“Indeed, the building of a truly just society rests upon respect for the sacred dignity of every person and the welcome given to each one as brother or sister. May almighty God strengthen the commitment of all, especially the young, to persevere in their efforts aimed at protecting human life in all its stages, especially through adequate legal measures.”
― Pope Francis, Message to Participants for the March for Life 2023
Over the past few days, I joined the tens of thousands of pro-life activists, who descended on Washington D.C. for the annual March for Life. Needless to say, this year was different from every other year. In the past, the most common chant to hear at the March was, “Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Roe v. Wade has got to go!” This year, that cry was nowhere to be heard. After all, Roe is gone!
However, though the goal to overturn Roe has been accomplished, there is still much work to be done to transform the culture into a Culture of Life, where every life is welcomed, loved, served, and defended.
We March Because Abortion is Still Legal
The atmosphere of celebration at this year’s March was palpable. And why shouldn’t it be? For five decades, we have gathered on the National Mall, often in bitterly cold weather, and sleet or snow, to listen to speeches and then to march to the Supreme Court. The goal? To demand that the sitting justices do the right thing and reverse the most egregious miscarriage of justice in the history of the High Court.
However, now that Roe is gone, someone might well ask whether the March for Life (or any march, walk, or rally for life across our nation) has outlived its purpose. After all, the March is scheduled to coincide with the anniversary of the Roe decision (Jan. 22, 1973). Why put ourselves through the awful January weather (though this year was quite nice) to mark a date that no longer has the same significance?
The fact that hordes of pro-life Americans showed up at this year’s March sent a resounding answer: No! The March has not outlived its purpose. For as long as the violence of abortion, the killing of innocent human life, is legal anywhere in the United States, we will be here.
“The pro-life movement has just experienced a major victory in the fall of Roe v. Wade, but our work to build a Culture of Life is far from complete,” said Jeanne Mancini, the president of March for Life, in a statement last week. “Those next steps include working to advance legal protections for the unborn at the state and federal level.”
Without doubt, the March for Life in D.C., and other pro-life rallies across the nation, have played vital roles in confronting, as well as exposing, the violence of abortion. They have provided a means for Americans over several generations to voice to their lawmakers and political leaders the need for and importance of reversing the unjust law of abortion, which discriminates against the preborn. Now that Roe is gone, it’s time for legislators both on the state and federal level to step up and start using the newfound legal freedom to protect the preborn in law.
Pro-Lifers Witness to Human Dignity
Although several states have totally banned abortion since the reversal of Roe, others (like California) have taken steps to expand the so-called “right” to abortion. Every day, thousands of abortions are still taking place across the country; innocent human life is being killed. Given this, marches, walks, and rallies for life are as urgent as they ever were.
Indeed, long ago the March for Life in D.C. became much more than a rally calling for the end of Roe. Far from a march with a single, narrow, political purpose, it has become a powerful symbolic manifestation of the strength of the resolve of pro-life Americans, as well as a powerful tool for educating the next generation of pro-lifers and empowering them to go back to their own communities to make a difference.
By continuing to march, what we are showing is that defending life is bigger than elections, politicians, legislation, and the Supreme Court. It is a key way that we give witness to the beauty and dignity of every human life from fertilization to natural death. By our presence, we give the preborn, the most vulnerable of our race, the voice they lack and need.
Motivating Pro-Lifers to Defend Life
To bring an end to the violence and scourge of abortion demands that each of us commit to making a difference. And that means showing up, rain or shine, snow, or sleet or hail. That means educating ourselves, encouraging one another, and strategizing about how we can make a difference in our own states and communities.
And don’t forget that the March for Life itself is but one of numerous pro-life events that happens every year in D.C. around this time. Every year, tens of thousands of people travel all across the country to Washington, D.C., not just for the March and the rally, but for the days of conferences, educational sessions, activism training and liturgies. Many activists currently working full-time in the pro-life movement, were first inspired to give their lives to the cause after attending the March and confronting the great evil in our nation.
Furthermore, even if Roe is gone, we must continue to mark January 22, 1973, as a day of infamy, reminding ourselves of the tens of millions of preborn children that were condemned to death due to the cowardice of ideologically motivated Supreme Court justices. And reminding ourselves that this crime was permitted to advance, to become inculcated in this nation’s mindset, because political leaders, lawmakers, and many of this country’s citizens since 1973 have done little to nothing to correct this injustice, thus allowing the killing of innocent life to remain legal. Therefore, we cannot get comfortable. Unless we stay vigilant and committed, a future Court or a future Congress could yet undo all of the progress we have made.
Abortion is Not the Future
Perhaps the most powerful message that the annual March for Life sends is that abortion is not a necessary evil or an evil that cannot be eradicated. It is not “inevitable.” It is not “the future.” It isn’t even the present. There are large numbers of joyful, committed Americans who have a vision, a dream, of what can be, i.e., a society in which abortion is unthinkable and every life is welcomed and protected.
Roe v. Wade didn’t just legalize abortion. It created the impression of a false “consensus.” Without significant debate, society reshaped itself around the legalization of the killing of preborn children. Legal abortion infiltrated every aspect of society, from education, to law, to health care, to marriage, to dating and sexual relations.
