History of the Pro-Life Movement: We’ve been Victorious Before

The following conversation really took place. The time and the exact location are not given. What is known is that it occurred on a local news network in front of a live studio audience. With the cameras rolling and the host at his station we are privileged to get a brief glimpse into history that has been forgotten. Something we will learn (if we didn’t already know) is far too common amongst those who claim to know so much. Let’s listen in…

Then Director of Planned Parenthood offers the following accusation:

“What I don’t understand about you pro-lifers is where you’ve been all these years…Women have been suffering for centuries. The pro-life movement didn’t even exist until 1973. You’re just a bunch of extremists, opportunists, and Johnny-come-latelies.”

George Grant smiling gives the following rebuttal:

“Ah, but once again, there is where you are very wrong: The pro-life movement is not a recent phenomenon or innovation…It is two thousand years old. You see, the pro-life movement was inaugurated on a rugged old cross, on a hill called Calvary—it is best known as Christianity. Caring for the helpless, the deprived, and the unwanted is not simply what we do. It is what we are. Always has been. Always will be.”[1]

Our Current Dilemma

We live in a generation that has forgotten her past. Some of the blame we might be tempted to lay at the feet of our teachers, at those revisionists of the past. But the fault really ought to be laid at our feet. It is our responsibility to search into such things. To know…before we speak.

“There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of later things yet to be among those who come after” (Eccl 1.11).[2]

“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge…hav[ing] forgotten the law of your God…” (Hos 4.6).

A short word on the above passages…

  • Eccl 1.11—The passage taken from the first chapter of Ecclesiastes would appear, I would imagine to most people, to be a no brainer. The writer (who I believe to be Solomon) is saying that people are quick to forget their past. History doesn’t repeat itself because it is cyclical, but because people are ignorant and repeat the same mistakes from the past not having learned from them. How in the world can you learn from the past, if you don’t know it? The problem that Ecclesiastes addresses is the vanity of mankind, which is rooted in sin.

Have you ever tried to catch the wind with your hand and hold it? That is a close equivalent to the vanity that the writer is referring to. The source of this vanity is the unwillingness on man’s part (male and female) to recognize their Creator and live for Him. And so, they chase after this and that to find fulfillment and unabating pleasure.  But nothing in this life ever satisfies but the Lord God who fashioned us for His purpose and pleasure. Being the rebel that we are, we ignore the lessons from the past, and continue in the folly of those who came before us.

  • Hosea 4:6—The passage from Hosea addresses a similar problem. The context—historically speaking—was during the time of “Hosea, son of Beeri” who ministered during the time “of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel” (Hos 1.1). The prophets of the Lord were kind of like His prosecuting attorney’s. They were the ones that God tasked with bringing charges of a sinful (sometimes criminal) nature having broken the edicts of the covenant between them and God.

The charge in Hosea 4 is rather simple. Verse 6 highlights the problem and its effects. God says, His people die or are destroyed for not remembering His law. Of course, those in leadership bear the greater brunt of the responsibility. Those who teach or are called to teach others are held to a higher standard. If they fail to call to remembrance what God has done in the past, what He has instructed His people to do, they will be severely punished. But this does not remove the blame from those under them.

To put it a little more plainly, teachers are accountable for not teaching. But this does not remove responsibility from the people. Both teachers and students are covenanted to God. if the teachers don’t teach God’s Law (Torah/instruction), then the people who are covenanted to God should do everything in their power to learn their past. They will be judged for not knowing God too—who He is, what He has done, and their heritage in Him.  Which is why we see them dying. They are dying for their own sin.

What does this have to do with the Pro-Life movement?

One of the things that Grant noticed as he traveled around the world advocating for the lives of unborn babies is that “People who had been valiant in the battle for life were generally unaware of the fact that the battle had been fought and won—several times—by Christian pro-life stalwarts generations, and even centuries ago.”[3] This coming from a person who has been on the front lines, so to speak, since the beginning of the Pro-Life movement after Roe v. Wade. Referring to the wisdom of “English author and lecturer, John H. Y. Briggs…” Grant points out that “historical awareness is essential for the health and well-being of any society; it enables us to know who we are, why we are here, and what we should do.”[4]

At the close of his introduction, Grant tells the reader from where he drew his knowledge on this issue. Starting with the Patristic period (era of the Church Fathers), through the fall of Rome, the time of the Renaissance and Enlightenment, the Missionary movement of the 18th-19th centuries, to the time of the first World War (1914), till the present, Grant sought to meticulously draw from the well-spring of history on the Pro-Life movement. His treatment is by no means exhaustive (whose is?), but he does provide an ample bibliography for those keen to further build their knowledge through research.[5]

**I am well aware of the fact that this is a blog post. And so, timing is of the essence. Therefore, I have no intention of dealing with all the different periods mentioned above. If you want to know how the Pro-Life movement has been fought and won at various times and on various fronts, then get the book. At the end of this post I will give you a few other recommendations besides this one. They are all free on PDF (Available Here), or if you are like my wife preferring a physical book to an electronic version, then you may buy a hand held copy. I get nothing out of this. I don’t know Mr. Grant, but I do appreciate his work for the Kingdom of Christ. And having tasted his works on my own, I offer you a delectable portion of some much-needed food for thought.

