This could be the year, and in that fact, Gary Garner finds hope.
Roe v. Wade, the landmark case that effectively legalized abortion across the country, turns 40 on Tuesday.
“Forty is a key figure in scripture. We’d like to believe 40 just might be it. This might be the year it is overturned,” said Garner, a leader in Augusta’s anti-abortion movement.
For decades, he and other members of the Alleluia Community have stood watch outside offices of abortion providers in Augusta.
The country remains deeply divided over abortion. Nearly half of Americans say they believe it is wrong to have an abortion. However, a majority also say Roe v. Wade shouldn’t be overturned, a new Pew Research Center poll found.
Americans say the issue is less important than they did years ago, and most Americans younger than 30 can’t correctly identify Roe v. Wade as a case dealing with abortion, according to the January poll.
On the whole, labels such as “pro-choice” and “pro-life” don’t work for most Americans anymore, said Leola Reis, the vice president of external affairs for Planned Parenthood Southeast, which is based in Atlanta.
“They don’t reflect the complexity of the issue, that it is a deeply complex decision for a woman and should be left to a woman, her family, her faith, and her doctor,” she said in a statement. “Unfortunately, politicians still insist on interfering with a woman’s personal decision. We’d like to see a focus on the preventive health care that women in Georgia, and around the country, need.”
Planned Parenthood offices around the country are holding events celebrating the anniversary, which “reminds us that it is essential for continued access to safe and legal abortion for a woman if and when she needs to consider it,” Reis said.
In the 40 years since Roe v. Wade, about 50 million legal abortions have been reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Often, women suffer silently as a result, said the Rev. Gerald Ragan, the pastor of St. Mary on the Hill Catholic Church in Augusta.
His church and others across the area offer a Mass and “pro-life rosary” for those affected by abortion. It’s one way the church is able to help people heal, he said.
“I don’t think the story has been told of the negative consequences of having an abortion, of the guilt and the trauma that occurs,” he said.
Ragan says he’s encouraged by the participation of youth in events such as the March for Life, an annual gathering that draws hundreds of thousands to Washington, D.C. A busload or two from Augusta make the annual trip.
“I call it a Woodstock for Christian youth,” he said. “As we move forward, I see hope of changing the holocaust that is affecting our country.”
Planned Parenthood disagrees about the need for post-abortion healing. Here’s how a fact sheet, “The Emotional Affects of Induced Abortion,” begins: “For more than 30 years, substantive research studies have shown that legally induced abortion does not pose mental health problems for women.”
The organization points to several health benefits – physical, emotional and social – since Roe v. Wade. Chief among them was the end of illegal, unsafe back-alley abortions.
Susan Swanson has a hard time talking about “benefits” of Roe v. Wade. She is the director of the Care Pregnancy Center of Augusta, where women gather once a week for a post-abortion support group.
“Americans need to wake up. Abortion hurts a lot of people,” she said.
For more than two decades, the center has kept an office at 1298 Broad St., the same block as the Augusta Center of Planned Parenthood.
“Our center has been working strategically about closing local abortion clinics,” she said. “They’re weak now.”
By that she means the clinic keeps shorter hours than it used to. And from time to time, they meet women who change their mind about having an abortion.
“The key is changing the heart of Augusta to be more pro-life,” she said. “A community has to buy into changing the culture.”
Last week, the center held a dinner in Evans for supporters. Scott Phelps of the Illinois-based Abstinence & Marriage Partnership spoke.
“We don’t talk about abortion in public schools. It’s too politically toxic,” he said. “When it does come up, the kids are overwhelmingly pro-life. It’s a natural inclination to care for life.”
Phelps started working with young women who were choosing abortions at the ChicagoCare Pregnancy Center in the late 1990s. It’s what led him to develop an abstinence program now taught in schools across the country.
Phelps spoke before the Richmond County Board of Education in 2010 when the Care Pregnancy Center attempted to introduce the curriculum to local schools.
“We know 80 percent of abortions occur outside of marriage,” Phelps said. (CDC data from 2009, the most recent year with data available, puts it at 85 percent.) “If we really want to discourage abortions, we encourage marriage and sex in the confines of marriage.”
“Roe v. Wade,” he added, “is a political issue. We’re concerned about the cultural issue and the message kids receive.”
Social mores change, Phelps said.
“There was a strong anti-smoking campaign. It changed public opinion,” he said. “The things can change when society comes to a consensus.”