Friday, January 23, 2009

On Being Young, Male, Protestant, and Pro-life

So yesterday I attended the March for Life in Washington, D.C. in order to protest Roe v Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that made abortion on demand legal in the United States. I thought I'd write a few reflections I had on the pro-life movement.

This was my fourth year in a row marching for life. This year was much different from the last three. For one thing, the weather was way better--clear and sunny. For another, our new president is decidedly opposed to our cause, a complete turnaround from George Bush. It was a little sad this year not getting a nice address from the president.

If you haven't already heard, Obama has overturned the Mexico City Policy, which means our tax dollars will go to organizations around the world that promote abortion. Once again, Obama proves that he is not pro-"choice," but pro-abortion, since he thinks we who believe abortion is murder still ought to share our money with organizations that promote it.

But for now let me not dwell on how sickening Obama's position on this issue is. There are some fascinating sociological realities to confront whenever I engage in pro-life work as a young, Protestant male.

A vague sort of pro-choice argument is that old men shouldn't be deciding what a woman can do with her own body. I think this argument really stems from the fact that politics has for the most part always been dominated by older men. It really looks bad, in our cultural climate, for old guys to appear to be restricting young women's freedom.

However, the reality of the pro-life movement is that it's dominated by women, especially in younger age groups. Whenever I go to the Students for Life of America conference, it's attended by at least 75% women. The last time I went to a UVA "Hoos" for Life meeting, I was one of two men; there were eight women. When I graduated from Washington & Lee, I left W&L Students for Life with all female officers. I know this is all anecdotal evidence, but I doubt there's any sociologist out there interested enough in the pro-life movement to provide any rigorous study. But take it from me and anyone else in the pro-life movement: women are taking charge.

The trouble is, most guys I know really don't want to be caught telling women what to do, so they just ignore the issue. They see abortion as a women's issue that they can't get involved in. I do remember in high school hearing the phrase, "No ovaries, no opinion." So most guys just learn to keep quiet, even if they're pro-choice, but especially if they're pro-life.

If a man is pro-life, often he simply leaves it at voting pro-life, which is fine as far as it goes; but advocacy is what we need now more than ever. Really, seeing abortion as just a women's issue plays right into the hands of pro-choicers, who have always tried to frame the debate in terms of women's rights. In fact, abortion is a human rights issue, and as far as I know women and men are equally human (if feminism really is nothing more than this "radical notion," then I'm a feminist).

As awkward as it is for me to be a young man advocating a pro-life position, I feel really privileged to be in this position. First of all, that the movement is so full of young women is hardly a downside (*wink*). More importantly, I think it is critical for young men to make a show of standing alonside young women in defense of unborn children, making our cynical culture realize that men actually can think about something more than themselves.

I often wonder about men on the other side. Once I was standing in front of a Planned Parenthood alongside two female students from Washington & Lee (one was my girlfriend, incidentally). They held up signs saying, "Abortion Hurts Women." When you do this kind of thing, you usually get hecklers, but particularly poignant to me was seeing a young man, probably not much older than I am, drive by and stick up his middle finger.

What message did that man hope to send? Was he advocating for women's rights by making an ugly gesture at two twenty year-old women peacefully protesting abortion? What right did he have to be angry that these young women said abortion hurts?

Men should be pro-life, and pro-woman. We don't need men to think abortion is okay. We need men to take responsbility for our sexual choices, be good husbands, and be good fathers. We men can be part of the solution to the problems that keep abortion in demand. I'll try to do my part.

If women dominate the pro-life movement, Catholics almost consume it completely. I don't think that there are necessarily more pro-life Catholics than Protestants in this country. I just think Catholics are more organized. They have built up all the infrastructure of the movement, from the March for Life to American Life League to Students for Life of America.

One time at the Students for Life conference, there was a speaker from Stand to Reason, talking about apologetics. This speaker was a Presbyterian, and he asked if there were any other Presbyterians in the audience. I believe that out of a crowd of around 700 or so, I was one of two Presbyterians. The number of Catholics was easily over 90%.

