Friday, January 22, 2010

Reflections on the March for Life

Today thousands upon thousands of Americans met in Washington, D.C. today to protest against Roe v Wade, the decision made by the Supreme Court 37 years ago that forced all laws against abortion to be overturned.

This has become an annual event; indeed, this was the 37th annual March for Life. I'm inspired by the dedication of so many thousands of Americans to this cause. I believe their heart is in the right place: they believe in the inherent dignity of human life, and they want to end the killing of innocent human life.

However, it's hard to come away from the March for Life and not feel a little drained. For one thing, it is exhausting marching in such a large crowd, but that's not primarily what I'm talking about.

One of my friends remarked during dinner this evening, "What are we really doing? I mean, 37 years... Have we changed anything?" It's hard not to get a sinking feeling inside when we consider how this protest has become another tradition, an event so commonplace, so predictable that the media hardly even notices it.

My main criticism of the March for Life is that it is too traditional, too predictable, too conservative. This causes the event to be easily passed over not only by the mainstream media, which already has a pro-choice bias, but even by many Americans who would be valuable pro-life allies.

I get the sense that the current leadership of the March for Life has been doing this for way too long, and really needs to let go of some control of the event. I've been to five marches in a row, and every year it's the same line-up of speakers. The only difference I've seen is that the past two years our nation's president has neglected to address us.

A severe weakness is the lack of innovative speakers at the rally before the march. It hurts to say it, but none of the speakers at the rally are especially eloquent (but I do enjoy the impassioned rhetoric of pastor Luke Robinson and Rabbi Levin--though he is a bit of a loose cannon). Mostly what we get are a bunch of senators and congressman spouting off a bunch of empty cliches.

It significant to note the lack of speakers from organizations like Feminists for Life, or even Students for Life. Many pro-lifers like to brag how young people are more pro-life than previous generations, yet the March for Life folks seem to refuse to bring in younger, more progressive speakers.

Ultimately, the March for Life remains for the most part a Catholic event. It's clearly run by Catholics and the majority of attendees appear to be Catholic, which is reinforced by the fact that at the end of every rally we always hear from the many bishops from around the country who are in attendance, while the members of their respective dioceses cheer, and after all that a final blessing is given by a priest.

I'm fine with Catholics being pro-life and everything, but abortion isn't a matter of Catholic doctrine or any other religious belief. Nor is the percentage of Catholics in attendance reflective of national public sentiment on this issue. As you can see in this poll and this poll, there is a higher percentage of Protestants that are pro-life even than Catholics (and that's including all the liberal mainline denominations).

Not that I blame Catholics for organizing the event, and not that I don't blame Protestants for not being more involved. I just think the March ought to have a more unified image, not only for the sake of attracting a broader base of pro-lifers, but also for the sake of defending our views in the public square. I don't see why we need to go on provoking the response, "Keep your rosaries off my ovaries!"

On the positive side, the Silent No More awareness campaign is a wonderful, insightful program that plays into the strengths of the pro-life movement: compassion, genuine personal respect for life, and a desire for reconciliation. Not only are these the traits that will continue to reach the younger generations, but they are the right traits for us to have as human beings. This is one thing that the March for Life does not want to lose.

In short, I wish the March for Life could rethink its old-fashioned ways to create an event that would legitimately capture the nation's attention, an event full of speakers with a young, fresh, progressive attitude able to inspire the younger pro-life generation. There will certainly always be a place for the traditional in the pro-life movement; indeed, young people can be inspired by tradition as much as previous generations. But if the pro-life movement wants to succeed in the long-run, it must build credibility with as broad an audience as possible, and that may require the old guard stepping back a little to let new voices be heard.

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