Last week, I attended the national March for Life in Washington, D.C. I have attended the march on several occasions before, and it is always a beautiful and encouraging experience.
But unfortunately, I also witnessed something at this year’s march that was discouraging. As marchers arrive at the Supreme Court — the end of the march route — they usually encounter a few dozen counter-protesters, waving signs and chanting slogans in support of abortion under the guise of women’s “freedom” and “choice.”
This year, however, there were also a few demonstrators waving signs about immigration: With Congress in a stalemate over DACA and the threat of government shutdown looming just hours away, the immigration issue was in the spotlight in Washington that day.
I didn’t hear what the people with the immigration signs said to the marchers. But suddenly, a whole group of pro-life marchers started chanting, in unison, “Build that wall! Build that wall!”
This is wrong. Whatever one’s views on immigration, it is a matter of basic courtesy to maintain respect and courtesy when discussing an issue. DACA is not just a heated political topic. It is a policy question with human consequences: family members facing separation and young adults whose entire lives may be uprooted. Uncertainty causes real suffering for hundreds of thousands of people impacted by DACA. The “Build that wall” chant tossed out so casually by the pro-life marchers did not express a coherent argument or invite reasoned debate. All it did was harm.
There are several issues being debated within the pro-life movement. One is how to respond to the inconsistencies of President Trump. Another is which social initiatives and political policies will best achieve the goals of the pro-life movement. Still another is the question of whether abortion is the sole issue under the pro-life banner, or whether other issues — the death penalty, for example — fall under the same umbrella.
People of good will may debate and strongly disagree on these questions. What’s not up for debate, however, is the necessity of respect for other people, no matter who they are, and what they think. Taunting people at a march themed “Love Saves Lives” discredits pro-life claims about the dignity of every human person.
Shortly before the march began, I talked to Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore. Now 45 years after the Supreme Court mandated legal abortion nationwide, I asked him if he is hopeful about the future of the pro-life movement. He said that he is hopeful, first and foremost, because the pro-life movement is joyful. Because of this joy, he said, the pro-life movement is growing.
My own experience supports Archbishop Lori’s observations. The pro-life movement is a joyful movement, and people take notice. One young woman at this year’s march shared with a CNA reporter that her mom had considered abortion while pregnant with her, after being kicked out of her home and lacking support from family. It was the support and joyful witness of pro-lifers that led her to reconsider and choose life for her daughter, who is now active in the pro-life movement in Canada.
This is the pro-life movement at its best: joyful, supportive, full of hope. And it is a standard that must not be compromised. When individuals wearing pro-life t-shirts shout antagonistic, vitriolic comments at anyone, they do a disservice to the cause they profess to care about so deeply.
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