Marching Forward

A NOTE FROM THE PUBLISHER: In the post-Roe era, there is a great need to coordinate and enhance our pro-life efforts at the national level and state level in order to convert hearts and minds to the pro-life cause.

Thousands of pro-life demonstrators participate in the annual March for Life near the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on January 20, 2023.
Thousands of pro-life demonstrators participate in the annual March for Life near the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on January 20, 2023. (photo: Saul Loeb / AFP/Getty)

To “state” the obvious, now that the demise of Roe v. Wade has returned abortion law to the authority of individual U.S. states, there is a greatly enhanced need for pro-life advocacy at this level. 

But what might be less obvious is that, in the post-Roe era, there is a similarly enhanced need to coordinate pro-life efforts at the national level and to explore new avenues to convert hearts and minds to the pro-life cause. 

Indeed, these changed dynamics were the central theme for this year’s March for Life in Washington, which will continue to be the annual centerpiece of the collective efforts by faithful Catholics and our pro-life allies to protect unborn lives nationwide. 

Looking first at the national picture, President Joe Biden and his Democratic Party collaborators in Congress are continuing with their full-court political press to expand abortion rights far beyond what Roe permitted. Only an inflexible national standard of abortion on demand — right up to birth — will ever be enough to satisfy these pro-abortion zealots. 

Congressionally, though, the Republican Party’s assumption of control over the U.S. House of Representatives is a highly positive development in terms of blocking this political push. In fact, the new House is already attempting to shift the legislative agenda through its passage earlier this month of the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act and a resolution condemning the recent wave of attacks on pro-life pregnancy centers and churches. 

The implacable opposition of congressional Democrats to both of these necessary and commonsense measures further highlights their party’s deplorable stance on abortion. But these sensible actions by the House failed to get the credit they deserved from the majority of reports in the secular media, as usually is the case when it comes to abortion-related matters. 

That’s another reason why the March for Life is so necessary — it provides an unparalleled opportunity to transmit an authentic political accounting and to counter the entrenched pro-abortion biases disseminated by the news and entertainment media.

It is lamentable that abortion has become such a partisan issue. There are almost no prominent Democrats at the national level who remain willing to break with their party’s pro-abortion orthodoxy. That includes Biden, who in recent years has completely abandoned his own previously less extreme position on abortion. This shortcoming is particularly conspicuous at this moment: Given his frequently proclaimed commitment to his Catholic faith, the president should have been an active supporter of this year’s March for Life, instead of completely ignoring the event and issuing a White House proclamation on the day of the march marking the 50th anniversary of the Roe decision on Jan. 22, and honoring the “generations of advocates who have fought for reproductive freedom.”

By contrast, the members of Democrats for Life deserve full credit for their staunch refusal to abandon their principled pro-life convictions. Congressional Democrats like West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin and Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar also deserve credit, for resisting some of the most extreme elements of their party’s current pro-abortion legislative agenda. 

Catholics should pray such actions can serve as seeds that, over time, will regenerate the widespread opposition to abortion that existed in the Democratic Party at the time the Roe v. Wade decision was wrongfully decided in 1973. That’s because a bipartisan pro-life foundation will be essential to protecting human life going forward, now that the Dobbs decision has eradicated the constitutional underpinnings for a so-called “right” to abortion and removed federal courtrooms from being the final arbiters for both federal and state abortion laws.

A very different pro-life context prevails at the state level, as 2023 unfolds. Here, the state courts have assumed a far more prominent role than previously, because they now pass final judgment on their own state’s pro-life laws. In turn, this allows pro-abortion judges an opportunity to manufacture a state “right” to abortion by relying on the identical flawed constitutional reasoning regarding privacy rights that was employed by the Roe decision, until it was finally overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision last June. That’s precisely what happened earlier this month in South Carolina, and with similar lawsuits pending in other jurisdictions, a substantial number of other jurisdictions potentially could follow suit.

However, state courts can rule in the opposite direction, too, as evidenced by a decision in Idaho released on the same day as the one in South Carolina. The Idaho court correctly rejected arguments that its state Constitution contained an implied right to abortion, on the sensible grounds that the constitution’s privacy provisions were never intended to have anything at all to do with abortion. In fact, this was equally true in the case of South Carolina, but there an activist state Supreme Court judge deliberately ignored this reality in order to arrive at her obviously predetermined conclusion in favor of constitutionalizing a right to abortion.

Pro-life leaders in South Carolina are not taking this defeat lying down. As they correctly point out, pro-life advocacy is going to be crucial in terms of strengthening the hands of the state’s pro-life governor and its majority of pro-life legislators, who want to sidestep or overturn this unjust verdict. This can be accomplished by continuing to pass new pro-life laws crafted to provide as much protection to unborn babies as is now allowable and by appointing less biased judges who in future will interpret the South Carolina Constitution more rationally in order to reverse this month’s wrongfully decided pro-abortion finding. 

Along with battling bids to constitutionalize abortion rights, going forward, state-level pro-life movements also are required to mobilize against the intensified efforts of state pro-abortion politicians to pass extremist new laws — such as the effort now underway in Maine to legislate late-term abortion right up to the time of birth.

Veteran participants in the March for Life are emphasizing this need to prioritize state-level pro-life advocacy. Speaking ahead of the event, Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, told the Register that while efforts at both the state and federal level remain important, “activity on the state level in light of the current landscape is essential.” And he emphasized that local dioceses and Catholic conferences need to understand “what is the landscape in that state” and tailor their pro-life responses to that local context. 

Similarly, this year’s March for Life focuses attention on the need to tailor new responses related to other pro-life imperatives, such as expanding the pro-life movement’s youth outreach and extending the range of services available to assist women in crisis pregnancies both before and after they give birth to their children. 

A noteworthy example, on display at this year’s event, was the inaugural youth-focused “Life Fest” rally, organized jointly by the Sisters of Life and the Knights of Columbus and timed to take place immediately ahead of the march at Washington’s Entertainment and Sports Arena. 

The vast majority of pro-life Americans aren’t able to travel to Washington to participate personally in the March for Life. But in light of its commitment to expand the number of local marches in this new post-Roe era, there will be additional opportunities to join personally in one of these inspiring and public affirmations of life. And even when Catholics still can’t march in person, all of us can be permanently “on the march” for unborn life most importantly through prayer and by supporting vital pro-life efforts financially and through volunteer work. In this way, we can continue marching forward together for life!

God bless you!