I've personally attended many, many of the Marches for Life. Without a doubt, the event is singular and unique in American history. Never before have so many people repeatedly gathered for a single purpose and seen their cause effect so little political change. That is either admirable or quixotic. Or both.
If you've ever been to the March, then you probably think it's admirable. Those who gather these days are predominantly young. A joyous familiarity is with the crowd. And it is full of young people: not just enthusiastic teens but babies and toddlers. Inspiration is there because like its public-activist predecessor in the Civil Rights March, a simple message is conveyed: you are not alone.
Recent years, however, have tempered many a quiet pro-lifer's commitment to the March. Oh yes, by all means go. But the March for Life has an ever growing shadow hanging over it: reality. This reality isn't the cold "win-loose" mentality that abortion is still legal. It's the sad, divisive nature of modern partisan politics. Abortion has divided our political parties like no other issue. This division has less to do with absolutism of positions on either side (unborn babies = human life, or choice = absolute freedom). It rather has to do with the simple nature of partisan politics. The Democrats have largely made themselves a party inhospitable to any position but abortion on demand. Therefore, those who believe in choice (absolute or otherwise) find there a home for their position. Unfortunately for pro-lifers, the GOP opened its arms wide: after all where else could they go? The Grand Old Party adopted language of a human life amendment, the sanctity of life, and generally, favored a more nuanced position that accommodates the choice for life. But as a party that will go "all out" for an issue, the GOP has fallen far short, and even further, in letting a "pro-life" culture influence a political platform.
So both sides of the issue, and more so the Right to Life side, have found themselves utterly captured by their political allies to "vote" and to "support" a party and her candidates because the other side is simply intolerable. And this decision has largely (and unfortunately) colored the March for Life. My last March was a few years back in the second year of President Obama's first term. The pro-life movement had equated all the abortions that annually occurred in America with President Obama: he became an idol or perhaps a scapegoat for the entire political culture of abortion. The emphasis that year was healthcare and it became increasingly clear that the movement in her rhetoric had aligned herself with partisan goals of stopping this President.
Perhaps these sorts of reactions are inevitable for the March for Life. After all, the annual event is held in DC, in the lawn of the Capital, with a walk down Constitution Avenue ending at the supreme Court. Roe was still-birthed in the great American temple of Jurisprudence. And a people who would fancy themselves a Republic focus their energies precisely towards the rule of the unelected nine. At some point, then, the political pro-life movement must become focused on power: and the surest path to power is powerful and centralized political parties. It was a union meant to happen, or at least, set up to happen.
Of course, that does not mean the March for Life is wrong or bad. It simply means that it has perhaps become bloated in its optimism while short-sided in its goals. The first change that needs to happen is that many of those in favor of abortion should be encouraged to march each year.
Ok, Caro, I followed you up to here. Now excuse me while I bring you a rhetorical life-raft to save you from the deep end.
Ahem. I'll explain. The ultimate goal of the right to life movement must be and always has been the complete respect of life from the moment of conception until natural death. I dare say that many of those who would favor a woman's right to choose and possibly even would favor euthanasia may nevertheless live a life according to the principles of the culture of life. And what might those principles be? The first and foremost is compassion: a compassion that is willing to look at a woman in a time of great confusion and need and say "whatever it takes." Or to look at a suffering relative and say, "I am here." Thus, the second great principle of the pro-life movement: solidarity. We do not leave any person behind or alone in any condition or in any moment, and certainly not at the moment of suffering, confusion, pain and doubt.
The movie Juno is oft-praised by the pro-life movement for the title character's choice to keep her baby to full term and bring the child to a loving home of welcoming adoptive parents. What is missed in that, however, are all the people around her who embrace her and who do not leave her: the boyfriend, who though confused and goofy, wants to be there; the parents who shuttle her around and don't pressure her one way or another; the adoptive mother who leaves her heart out, open and vulnerable, for Juno to fill it. I dare say that none of those characters (and certainly none of the actors) would describe themselves as pro-life, and yet, there they are! Welcoming life, with compassion and solidarity.
It would be unrealistic to believe that we need no laws to change to end abortion; it is also unrealistic to believe that a change in law will end all abortion. Given these unrealities (neither of which ought to be abandoned), a third-way goal appears: work and live lives that make abortion truly the last and least of all options. On this point, those who would legally favor abortion and those who would restrict it would have much more common ground. No one should ever be alone. And no woman who faces a troubling moment should feel she should have one option alone.
"Whatever it takes"—that's the motto, more than being pro-life or pro-choice, that should unite Americans. "Whatever it takes"—if you have a friend, a relative or a child who becomes pregnant, those should be the first words out of your mouth. "Whatever it takes" for you to feel that you are not alone, that you have my support, my compassion, and my love to make a good choice. "Whatever it takes"—my money, my roof or my time so that you know that these moments of perceived crisis are actually and acutely moments of love. Indeed, both sides of the abortion debate need to stop focusing so much on "what do you believe" but more "what are you willing to do about it."
In scripture, there is the story of the two sons, who are asked a simple task of their father. One says, "yes, father" and does not do it. The other rebels, and yet does the task. Which of them did his father's will? It is not always about what we say and what we stand for: we are complicated creatures. And we are flawed: we fail when we know better and we do better when we know not why.
Today, I know there are so many more Americans who would be willing to embrace a "whatever it takes" attitude than to fall strictly behind partisan lines. For those on the pro-life side, it gives a hope that lies beyond the mirage and unpredictability of politics. For those on the pro-abortion side, it gives a chance to express compassion and solidarity in moments of despair and hope. "Whatever it takes" should unite us behind one another because it means that all of us, no matter what age or season we find ourselves in, have a role to play. And that's the exciting truth that will help to build a culture of life.