We shall now turn our attention to a time in American history when the Pro-Life movement fought the battle for unborn babies and won. No, I didn’t type that wrong. Our history in the United States tells of a time when abortion was outlawed. When Pro-Lifers united across the country and for a few seasons legalized baby-killing was criminalized. Where the battle was started, fought and won, might surprise you. Let’s go ahead and look into our past…

Where it All Started…

“Like an avowed atheist who sees the devil at night, America awoke in a jolt to the horror of abortion…concern over the scandal of child-killing became…a moral crusade. It became a movement; an outcry against the insidious exploitation of women and children swept the nation,”[6] writes Grant.

The spark that fanned the flame that enveloped the nation was started in the New York Times. That is not a typo. I know, I know, unbelievable right?!? The New York Times is where the Pro-Life movement began in the United States of American in the 19th century. For the kids of today that are confused by century references that means the 1800’s. Specifically, 1871. That is the date that ought to be remembered in history, but time has eroded all knowledge of it. And boy, oh boy! are the Pro-Choicer’s of today glad!

Augustus St. Clair…

An investigative reporter for the New York Times named Augustus St. Clair “on July 1871…was given an extremely dangerous undercover investigative assignment…he was to infiltrate and ultimately expose the city’s prosperous and profligate medical malpractice industry—the common euphemism for the abortion trade.”[7]

Grant retells how Mr. St. Clair “and a ‘lady friend’ visited a number of the most heavily trafficked clinics in New York, posing as a couple facing a crisis pregnancy. [And] they were shocked with what they saw.”[8]  Bear in mind what shocked them was not that they were dark and dingy rat-holes. Dirty, rusted metal coat hangers were not drying on the line dripping bloody remnants of the last back alley “surgeries.” Actually, quite the opposite.

What shocked Mr. St. Clair and his friend was the high-end elegance that these facilities garnered. Not only that, it was also what Grant describes as

“the smug complacency of the poisonous proprietors—men and women who had made quite an opulent living out of dying—contrasted so sharply with the dispiritedness of their patients. It was that the frank and forthright commerce of the death merchants—advertised openly in all the magazines, newspapers, digests of the day—contrasted so sharply with the secretive shame of their customers. It was that the dens of iniquity were simultaneously dens of inequity.”[9]

Snowball that started an Avalanche…

To say that Augustus St. Clair’s indignation had been stirred by what he saw would be somewhat of an understatement. In August of that same year, just one month after getting the assignment, he “wrote a hard-hitting three-column article which the Times published…entitled ‘The Evil of the Age….”[10] In the opening of this article, published in the New York Times mind you, was a polished, yet scathing reality check for the readers. St. Clair put a spot light on what he called “the murder…of thousands of human beings…” not to mention the “thousands upon thousands more of adults [being] irremediably robbed in constitution, health, and happiness.”[11]

Personally, I find the honest tenacity of St. Clair’s position refreshing and enlightening. We are often told today that the best way to address abortion is by making it about science or philosophy or proper education, but St. Clair put a spotlight on it by calling it what it is…MURDER!  He didn’t hem and haw around the subject like so many Pro-Lifer’s do today. He wasn’t ashamed he was outraged by the barbarism of it; especially, the way those of the movement try to put a false veneer of beauty on it. He ripped the lying shroud right off of the Pro-Choice movement. And the result, while it may seem surprising to our modern ears, is nonetheless exciting.

Once St. Clair started his snowball roll at the top of “Press Hill” others joined the fray and it grew and grew and grew. Eventually,

“…a number of courageous journalists, following St. Clair’s lead in the Times, began to expose the awful practices of heretofore respectable and upstanding physicians, who traded on the misfortunes of others. Before long, the dam of self-interest broke and a flood of articles began to appear in several other New York papers—the Tribune, the Herald, and the Police Gazette. Soon, all around the country, the same newspapers, magazines, and digests that had previously accepted advertising from abortionists began to throw the searchlight of truth on their detestable deeds of darkness….”[12]

Even the Medical Community Jumped on Board…

Grant points out that

“the Journal of the American Medical Association, published a scathing critique of abortion’s death ethic noting that from the moment of conception: The unborn child is human, and at all periods differs in degree and not in kind from the infant and the adult. Therefore, we must regard it as a human being with an inalienable right to life, and that its destruction is homicide.”[13]

The Politicians Finally answer the Call…

Yes, if there is one way to get a politician on your side, it is to make your voice heard. There is a reason that a kid screaming will often kid their way. But this issue is about saving the babies, so that they can scream!

