After more than four decades of marching and gathering across the nation to protest the catastrophic 1973 Supreme Court ruling Roe v. Wade, the pro-life movement witnessed something unprecedented on Jan. 27 during the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C.
For the first time, the sitting vice president of the United States took part, brought the best wishes of the president and delivered a speech pledging the new administration’s commitment to the cause.
Vice President Mike Pence electrified the hundreds of thousands in attendance who stood beneath the shadow of the iconic Washington Monument and largely filled the National Mall.
The appearance of the vice president was the strongest evidence imaginable of the sense of optimism and renewed energy that surround the pro-life movement. And the marches for life held across the country, from San Francisco and Los Angeles, and everywhere in between, to the nation’s capital drew some of the largest and most enthusiastic crowds ever seen. An estimated half-million people took part in the annual march in D.C. that had as its theme this year “The Power of One.”
The 2016 presidential election left the pro-life cause in an unanticipated place. Not only are both Houses of Congress under the control of pro-life leaders, but the White House also is occupied by a new president in Donald Trump, who signed a pledge to support life. It is a historic moment, as many pro-life leaders have noted, and there is a sense of momentum that much can and must be accomplished over the next two years. Trump and Congress gave the marchers in D.C. additional hope in his first week, with executive orders that began to dismantle the Affordable Care Act that had included the infamous HHS mandate (requiring businesses and religious organizations, including the Little Sisters of the Poor, to provide employees with contraceptives, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs); restore the Mexico City Policy that blocks foreign aid from being used to fund organizations that promote or perform abortions worldwide; and passage in the House of Representatives of a permanent version of the Hyde Amendment that prevents tax money from paying for abortions in the United States.
All of these developments only heightened the sense of expectation at the march in Washington and the joy of seeing the vice president on the stage in person. The vice president told the crowd:
“More than 240 years ago, our Founders wrote words that have echoed through the ages. They declared these truths to be self-evident, that we are, all of us, endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, and that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Forty-four years ago, our Supreme Court turned away from the first of these timeless ideals. But today, three generations hence, because of all of you, and the many thousands that stand with us in marches like this all across the nation, life is winning again in America. … You know, life is winning in America. And today is a celebration of that progress that we have made in this cause. You know I’ve long believed that a society can be judged by how we care for its most vulnerable: the aged, the infirm, the disabled and the unborn. We have come to a historic moment in the cause for life. And we must meet this moment with respect and compassion for every American.”
The March for Life came exactly one week after the inauguration of President Donald Trump and six days after the “Women’s March” drew hundreds of thousands of women to Washington, D.C. Observers noted, of course, the sharp disparity in tone and outlook between the two gatherings.
The speakers at the March for Life — including Cardinal Timothy Dolan; Benjamin Watson, tight end for the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens; Abby Johnson, former Planned Parenthood director; Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst; Reps. Mia Love from Utah and Chris Smith from New Jersey; and presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway — all spoke in positive and uplifting terms.
“I am a wife. A mother. A Catholic. Counselor to the president of the United States of America,” Conway said, “and yes, I am pro-life! This is a new day: a new dawn for life.”
Conway echoed the other speakers when she spoke forcefully about the movement’s concern for life, the well-being of the unborn and the mothers who have had or are contemplating an abortion and the need to build an authentic culture of life.
“All women who face unplanned pregnancies,” she pledged, “should know they are not alone. They are not judged. They, too, are protected, and cared for, and celebrated. So, to the March for Life 2017, allow me to make it very clear. We hear you. We see you. We respect you — and we look forward to working with you.”
In contrast, the Women’s March began supposedly as a grassroots effort for women to be heard in the immediate aftermath of Trump’s inauguration. It was soon hijacked by the pro-abortion movement, and any organization or group that did not hew closely to the abortion agenda was either disinvited or blocked outright from participation, though pro-lifers did partake.
At the actual rally for the Women’s March, Madonna delivered an obscenity-laden speech in which she said she pondered blowing up the White House, while Ashley Judd suggested Trump dreamed of engaging in incest with his daughter Ivanka. The overwhelming focus, in both the speeches and the crude and vulgar signs that could not even be aired or published by the media because they would have violated FCC standards of decency, was abortion.
Playing out one week apart, the two events were the most vivid contrast imaginable between the culture of life and the culture of death.
To no one’s surprise, media coverage was heavily biased toward the Women’s March, but just as the appearance of the vice president marked a pivotal moment in the history of the pro-life movement, so, too, did media coverage of the March for Life exceed all expectations.
Several major networks sent reporters to the march, veterans of past marches noted that the media tent was filled with news outlets, and broadcast trucks were seen in unexpected numbers. The new media scrutiny was in part thanks to the president, who called out the mainstream media for its bias and lack of interest in the past, but it was also because the pro-life movement is too large, too young and supported by too many women to be ignored anymore, even by a largely hostile secular press. Of course, EWTN broadcast the whole day, showing pre-coverage as well as the rally and march.
The resulting stories reflected this grudging awareness. The McClatchy News Service ran a story with the title, “March for Life rallies in Washington, sensing victory within reach.” Reuters reported, “Mike Pence, Kellyanne Conway embolden pro-life crowd at ‘March for Life.’” And even The New York Times published a piece on Pence’s appearance at the rally, “Anti-Abortion Marchers Draw Inspiration From an Unlikely Source.”
No sensible member of the pro-life cause is naïve enough to think, however, that there will not be a media pushback, or that the abortion industry, including the now-imperiled abortion giant Planned Parenthood, is not plotting a long campaign to block any sensible abortion restrictions or the formal defunding of Planned Parenthood. Those concerned about life should brace for an ugly and vicious battle over the president’s pick for the Supreme Court, especially given the pledge that the nominee will defend the Constitution in what Pence termed “the tradition of the late and great Justice Antonin Scalia.”
But those are battles still to come. The joy-filled marches throughout America, bringing new and young supporters of life together with the women and men who have struggled for more than 40 years, demonstrated that we have the strength and confidence to carry the promise forward, not with anger, vulgarity or violence, but with love, prayer and compassion.
As Vice President Pence said,
“Life is winning in America for many reasons.
“Life is winning through the steady advance of science that illuminates when life begins, more and more, every day. Life is winning through the generosity of millions of adoptive families to open their hearts and homes to children in need. Life is winning through the compassion of caregivers and volunteers at crisis-pregnancy centers and faith-based organizations who minister to women in towns across this country.
“And life is winning through the quiet counsels between mothers and daughters, grandmothers and granddaughters, between friends across kitchen tables, and over coffee at college campuses. The truth is being told. Compassion is overcoming convenience. And hope is defeating despair.
“In a word, life is winning in America because of all of you. So I urge you to press on. But as it is written, ‘Let your gentleness be evident to all.’ Let this movement be known for love, not anger. Let this movement be known for compassion, not confrontation. When it comes to matters of the heart, there is nothing stronger than gentleness.
“I believe that we will continue to win the hearts and minds of the rising generation if our hearts first break for young mothers and their unborn children, and if we, each of us, do all we can to meet them where they are, with generosity, not judgment.
“To heal our land and restore a culture of life, we must continue to be a movement that embraces all, cares for all, and shows respect for the dignity and worth of every person.”
Matthew Bunson is senior contributor
to the Register and EWTN News.