March for Life: A Potent Expression of the Pro-Life Movement
When a group of activist U.S. Supreme Court Justices unilaterally legalized the killing of preborn children nationwide in 1973, they didn’t choose to release their decision in late January, during winter, as a challenge to test the resolve of pro-life activists.
Presumably, the Justices thought that their decision (7-2), while likely to be greeted with some controversy, would quickly become the settled law of the land. Likely, they did not expect that dauntless pro-life activists would rise to the challenge, organizing annual protests to mark the day of infamy, January 22.
Most probably, they had no inkling that growing crowds of hundreds of thousands of pro-life activists would brave the worst wintry weather that Washington D.C. can dole out, year after year after year, until they succeeded in eradicating Roe as the law of the land.
These are some of the thoughts that occurred to me this past week, as tens of thousands of pro-life activists gathered for the annual March for Life in Washington D.C. It swelled my heart with pride to see so many young people and families cheerfully braving freezing temperatures and snow to march, even though the original purpose of the March—to protest Roe v. Wade—has now been achieved.
We Won’t Stop Until Every Life is Protected from Abortion
Roe is gone. And yet there they are: the enormous crowds of cheering, chanting, dancing pro-lifers, in the midst of icy winds and driving snow. And why? Because they understand that our work is not yet done and will not be done until every single preborn child in America (and around the world) is protected in law.
My pride only increased when I read the news that a pro-abortion group that had organized a counter-protest cancelled their event at the last-minute because of the weather. While some pro-life groups were not able to make it to the March because of bad driving conditions, no one ever contemplated cancelling the March for Life. It never has been cancelled.
The 2024 March for Life | The pro-life movement is here to walk With Every Woman, For Every Child! pic.twitter.com/uHvZPJzMwj
— March for Life (@March_for_Life) January 19, 2024
If you want to know how it was that pro-lifers succeeded in overturning Roe, five decades after it had seemed as if it was firmly settled as the law of the land, look no further than the size and fervor of the crowds at the March for Life, and at pro-life marches around the United States.
This is no fleeting movement. There is a steely resolve at the heart of the pro-life movement: a resolve that reflects the gravity of the evil against which we are fighting. Even if the immediate goal of the March has been achieved, overturning Roe, we will not stop showing up, in snow, sleet, or hail until every life is protected from the violence of abortion.
We Must Not Abandon Pro-Life Convictions Post-Roe
After all, there are many signs that if anything, our work has only just begun.
It would be foolish to expect that the overturning of Roe would somehow cause the well-funded, powerful pro-abortion movement simply to throw up their hands and give up. Although they may lack the resolve to show up in January weather to support their cause, they remain a formidable foe. After all, they do possess such advantages as the passionate support of the mainstream media, and many of the wealthiest and most influential people on the planet.
Without doubt, pro-abortion activists are seeking ways to overturn Dobbs (the decision that overturned Roe), pass legislation on both state and national levels, as well as sway public opinion towards their pernicious view of the world.
Unfortunately, people are afraid of change, and it is often the case that a sudden change in law or culture provokes a strong backlash in the opposite direction. We have seen some signs of this in the United States since the overturning of Roe, with a series of pro-abortion ballot initiatives passing in various states.
Meanwhile, there are some signs that public opinions on abortion are trending pro-abortion since the overturn of Roe. While this is tragic, it is also to be expected in the short term. The right response is not to hide or abandon our pro-life convictions, but instead to find new and better ways to reach people with the truth about abortion.
Countering Pro-Abortion Lies with Education
Most people have a deep conviction that fairness and equality are best. However, the pro-abortion movement has deployed powerful propagandistic messaging that has convinced many people that the preborn child is not human, and therefore not deserving of protection. Furthermore, they have convinced people that banning abortion will in various ways negatively impact them by curtailing their freedom.
We know that both of these messages are grotesque lies. The humanity of the preborn child is one of the most basic biological facts. Similarly, history clearly shows that protecting the rights of some human beings advances the interests of all human beings. With slavery gone, for instance, we have been able to reap the benefits of the goodness, creativity, and potential of our once-oppressed African-American brothers and sisters, thus creating the conditions for peace and prosperity. Similarly, banning abortion is not an infringement on freedom, but rather one step towards creating a more just society, with benefits for all.
In the face of the post-Dobbs pendulum swing, it is critical that the educational arm of the pro-life movement receive significant support, so that we can reach the hearts and minds of more ordinary Americans. In this way, we can cement the enormous gains for human rights post-Dobbs and make being pro-life not only the right thing to be, but also politically victorious in the legislature and at the ballot box.
Weak Leadership from Self Proclaimed Pro-Life Politicians
Abortion is already a top priority for the Democrat Party that believes in the right to abortion, led by President Joe Biden (a so-called Catholic) who asserts that a woman’s right to choose is “fundamental.” Democrats see this issue as key in the 2024 elections and a potent issue to attack the Republican Party. Sadly, in response to this threat, some Republicans are weakening their position on the issue of abortion, leaving the narrative purely in the political realm and not addressing how this evil is harmful to the common good, violates human dignity, harms women and families, and undermines a moral society.
