The innocuous white office building at the intersection of Fitzhugh and the Central Expressway in Dallas is an unlikely site for a battleground. Speeding between Ken’s Mufflers and the headquarters for Young Life, most drivers miss it entirely on most days. Saturdays, however, are different. Picketers line the sidewalk, proselytizing (“Finding God is like a great sale at the Gap”) and handing out pamphlets ( Children—Things We Throw Away?). They carry placards, the poster of choice being a small blackened baby resting peacefully beside an adult hand holding a single red rose. “ ABORTION IS MURDER,” the poster says. Should you pull into the driveway behind the building, the picketers will swarm toward you and, prohibited from crossing onto the property, scream at you from the sidewalk. “Please don’t kill that baby!” they might shout. A particularly zealous protestor might even holler, “That’s right—go and spread your legs for the doctor so you can go out and fornicate again!”
Travel across the parking lot, through a courtyard, and up a flight of stairs, and you will find two businesses, facing off across a landing. One is the Routh Street Women’s Clinic, where doctors perform an average of four thousand abortions a year. Across the way is the White Rose Women’s Center, which advertises itself as a confidential abortion-counseling service but which, supported by Catholic organizations, is absolutely dedicated to eradicating legal abortion. On Inauguration Day it was even more apparent that all the bitterness and horror of the abortion fight could be found at this single address in Dallas. “ NO TRESPASSING,” ordered the usual sign on the door to the Routh Street clinic. “Anyone entering these premises to disrupt or protest a woman’s right to have an abortion will be considered a trespasser and will be prosecuted.” Three banners in the White Rose’s windows reveal the center’s true orientation: “ SOMETHING MUST BE DONE,” the first said. “ SOMETHING WILL BE DONE,” said the third. In between was a photograph of the bloody, severed head of a 27-week-old fetus, held aloft by a pair of forceps. The universal “no” sign was splashed across the picture.
Sixteen years after abortion was included in the right to privacy by the U.S. Supreme Court, it remains the issue that will not go away. Divisive public debates like the Vietnam War, Watergate, and Reaganomics have come and gone since the 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, while abortion climbs ever higher on the public agenda. A new kind of protestor, more vocal and more violent, is emerging. Hundreds of picketers were recently arrested in Austin and San Antonio; in Dallas arsonists set fire to three abortion clinics at Christmastime. Now the Supreme Court has agreed to hear a Missouri case that gives it the opportunity to overrule Roe v. Wade. If it does, state legislatures will be free to make abortion a crime, as it used to be in Texas. Fifty state capitals will become battlefields.
As successful as the anti-abortion protesters have been in generating publicity and political pressure, they have been less successful in affecting the behavior of Americans. The visit to the abortion clinic has become a ritual of life in the United States. Thirty percent of all pregnancies end in abortion—an estimated 20 million since 1973. Abortion is the most common outpatient surgery in America.
Still, abortion remains the great taboo. We have learned not to think about it, much less talk about it. (“King’s ex,” a friend whispered. “Do you think it’s