedicate my remaining years to proclaiming it and praying our nations hears.
Let us pray.
Dear heavenly Father, in whom we have been given the precious gift of life, strengthen our resolve to speak for the silent voices of the unborn, to champion the right to life for all people, young and old, to stand solidly against a culture of death with a firm resolve to preserve potential for those yet to be born. Let us reach out with your divine mercy to the struggling and suffering of our world that our example might allow a light of love to shine that will inspire others to hope in your limitless grace that transforms life through faith in the redeeming death and resurrection of your Son. Be with us in this critical mission and let us never despair that with you all things are possible, that the future remains securely within your almighty hands.
In the name of Jesus, Amen.