To be honest, this lack of activism is the one thing I loathe about my denomination. Mainline Presbyterians tend to be liberal, so they don't even take a pro-life stance. My denomination, the PCA, is pro-life; yet it doesn't actively foster a sense that activism is a good thing. I think many evangelicals, no matter how they vote, are ultimately teaching themselves that the Lord loves potluck dinners more than protests, prayer and fasting more than advocacy.

How refreshing it is to run into the Catholic view of politics, a view which sees activism as a real service to the kingdom of God. And it's not as if Catholics are neglecting other forms of piety--at least not the kind of Catholics you meet at the March for Life.

Still, it is a little weird to be on a bus full of Catholics when they're praying the rosary. Gotta love those moments of Protestant awkwardness. I guess politics alone can't make me a Catholic.

Nor should it; there are plenty of non-religious people who still see reason on this issue. I felt sorry for the one guy at the March for Life holding up a sign that said, "Agnostics Against Abortion." Given that all the speeches at the march were full of religious rhetoric, this guy must've felt even more alone than us Protestants.

But the truth is, none of the marchers care what your religion is when you're marching. For that moment, we're all united against one single injustice--and it's not hard to understand. Your faith may be your primary motivation to be an activist, but believing abortion is wrong takes nothing more than a respect for all human lives, even the smallest ones!

Some day I honestly hope the pro-life movement can outgrow its fiery religious rhetoric, if only for the sake of being taken more seriously. The pro-life position really is a common-sense position, based not so much on scripture as on science. In fact, at our country's founding people believed life began at "quickening," that is, when you could feel the baby kick. Abortion wasn't outlawed in the U.S. until the 1800's, thanks largely to the American Medical Association. Anti-abortion legislation was actually a triumph of scientific progress, not Catholic theology. (You might want to read this and this.)

Still, a solid belief in God's justice has always motivated people to stand up for what is right. I do hope and pray that one day I will see and end to this battle. Not that we can ever completely stop battling against injustice, until the Messiah returns, but victories are won, and change really can happen.

Change. Hmmm. Where have I heard that before?


  1. Excellent! Love it! You're my hero! :D

  2. Overturning the Mexico City Policy is real change we can believe in, huh? Disgusting.

    I was at the march yesterday also--it was my first one and really an incredible experience. I can completely relate to the moments of Protestant awkwardness though--they prayed the rosary on my bus too! Hah, the mass is what made me start thinking about how many Protestants actually go to the March for Life so it was cool to find your blog.
    Your comments regarding Catholic/Protestant views on activism are dead on, I think that Protestantism needs more reinvigoration or maybe more of a start on the political front.

    Ooooh sidenote--did you see the woman holding the huge sign bashing basically all Catholics following the Pope after Vatican II? Err random and uncalled for at an event like that...unfortunate how even within denominations there are so many rifts.

    But on an end note, being pro-life is, more than anything, a position founded on common sense.
    All good points, kudos.

  3. why do you feel so awkward around catholics, you basically believe the exact same thing. its ridiculous. stop it. for the love of god people are dying in the world and you care about this. stop

  4. I did see the woman holding that sign! I agree with you--very uncalled for, and tragic all around. I sympathize with your frustration about rifts within denominations. It just wastes energy... we could be doing so much more together, like fighting for justice.

  5. "people are dying in the world and you care about this"

    Does "this" refer to religion or abortion? I certainly care more about people dying than about whether or not you pray the rosary.

  6. but you give a damn as to whether or not people pray the rosary, seems overwhelmingly inconsequential

  7. I just think you misunderstand me. All I'm saying is that it's a little awkward to be on a bus full of people all praying the rosary together when I don't pray the rosary. I thought anyone who read my post might be amused at my awkwardness.

    As my girlfriend would say, "It's funny! Laugh!"

  8. Obligatory:

    It's funny!!!!!!!!! LAFF!



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