I’m not a huge fan of certain segments of Christendom attempting arbitrarily to add dates to the church calendar. Usually the attempts represent pet doctrines and hobby horses representing small segments of the church which will likely be gone within a generation. Additionally, it is usually the case that such attempts are so culturally specific that it’s impossible for them to applied to the millions of Christians not residing in the Unites States. For example, not many years ago a group proposed making one Sunday Pulpit Freedom Sunday, a Sunday when politics and pertinent political issues were to be freely spoken of in the church’s divine service.
In my opinion there are a number of problems with attempting to single out certain cultural issues on a particular Sunday, but one irony is worth highlighting. It is ironic that special Sundays are being added to the calendar and their observance insisted on by those who, nearly universally, reject the special days for observance already present on the church’s calendar—Christmas and Easter excepted, of course.
With that preamble stipulated, some in America have designated this Sunday, January 22, the Sanctity of Human Life Sunday (hereafter SHLS). While it is not likely that this day will ever make it to the calendar as an official day observed by Christendom, it is, at the least, worth pausing to reflect on the terrible epidemic it seeks to expose: abortion.
And, it’s on this SHLS that we receive good news and have much to be grateful for and to thank God for because data released this week shows that abortions in America continue to trend downward and have, in fact, reached historic lows (under 700,000 per year), the lowest rate since the Roe v Wade decision in 1973, and down from their height in the 80s and 90s when an estimated 1.6 million abortions were performed every year. Some have interpreted the data to suggest that abortions have been lower under democratic presidents than republican ones. On the surface that statement is largely true. However, while it is true that abortions were highest under Reagan and have reached their lowest rates under Obama, it’s more likely that this is simply the luck of presidential provenance. Reagan served shortly after abortion was legalized—and thus a spike; while Obama served while abortion was on its continued decline. The only outlier are the years during George W. Bush’s presidency when abortion rates stalled and failed to match the rate of decline that they had seen previous to and after his tenure in office.
It’s hard to know exactly what is driving abortions down and suggestions range from education to economics, from legislation to legalization. Most, however, would agree that there are two major reasons for the decline. The first is rise in the use and availability of contraceptives. The second is state laws which either prohibit abortions or make them more difficult to get.
Politically speaking the data raises some very interesting questions. Usually it’s those on the left who favor sex education and the use and availability of contraceptives as widely as possible. Think of the debate that raged between the Catholic church and the administration because of the requirement that contraceptives be provided under the Affordable Care Act. Is the political left, then, responsible for abortion’s decline? On the other hand, it’s usually those on the right side of the aisle who favor stricter laws against abortion. Is the political right responsible for abortion’s decline?
It’s interesting to ask such questions and to scrutinize the data. That said, we should be grateful to God that he is answering our prayers and we should also be reminded that there is still work to do—work that will be different for all of us.
At the end of the day abortion is another manifestation of the brokenness of this world that we find ourselves in. And while contraceptives and legislation may stem the tide for a time, what we are in real need of is a sweeping embrace of the gospel of Christ and a further ushering in of his kingdom.