Today is the 40th anniversary of the 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe v Wade which transformed abortion from a procedure regulated on a state-by-state basis into a Constitutional right, emanating from invisible penumbras. What has been the consequence of the abortion-on-demand era?  More than 55 million abortions have taken place — which amounts to about one-sixth of the current American population:

The United States marks 40 years of legalized abortion in all fifty states at any time for any reason throughout pregnancy on January 22nd, the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision. Since that time, there have been approximately 55,772,015 abortions that have destroyed the lives of unborn children.

An estimate published by the National Right to Life Committee this time in 2011 indicated there have been an estimated 54,559,615 abortions since the Supreme Court handed down its 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision allowing virtually unlimited abortions.

In the document, “Abortion Statistics: United States Data and Trends,” NRLC education director Dr. Randall K. O’Bannon estimates that there have been 54,559,615 abortions since 1973 based on data from both the Centers for Disease Control and the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute, a former Planned Parenthood research arm. Guttmacher receives numbers directly from abortion centers themselves and is the prime source for more current figures because the Centers for Disease Control has never tabulated accurate numbers of abortions. The CDC relies on figures from state health departments, some of which rely on voluntary reporting — and it hasn’t had data from some states such as California and New Hampshire for more than a decade. …

The number means there are more than 3,300 abortions daily and 137 abortions per hour every hour in the United States. Translated another way, an abortion is done about every 30 seconds in the United States.

The analysis also found that the best estimate for the current number of annual abortions in the United States — involving both the surgical abortion procedure as well as the dangerous abortion drug RU 486 — is 1.2 million.

To put this in perspective, consider the fact that the US had approximately 142,394,000 births for the first 39 years of Roe.  Assuming for the moment that 2012 added as many births as 2011, the number rises to 146.348 million.  That means that abortions accounted for 28% of all known pregnancy outcomes in the US during this 40-year period. We literally threw away more than a quarter of human beings waiting to be born since Roe.

If you believe that a fetus is no more significant than a blood clot, that number won’t horrify you.  If you believe that a fetus is an individual human life with its own genetic identity — a scientific fact — that should be disturbing, even apart from any moral considerations.  If one believes that human life is sacred, well, this goes from disturbing to horrifying, and beyond.

Allahpundit wrote about the NBC/WSJ poll that shows increasing support for keeping Roe intact, but I’d like to add a couple of thoughts, which includes his excellent earlier post on Japan, too.  I’m less concerned about the current popularity status of abortion, which changes depending on pollster (Gallup and CNN last year showed Americans trending pro-life, Rasmussen pro-choice) than I am about the drift itself.

It seems that the debate isn’t taking place on either the scientific or the moral plane, but strictly on the utilitarian plane, and not just about the pregnancies, either.  We aren’t talking about the horror of disposing of humans at the beginning or the end of life, but of the political consequences of championing life, or the financial implications of the disposal rather than the human costs.  It’s the ultimate triumph of materialism; we’re not talking about whether, but when, how, and perhaps worst of all, cui bono.

And that, perhaps, is a horror in itself.

We aren’t going to move people to end or even start curtailing abortions on those terms.  We have to work in our communities to keep the debate focused on the horror of killing human beings for the sake of convenience, and we have to change minds on the ground by working to provide people with better options when they feel alone and frightened.  This isn’t a political campaign — it has to be a cultural campaign that aims to transform the current culture of death into a culture that values individual human life, and a culture that remembers that freely-chosen sacrifice for others should triumph over the convenience for self.