Brother Paul O'Donnell introduced Bobby Schindler, brother of the late Terri Schiavo. Schindler claimed that euthanasia was taking place in the U.S. and tried to link abortion with euthanasia.
"We are all at risk because there is deadly prejudice growing in our nation. Just like the countless number of unborn children that are being killed every day, those with profound brain injuries, the elderly and the chronically sick are also being deliberately killed right now as we speak. Every single one of us need to understand that the same people and the same organizations that are behind the abortion agenda are also responsible for untold number of persons being killed by euthanasia in our nation every single day. We need to fight against euthanasia with the same determination as we do to protect the unborn child."Next, Father John Kowalczyk of the Orthodox Church of America introduced His Beatitude Metropolitan Jonah. Metropolitan Jonah told the audience that they were living in a time of "moral decay" and "decadence," which he attributed to "licentiousness of sexual morality," euthanasia, and abortion. Condemning abortion as an aspect of this "culture of death" and a supposed source of self-hatred and guilt for women, Metropolitan Jonah claimed that Christians provide the means to transform the culture through their message of repentance and forgiveness. Christians, he insisted, must find a means of sharing this message in a "culture that is intoxicated with its own pleasure."
Perhaps the most controversial part of the rally was when several congressmen spoke about anti-abortion legislation, such as the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act (H.R. 3) and the latest incarnation of the Life at Conception Act. New Jersey Representative Christ Smith decried abortion as supposed violence against women and children, citing the Philadelphia abortion clinic where Dr. Kermit Gosnell has been accused of providing illegal late-term abortions and killing viable babies.* Condemning what he called the "multi-billion dollar abortion industry," Smith claimed that blocking funding for abortion was key.
"As many of you know, the evidence suggests that when public funding is unavailable, the number of abortions drop dramatically by about 25%. So last week, with the full and unequivocal support of Speaker John Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, and the rest of our leadership team . . . we introduced the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion, H.R. 3, a government-wide prohibition of taxpayer subsidization for abortion and conscience protections for health care professionals. My friends, we need your help in persuading the abortion president who put abortion in Obamacare . . . to get this legislation passed."Pro-choice advocates would argue that eliminating public funding for abortion would merely drive it underground, where it would be far more dangerous for women. The crowd, seemingly unaware of this, cheered when Smith announced his role in introducing H.R.3.
Mississippi Representative Roger Wicker spoke next, announcing that he would soon introduce the Life at Conception Act which would extend 14th amendment rights to unborn fetuses. A procession of anti-abortion politicians followed with short statements, including House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Representative Louis Golmert (R-TX), and several others. Rhetoric about God and life was abundant in many of their talks.
After listening to all these anti-abortion speeches, I needed a break. After eating lunch at a nearby museum, I returned to the National Mall to found that the crowd had swelled to tens of thousands. Rabbi Yehuda Levin had taken the stage and was lambasting what he called "the kevorkianization of baby births." After condemning Kermit Gosnell in Philadelphia, Rabbi Levin scorned liberals, pro-choice advocates, and LGBT people, warning that they would be consumed by a "kevorkianized" culture.
"The liberals, pro-aborts, and homosexualists who champion the killing of the preborn baby murder agenda don't connect the dots, when ultimately a doctor kevorkianizes them or their loved ones. God acts measure for measure."Just as Jews sat on the ground to mourn the loss of the Temple, Rabbi Levin asked the audience to sit on the ground for ten seconds to mourn the loss of aborted fetuses. I decided to leave. His condemnation of Planned Parenthood poured out of the speakers as I walked to the Metro station, with the crowd chanting "DEFUND PLANNED PARENTHOOD NOW."
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Although the rhetoric at the 2011 March for Life saddened me, most of it did not surprise me. Demonizing Planned Parenthood (and ignoring the many health care services it provides besides abortion) was a familiar tactic, as was the claim that abortion victimizes women. As with other issues, the March for Life rally presented abortion in black and white language, refusing to consider when the procedure might be necessary or the reasons why women seek abortions. Rabbi Levin notwithstanding, there was also a strong conservative Christian flavor to the event, with God-laced language punctuating several speeches. Abortion, undeniably, is an important issue to the Religious Right.
I was somewhat surprised at the overlap between abortion and other right-wing issues in the rhetoric I heard. In various speeches, abortion was connected with health care reform, homosexuality, sexual "immorality", and euthanasia. The worldview of some of the speakers seems to place abortion in a web of supposed societal ills related to sex, gender, and medicine. Abortion, in their eyes, seems to be more than a threat to the unborn -- it is also a threat to sexual and medical norms they value. To understand right-wing antipathy toward abortion, we need to understand it as a threat to their larger worldview, not as an isolated issue.
As I left the rally, I reflected on the teenagers and young adults in the crowd. Where will they stand on this issue in a few years? I thought. Are their black-and-white anti-abortion beliefs so deeply embedded that they will retain them for the rest of their lives? Or will their stance soften as they age, once they learn why some women seek abortions? As adults, will they denounce Roe v. Wade and call for legislative bans on abortion clinic funding? Or will they seek to prevent unplanned pregnancies in the first place? Only time will tell, but I am hopeful.
* -- According to an AOL News article, at least one woman sought an abortion at Gosnell's clinic because she was frightened by anti-abortion protesters at a Philadelphia Planned Parenthood clinic. The role of anti-abortion advocates in driving abortion underground needs to be discussed in our public discourse. RH Reality Check posted commentary on the matter here.