Sunday, February 10, 2013

2013 March for Life

On Friday, January 25th, the 2013 March for Life rally took place at the National Mall in Washington D.C. An annual anti-abortion rally that draws thousands of participants, the March for Life features politicians and religious leaders who vocally oppose abortion rights. The 2013 gathering was momentous for two reasons. First, it was the first March for Life after the death of Nelly Gray, the march's founder, who was tenderly acknowledged by numerous speakers. Second, the march closely coincided with the 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, which speakers lambasted throughout the rally.

Amidst rhetoric that slammed Planned Parenthood and demonized pro-choice legislation was a common refrain that abortion was allegedly as human rights violation. For example, March for Life chairman of the board Patrick Kelly affirmed that the purpose of the march was still "to be the world's largest human rights demonstration, to overturn the tragic Roe v. Wade decision, and to build a culture of life in this great country." March for Life president Jeanne Monahan lamented that "55 million Americans" have died due to legalized abortion. "Abortion truly is the human rights abuse of today," she insisted, "and abortion is not good for women."

Monahan insisted that public disapproval of abortion is growing, claiming that being anti-abortion is the "new normal" in the U.S., with public opinion allegedly turning against abortion. She took delight in the widespread eruption of anti-abortion bills in various states, claiming that these held abortion clinics to high medical standards and supposedly helped inform women of their choices. Monahan encouraged the young persons in the audience to reflect on how "God wants to use each of you to bring a speedy end to the human rights abuse of abortion."

Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) appeared in a video speech, championing the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act and encouraging young activists to make abortion "a relic of the past". Later, Rep. Chris Smith (R-New Jersey), chairman of Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, tried to frame abortion as somehow harmful to women. At the 16:31 mark, he blasted abortion as a form of "violence against women" that leaves "wounded women" in its wake.
"Forty years ago this past Tuesday marks the U.S. Supreme Court's infamous, reckless, and inhumane abandonment of women and babies to the abortionists. Forty years of victims: dead babies, wounded women, and shattered families. Forty years of government-sanctioned violence against women and children ... The passage of time hasn't changed the fact that abortion is a serious, lethal violation of fundamental human rights and that women and children deserve better, and that the demands of justice, generosity and compassion require that the right to life be guaranteed to everyone."
In a similar vein, Congresswoman Diane Black (R-Tennessee) depicted abortion as somehow inimical to women's equality. At the 25:03 mark, she claimed that abortion rights somehow undermine women's freedom.
"Despite those inroads we have made toward gender equality, abortion on demand continues to undermine the freedom and the justice that generations of women have fought for. You know, the reality is that forty years ago after Roe v. Wade, one third ... of my daughters' and grandaughters' peers are not here today to benefit from the progress than we made and to share in the hopes and dreams of the future."
At the 26:01 mark, she resorted to the dubious argument that abortion necessarily causes physical or psychological harm for women.
"Pitting mothers against the unborn is not liberating. It's a horrible injustice that in the last forty years has resulted in ... 55 million aborted babies, whose mothers have gone on to live in many cases with severe physical, emotional and mental and spiritual scars."
At the 31:31 mark, Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) linked abortion with national immorality, stressing the supposed need for national "spiritual cleansing". I wondered if his comment about "hedonism of the moment" was a jab at people who, gasp, have sex that results in accidental pregnancies.
"I have a question for those who don't respect and won't respect life. Can a nation long endure that does not respect the sanctity of life? [Crowd shouts "No!"] Can a nation conceived in liberty carry its head high if it denies protection to the youngest and most vulnerable of its citizens? [Crowd shouts "No!"] Can a country founded on God-given rights continue to thrive without understanding that life is a precious gift from our creator? [Crowd shouts "No!"] I believe that great nations and great civilizations spring from a people who have a moral compass. Our nation is adrift, adrift in a wilderness where right and wrong have become subservient to a hedonism of the moment. I believe our country is in need of a revival. I believe our country is in need of a spiritual cleansing."
Family Research Council president Tony Perkins delivered a closing prayer for the rally, before participants took part in the annual march. At the 1:14:39 mark, he looked down upon pro-choice policies and court decisions.
"Father, we come before you today with hearts that are both heavy and hopeful, heavy for a nation that has wandered into the wilderness [inaudible] resulting in forty years of children created in your image, babies that you have declared to be blessings, declared by our courts as a choice, and our policies as burdens to be discarded. But we as your followers, your children, have hope that springs eternal. We stand here today praying for a working for a nation that will embrace life."
At the 1:15:23 mark, Perkins quoted Deuteronomy 30:19 as part of his anti-abortion prayer. The ominous context of that passage -- the Old Testament God threatening his people with destruction if they disobey his commands -- may have been understood by the audience.
"Today, forty years after the highest court in our land opened the door to this manifestation of a culture of death, a new generation stands before you. In the Old Testament, in Deuteronomy, through your servant Moses you put before a new generation the covenant that was over a thousand years old. It was this new generation's time of choosing. You said, "I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing. Therefore, choose life, that both you and your descendants may live."
The irony of quoting from Deuteronomy at a "pro-life" rally was striking, as Deuteronomy also contains accounts of divinely commanded slaughter of whole communities (including children) and commands execution of unruly children. I also found it ironic that Perkins quoted Deuteronomy at a rally demonizing abortion as violence against women, given that Deuteronomy condones many forms of gender-based violence such as slavery, abduction of foreign women as chattelrape of captured women, rape of women to punish impious men, mutilating women who protect their husbands, stoning women who don't bleed enough on their wedding nights, and forcing sexual assault victims to marry their rapists. Just sayin'.

In short, the 2013 March for Life demonized abortion as a human rights violation and a form of gender-based violence, but denying women their reproductive rights would better qualify. Predictably, the rally failed to acknowledge that abortion benefits women who are carrying unwanted or unsafe pregnancies, ignoring the horrors of the era before legal, accessible abortion. The rally contained ample rhetoric about ending abortion, but not much about realistically preventing unwanted pregnancies. The rally waxed poetic about babies and children, but offered few strategies for supporting children born into difficult circumstances. Several speakers alleged that abortion was violence against women, but these same people ignored the fact that actual violence against women (i.e., reproductive coercion, sexual assault) results in unwanted pregnancies that create demand for abortion.

If the participants in the March for Life want to end abortion, they need to end unwanted pregnancies by promoting comprehensive sex education, championing affordable and accessible contraception, and combating violence against women and girls. Undermining abortion access and ending Roe v. Wade will drive abortion underground and cause untold heartache, but they will not end abortion.

For additional information on the March for Life, visit www[dot]marchforlife[dot]org

To read additional commentary, visit the following links.

Policy Mic: March for Life 2013: Why the Anti-Abortion Rally Was An Epic Failure

Feministing: Pro-Choice on Amtrak

Towleroad: GOProud Will Cruise Through March for Life


  1. Many of these pro-life people appear to be borderline clueless when it comes to contraception. I'm reminded of Rush Limbaugh's rant over Sandra Fluke "having so much sex" that she needs to take birth control every day...

    1. Donna -- I'd say their clueless, full stop!


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