Why March for Life?

For priests, religious, and seminarians, each morning begins the same way, with the praying of the Invitatory Psalm, the opening prayer of the first Hour of the day in the Liturgy of the Hours. Typically, that Psalm is Psalm 95. The version in the Breviary concludes this way:
Offering to Molech (1897)

Today, listen to the voice of the Lord:
“Do not grow stubborn, as your fathers did in the wilderness,
when at Meriba and Massah they challenged me and provoked me,
Although they had seen all of my works. 

Forty years I endured that generation.
I said, ‘They are a people whose hearts go astray
and they do not know my ways.’
So I swore in my anger,
‘They shall not enter into my rest.’”

I’ve thought about these words frequently in the lead-up to today, January 22, 2013, the fortieth anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Now, Roe often gets described as the case that legalized abortion in the United States, and that’s true, to a certain extent. Actually, abortion was already legal in several states. What Roe did was claim was that there was a constitutional right to abortion, which is about the most radical position possible.

As a nation, we’ve certainly seen some positive signs in the intervening forty years. For example, the plaintiff in Roe v. Wade, and the plaintiff in the companion case Doe v. Bolton, have each come out against abortion. That’s pretty incredible. In fact, if it were any other high-profile case, it would probably garner a whole lot of media attention if two lead plaintiffs announced such a radical conversion, devoting their lives to overturning their own cases. Nor were these women alone, either.  Dr. Bernard Nathanson, one of the co-founders of NARAL (then known as the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws, and one of the major forces behind Roe) became pro-life after the advent of ultrasound technology showed him what abortion really was.

But “forty years and roughly 55 million abortions later,” relatively little seems to have changed.  Most Americans remain deeply conflicted about abortion.  Most of us know, on some level, that it’s terribly immoral; but there’s a sense that it’s a necessary evil (necessary, at least, for us to live the sort of lifestyle that we want).  If we weren’t conflicted, we wouldn’t bother with the sort of “safe, legal, and rare” rationalizations. But on some level, we know what we’re doing is wrong. We know.

That’s a sad reality, and reflects poorly on us as a nation. And so we in the pro-life movement press on, harder and more faithfully than before. As the U.S. bishops have asked, we should be treating these next few days as days of penance and fasting.  (If you haven’t been doing that, start today).  And of course, this Friday is the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C. (with similar events happening throughout the country).  And so this year in particular, we must march.

Why March?

The pro-life movement can sometimes feel like Sisyphus pushing a boulder up a mountain every day, just to watch it roll back down. More than a few pro-lifers have despaired at the lack of success. And the March for Life in particular can seem pointless: gathering hundreds of thousands of people to march, when they’re just going to be ignored by the media (who will run shots of a few dozen counter-protesters, instead). It seems that for all the time, money, and effort, nothing changes.

But the truth is, something has changed: us. Just as the “peculiar institution” of slavery degraded our national soul, the same thing is happening here, today. As Mother Teresa said to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1994,

2008 March for Life

America needs no words from me to see how your decision in Roe v. Wade has deformed a great nation. The so-called right to abortion has pitted mothers against their children and women against men. It has sown violence and discord at the heart of the most intimate human relationships. 

It has aggravated the derogation of the father’s role in an increasingly fatherless society. It has portrayed the greatest of gifts—a child—as a competitor, an intrusion, and an inconvenience. It has nominally accorded mothers unfettered domination over the independent lives of their physically dependent sons and daughters. 

And, in granting this unconscionable power, it has exposed many women to unjust and selfish demands from their husbands or other sexual partners. 

Human rights are not a privilege conferred by government. They are every human being’s entitlement by virtue of his humanity. The right to life does not depend, and must not be declared to be contingent, on the pleasure of anyone else, not even a parent or a sovereign.

This is why we march, even when it seems like nothing changes.  If we stop fighting the currents of the culture of death, we won’t stay still. We’ll get washed downstream, over the rocks.

But there’s another reason that we march, too. Whether or not we change the minds or hearts of anyone else, the very least we can do is stand up for the dignity of the unborn children who are being silently slaughtered by the millions.

Domingo Valdivieso y Henarejos, The Descent (1864)

When you spend time praying outside of abortion clinics, you’ll have encouraging moments where you’ll see people turn around and leave, and occasionally, your mere prayerful presence may save a life. But there will also be these long, horrible stretches where nobody turns around, where nobody seems to care that you’re there, and nobody’s heart seems to change. And at these times, I’m reminded of the Virgin Mary at the foot of the Cross (John 19:25).

She’s there, even when the men Jesus chose run away (Matthew 26:56). She stays, likely praying and weeping as she watched her Son die. The Gospels record Christ’s words to her, but they don’t record anything that she says. She’s just there as a silent witness to a horrible tragedy, and she’s there quietly loving Him even when the world’s turned against Him. That’s why we pray outside abortion clinics, and it’s why we march.

Mother Teresa saw vividly what the pro-life movement in this country was about:

I have no new teaching for America. I seek only to recall you to faithfulness to what you once taught the world. Your nation was founded on the proposition—very old as a moral precept, but startling and innovative as a political insight—that human life is a gift of immeasurable worth, and that it deserves, always and everywhere, to be treated with the utmost dignity and respect.

In Roe, we made it clear that we’d forgotten not only what we stand for, but who we are as Americans, and as human beings. The March for Life is part of our effort to reawaken the nation, and draw her back to her former greatness.

3 Comments

    1. I’ll bet you haven’t heard the call to say the rosary every day, wear the brown scapular and make the five first saturday devotions of reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Shame on the papacy!!!

    2. Steve,

      If you’re at a place where you’re saying “shame on the papacy” for disobeying Marian apparitions, you don’t understand ecclesiology and/or apparitions well enough. The Virgin Mary isn’t a vicarious Bishop of Rome, and has no desire to be. I would venture that you could also use more humility, as a son of the Church.

      I.X.,

      Joe

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