Grant explains, “Even reticent politicians and barristers began to take notice and take action. Tougher restrictive legislation, more efficient local enforcement, and strict sentencing guidelines were put into place all around the country, and the prosperous physical-killers were driven to desperate resources. Eventually every state in the Union passed laws making their morbid arts illegal. Many went so far as to affirm that the abortion of ‘any woman pregnant with child is an assault with intent to murder.’”[14]

The Chief Instigators of the Movement…

Without reading the book and looking into the history of the movement I can see where the reader might assume that it was the journalists, politicians, and some courageous members of the medical community that led to the national illegalization of abortion. That would be incorrect. Earlier I had stated that St. Clair is the one who started the snowball’s descent down “Press Hill” that sparked national concern. This is true, but before St. Clair formed the snowball someone else had caused it to snow. Or, to switch metaphors, someone else had dug away earth and laid the right foundation for St. Clair to build upon. The fact of the matter is that “it was the church that led the pro-life movement toward a consummate victory.”[15]

How so? The same way the road to victory is always paved over sin, hell and the grave by preaching and teaching the Holy Word of God. Immediately, when the dust had settled after the Civil War ministers and churches of all stripes began preaching, teaching and writing against this atrocity that had festered into the soul of American soil.[16] We shouldn’t be surprised that abortion found a foothold in this nation. For far too long we had festered another form of hate on fellow man—chattel slavery.

Assuming that the evil was vanquished, the light of the gospel was shown on another area. What may be surprising to the youth of our nation (I know of many adults who do not realize it), is that the principles, laws, and convictions that originally settled in the footer of which would become this great precipice the United States of America was the conviction that the God of the Bible is Creator and that His law is the final governing Word on right versus wrong. Life is precious because God gave/gives it. And only the Giver has the sovereign right to take it.

With such reminders,

“In less than two decades, the church was able to marshal hostile journalists, ambivalent physicians, reticent politicians, and even radical feminists to the cause of exploited mothers and their helpless unborn. They succeeded overwhelmingly. And they restored the foundations of a glorious legacy of freedom and justice that had always been at the heart of the remarkable American experiment.”[17]

Closing Remarks…

For those interested I offer a brief appendix and the promised link and references to the book cited above, as well as a couple others. I hope you enjoyed this brief history of the Pro-Life movement here in the United States. The victory has been won before. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. But we must be resolute in defining what the practice of abortion truly is (MURDER). Understand the root that drives it (Sin of Pride). And then, give the only remedy that will heal the wounds that have scarred our land (the Gospel of Jesus Christ).


Who is George Grant?

I have no intention of giving a bio of the man, that is something you may research for yourself. I will however, tell you what he has done (and still continues to do). He has written many books for the Pro-Life movement. In particular, he has written some works specifically geared toward pulling back the shroud that enshrines Planned Parenthood and their notorious founder Margret Sanger.

Sanger was about as hateful a woman as you could get. She was a eugenicist that believed, very similar to the Nazi party, that the best way to make sure life went forward properly in the best possible way was to control the breeding of the human population. She was akin to the modern-day fanatics that believe the earth is going to die within a generation or so if we don’t get a hold of an exploding human population. She was also a notorious racist, hater of the lower class in society, and those of religious faith. In particular, she was an ardent opponent of Christianity, and her lifestyle promoted everything that was contrary to biblical teaching. Though she is well known for promoting contraception, what she really favored was the killing of the offspring in the womb using any means necessary. The popular Plan-B pill or morning after pill, as it is sometimes called was one of her chief desires to create.

Here are a couple more works written by George Grant. The first is a biographical analysis of the famed feminist Margret Sanger who I lovingly spoke of above. The second was written on the legacy she left in her wake—Planned Parenthood. The third title is the one that I have used for this post.

    • Grant, George. Killer Angel: A Biography of Planned Parenthood’s Founder Margaret Sanger. Franklin, TN: Ars Vitae Press & The Reformed Library. 1995.
    • __________. Grand Illusions: The Legacy of Planned Parenthood. 2nd Edition. Franklin, TN: Adroit Press. 1992.
    • __________. Third Time Around: A History of the Pro-Life Movement from the First Century to the Present. Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth & Hyatt Publishers. 1991.

I would highly recommend that you read all three ( Again, Available Here)if you are at all interested in learning the history of the Pro-Life movement from a purely Christian perspective. Which I believe is the only consistent and effective way to address the murder of babies in the womb; as, it is gospel-centered and unabashedly unashamed of identifying sin and the only remedy found in the life-giving sacrifice of Jesus Christ our Lord.


[1] George Grant, Third Time Around: A History of the Pro-Life Movement from the First Century to the Present (Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth & Hyatt Publishers, 1991), 1-2.  Italics in original.

[2] All Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the English Standard Version (ESV).

[3] Ibid, 2-3.

[4] Ibid., 4.

[5] Ibid., 4.

[6] Ibid., 95.

[7] Ibid., 91. Italics in original.

[8] Ibid., 91.

[9] Ibid., 92.

[10] Ibid., 92.

[11] Ibid., 92. Quoted in Marvin Olasky, the Press and Abortion, 1838-1988 (Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers, 1988), 26.

[12] Ibid., 95. Italics in original.

[13] Ibid., 96. Quoted in James Macaulay, Current Heroes: Examples of Faith for our Time (New York: American Tract Society, 1879), 42. Italics in original.

[14] Ibid., 96.

[15] Ibid., 97.

[16] Cf. pp. 97-100.

[17] Ibid., 100.