Recently, for instance, President Donald Trump doubled down on his criticisms of “heartbeat laws.” These laws, which have passed in several states, ban nearly all abortions after the point when the preborn child’s heartbeat can be detected, or around six week’s gestation.
A few days ago, the former president was once again asked about the issue by a female voter at a Fox News town hall event. The woman noted that she has, “been vocal in celebrating with you all of your pro-life victories from the past.” However, she added, “But then in this campaign, you’ve also blamed pro-lifers for some of the GOP losses around the country and you’ve called heartbeat laws like Iowa’s terrible.” She continued, “I’d just like some clarity on this because it’s such an important question to me. I’d like for you to reassure me that you can protect all life, every person’s right to life without compromise.”
In response, Trump once again reiterated that he supports exceptions for “life of the mother, rape, incest.” On the topic of heartbeat laws, the president noted, “A lot of people say, if you talk five or six weeks, a lot of women don’t know if they’re pregnant in five or six weeks.” In explaining his position, he also added that “you have to win elections.”
We Must Urge Leaders to Protect ALL Human Life
As I have written in previous articles, we owe tremendous gratitude to President Trump for our success in overturning Roe and in advancing pro-life legislation during his term, but such comments are deeply troubling. After all, the fact that women do or do not know they are pregnant at five or six weeks has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not their preborn child exists, is alive, and deserves the protections afforded to every other human being. In fact, that’s the whole point of heartbeat laws: they are a legislative tool to drive home the point that the preborn human child is human and alive from the earliest stages of pregnancy.
Recently, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who himself signed a heartbeat bill last year, challenged President Trump on this issue. “This is a guy that was at the March for Life in January of 2020,” noted the governor, “and he said that all life was a gift from God, he said the unborn was made in the image of God, he said that there should be protections. That’s what he was saying when he was president at the March for Life. Now he’s saying it’s a terrible, terrible thing. So, how do you reconcile those two views? Did he flip flop? Did he not believe it at the time?”
“Some issues are pretty fundamental,” DeSantis added. “How do you flip flop on something like the sanctity of life?”
Tragically, to the detriment of innocent, vulnerable preborn children there are several within the Republican Party to show squishiness on the abortion issue ever since Roe was repealed. As the New York Times recently reported, dozens of Republican congressmen who had previously signed on to legislation that would ban abortion federally, have not done so on the most recent version of the bill, presumably because they afraid of the possible political risks in doing so.
Respect for Life is the Foundation of a Just Society
While it is true that we must be politically savvy, it is a mistake to subject something as absolutely fundamental as the sanctity of human life to a purely political calculus. In such cases, we must be confident that courage and consistency, backed up with the highest-quality information and talking points, will ultimately sway the public to make protecting life a winning political issue.
Due to the cowardice of politicians, it can sometimes seem that we are losing the battle in showing why abortion is an evil: an evil that undermines democratic equality and the precondition for civil society. Afterall, the proper understanding of the human person is the foundation of a moral society. And unless the basic right to life is acknowledged and defended in law, freedom’s foundations are gravely weakened as “society becomes a mass of individuals… without any mutual bonds” (Evangelium vitae, no. 57).
Pope St. John Paul II summarizes it best:
We can say that the cultural change which we are calling for demands from everyone the courage to adopt a new lifestyle, consisting in making practical choices—at the personal, family, social and international level—on the basis of a correct scale of values: the primacy of being over having, of the person over things. This renewed lifestyle involves a passing from indifference to concern for others, from rejection to acceptance of them. Other people are not rivals from whom we must defend ourselves, but brothers and sisters to be supported. They are to be loved for their own sakes, and they enrich us by their very presence (Evangelium vitae, no. 98).
Respect for Life Fosters a Culture of Life
We must be clear in stating that there can be no transformation of society and culture, and no stopping of the culture of death that has so overwhelmed Western society, unless there first occurs a reaffirmation of the dignity of the human person, beginning in the womb.
That is why, even though Roe v. Wade is gone, we pro-lifers will continue marching in January (and throughout the year and around the world). Long ago, the March for Life morphed into something far bigger than a protest against Roe. It has now become a potent expression of the pro-life movement’s deep longing for a more just society based upon a radically different scale of values: one that places the dignity of the individual human being, including the preborn child, at the very center.
Until we have such a society, the March for Life, and marches around our nation and world will continue, “united [in an] ethical effort to activate a great campaign in support of life” (Evangelium vitae, no. 95).
As president of Human Life International, Fr. Boquet is a leading expert on the international pro-life and family movement, having journeyed to nearly 90 countries on pro-life missions over the last decade. Father Boquet works with pro-life and family leaders in 116 counties that partner with HLI to proclaim and advance the Gospel of Life. Read his full bio here.