As Pope St. John Paul II wrote in Evangelium vitae,
[T]oday, in many people’s consciences, the perception of its gravity has become progressively obscured. The acceptance of abortion in the popular mind, in behaviour and even in law itself, is a telling sign of an extremely dangerous crisis of the moral sense, which is becoming more and more incapable of distinguishing between good and evil, even when the fundamental right to life is at stake. Given such a grave situation, we need now more than ever to have the courage to look the truth in the eye and to call things by their proper name, without yielding to convenient compromises or to the temptation of self-deception (no. 58).
Legal Abortion Tears Down Healthcare
Particularly tragic is what legal abortion has done to the healthcare profession. Traditionally, healthcare has been to save, cure, and serve life. Since the legalization of abortion, a profound corruption of the Hippocratic oath has seeped its way into many of our medical universities and hospitals. Not all doctors and nurses have fallen into this mindset, but there has been a clear and discernable revolution of healthcare in its treatment of human life, particularly the preborn (The same can be said of the elderly, disabled, and terminally ill.).
To quote Pope St. John Paul II again: “Even certain sectors of the medical profession, which by its calling is directed to the defence and care of human life, are increasingly willing to carry out these acts against the person. In this way the very nature of the medical profession is distorted and contradicted, and the dignity of those who practise it is degraded” (no. 4).
As I wrote last week, this pro-death mentality has predictably migrated from the beginning of life to the end of life. More and more, the pressure is on to legalize assisted suicide and euthanasia. Those nations which have given in to this pressure, such as Canada, are experiencing the – again, entirely predictable – dystopian consequences, as many vulnerable, mentally ill, or financially destitute people are being pressured by the system into choosing death, rather than being provided quality care that acknowledges and respects their dignity as persons.
Society, in its support of abortion and euthanasia, says by its actions that some people lack inherent worth or may be killed to benefit others. In doing so, society has undermined a first principle of justice: It fails to treat every member of society with equal concern and respect.
By marching every year, we send a resounding counter-message: Every human being is of equal and immeasurable value. And we will not rest until this is reflected, not just in our laws, but in our institutional culture.
We Must Reshape the Social Environment
Supporters of abortion are constantly talking about the need to protect the “right” to abortion. Yet, as feminist Germaine Greer once put it:
What women ‘won’ was the ‘right’ to undergo invasive procedures in order to terminate unwanted pregnancies, unwanted not just by them but by their parents, their sexual partners, the governments who would not support mothers, the employers who would not employ mothers, the landlords who would not accept tenants with children, the schools that would not accept students with children.
Even many supposed “supporters” of abortion will admit that they find abortion profoundly distasteful. They recognize that it causes immense pain for many women. However, many of them will argue that it is “necessary.”
But when you examine their reasons, what you find is a curious fatalism, a profound pessimism about what is possible. They simply take certain things for granted, e.g., that people cannot be convinced to exercise sexual responsibility; that men will inevitably use women for sexual pleasure, without regard for their well-being, or the well-being of their children; that the community cannot do anything meaningful to help women with unplanned pregnancies; that society cannot be reshaped to incentivize life over death.
One of the things that characterizes the pro-life movement, is a profound optimism about the potential goodness – even heroism – that lies in ordinary human beings; and a belief that human beings have it in their power to reshape society in such a way that women do not need to choose between killing their preborn children, and a dignified life.
The ultimate consequence is we do very little as a society to offer life-respecting alternatives, to provide authentic care to women in need. For decades now, pro-lifers have valiantly worked to chart another course, donating many millions of dollars and resources to create a vast network of pro-life pregnancy centers.
Leaders Urge Legislators to Form Pro-Family Policies
A few days ago, a group of pro-life activists released a statement – which I have signed – urging state and federal legislators to refashion policies and spending priorities in such a way as to support life, women, and families. In the wake of the passage of Roe, they pointed out, there is enormous room for common sense policies that incentivize life over death.
Archbishop Anthony Fisher once said: “When women think that pregnancy is death to their planned life story, we need to help them, not only to revise their proposed biography, but also to be less afraid of the revised version.” One way to do that, is to reduce the fear and uncertainty surrounding pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood as much as possible. Although there is never any excuse for abortion, there is no question that many women feel pressured into abortion not just by the ambient cultural messages that minimize abortion and prioritize careers and wealth, but also by legitimate fear, uncertainty, and the threat of poverty.
We should do everything in our power to ensure that no woman ever feels like she has to choose abortion because she cannot fathom how she can afford to pay for prenatal care, childbirth, or to take time off from work to care for her newborn child. The statement, signed by hundreds of pro-life leaders and activists, calls for state and federal government to explore such things as providing affordable prenatal care, delivery and postpartum care; expanded child tax credits; paid parental leave; and flexible work hours for new parents.
These are reasonable measures. And importantly, they are measures that have a legitimate chance of passing with bipartisan support. It is said that the measure of a society is judged by how it treats and shows compassion for the weak and defenseless, for those who cannot protect or defend themselves. As a nation, we invest in many different things. However, our #1 priority should be to invest in life and families, which are the bedrock of a healthy civilization. We need to be mother-friendly and family-friendly in our mindset and actions.
Why I Marched
Our duty is to advocate for life and the respect owed to every person, this includes the preborn, by not only rejecting the violence of abortion and euthanasia (killing innocent human persons) but also by working to promote life.
The transformation of our culture and the building of a Culture of Life begins when we respect human dignity, asserting that every human person is made in the image and likeness of God, possesses intrinsic worth, and has a right to life, regardless of their stage of development, medical condition, or age.
That is the message of the March for Life. That is why I marched last week.