NASHVILLE, TN -- At some point in 2010 -- 37 years removed from the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision -- a doctor in the United States performed the nation's 53 millionth legal abortion, a sobering stat that ethicists say should drive the public to speak up for the unborn.
The statistic is based on data compiled by the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice organization whose studies are acknowledged by most major pro-choice organizations.
The nation's abortion rate reached a peak of 1.6 million in 1990 and has steadily fallen in most years ever since, although Guttmacher's latest data, from 2008, showed the abortion rate had risen slightly to 1,212,000 million from 1,206,000 in 2005, the most recent data point. Because Guttmacher no longer releases abortion data every year, the 53 million figure is based on assumptions that the abortion rate remained relatively unchanged in 2009 and 2010.
The 1973 Roe decision, coupled with the companion Doe v. Bolton ruling, legalized abortion nationwide for effectively any reason during all nine months of pregnancy.
"Fifty-three million is the population of a medium-size country. Imagine the outcry if the people of Spain (46.1 million people) were destroyed by another nation," C. Ben Mitchell, professor of moral philosophy at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., and a consultant to the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told Baptist Press. "Yet most of the world is silent about the destruction of the unborn. Christian love demands that we weep compassionately for the unborn, pray fervently that the killing would stop, work urgently for alternatives to abortion, and become the voice of the unborn in the public square."
The United States has one of the highest abortion rates for the developed world and also some of the world's most liberal abortion laws.
The Guttmacher 2008 data, released this year, also showed that 17 percent of all non-hospital abortions were chemical abortions -- that is, abortions performed using the abortion drug RU-486. RU 486, also known as mifepristone, is used as the first part in a two-step process in the first seven weeks of pregnancy. Mifepristone causes the lining of the uterus to release the embryonic child, resulting in his or her death. A different drug, misoprostol, is taken two days after mifepristone and causes a woman's uterus to contract, expelling her baby.
"Too many of us fail to realize the magnitude of abortion's impact on society," said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. "If Christ-followers are not staggered by the number of babies that have been aborted since the 1973 Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade, it suggests we have bought into the notion that it is permissible to take the life of a child if its birth will inconvenience others. As believers who should be fully aware of God's personal involvement in the creation of each human being, we have every reason to be righteously indignant at society's callous attitude toward the unborn, but more than that we are morally obligated to do something to stem the shedding of innocent blood at the hands of abortionists."
Laws are important, Land said, but it's "more important to change hearts."
"It is about changing hearts, particularly through Christ-centered ministries to women who are in what they consider to be crisis pregnancies and in teaching our own children about the preciousness of every human life," Land said.
The nation's abortion rate is so high because the large majority of abortions are done for convenience. According to a 2004 Guttmacher study of women who had had abortions, rape and incest each were cited by less than half of 1 percent of all women who underwent abortion. All total, 86 percent cited reasons of convenience: 25 percent said they weren't ready for a child, 23 percent said they couldn't afford to have one, 19 percent said they didn't want any more children, 8 percent said they didn't want to be a single mother or they had relationship problems, 7 percent said they were too young to have a child and 4 percent said they believed a child would interfere with their education or career.