WASHINGTON, D.C. – Friday’s national March for Life protest in Washington, D.C. had a provocative theme: “Life Empowers: Pro-Life is Pro-Woman.”
This was chosen in part because supporters of abortion rights often invoke women’s empowerment and try to paint their opponents as anti-woman.
In the 1992 Supreme Court case Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the court claimed that abortion was necessary for women to “participate equally in the economic and social life of the Nation.”
But Jana Bennett, a professor of Catholic moral theology at the University of Dayton, rejects the idea “that women and children need to be pitted against each other” and told Crux that the March for Life’s “focus on women highlights that we, too, are adversely affected by abortion.”
Kristen Day, Executive Director of Democrats for Life, added that the idea women need abortion in order to pursue a career or finish school “is in no way empowering.” She invoked “our feminist sisters” who would never have insisted that others, especially unborn children, be sacrificed in order to achieve women’s equality.
But the March for Life’s goal of focusing on women’s empowerment was complicated by President Trump’s speaking live and in person at the event, the first president to do so.
“We are here for a very simple reason, to defend the right of every child born and unborn to fulfill their God-given potential,” Trump said. “And today as President of the United States, I am truly proud to stand with you.”
Some pro-life leaders were strongly supportive of Trump’s headline-grabbing role at the March. Abby Johnson tweeted that “there has NEVER been a president in US history that has done more to break down the abortion industry more than @realDonaldTrump. Not Bush, not Reagan…no one.”
Tom Shakely, Chief Engagement Officer at Americans United for Life, suggested that Trump’s attending in person has set the standard for future Republican presidents who will now feel pressure to follow suit.
On the other hand, other pro-lifers were not happy with the news.
Aimee Murphy, Executive Director of Rehumanize International, told Crux that, especially in light of this year’s theme, she was distressed that “we have a man speaking who has been credibly accused of and has bragged about sexual assault against women” and that “a man who claims to support human dignity has implemented so many anti-life policies in immigrant detention, refusing asylum, warmongering, and (re)building nuclear arsenals.”
Father Jacek Orzechowski, who attended the March for Life with several of his fellow Franciscan Friars, said that he found Trump’s participation in March for Life hypocritical.
“To choose life,” said Orzechowski, “means not only to care for the unborn but also to protect our common home and seek justice for the poor. As followers of Jesus, we cannot sacrifice the integrity of the Gospel for political expediency.”
Several of his fellow friars, dressed in their simple brown robes, passed out hundreds of signs extolling pro-lifers to be “100% pro-life.”
Despite the disagreement over Trump, the theme of this year’s March for Life received praise from people across a range of political viewpoints and goals.
“Being pro-life means championing the inherent dignity and worth of every human person — men and women, born and unborn,” said Katie Yoder, who moderated a major panel at the March for Life this year. “It might mean promoting a society that accommodates women’s unique capacity to foster new life — and evaluating childcare, education, employment, and community support.”
Madeleine Ostertag, a senior at Georgetown University and the Director of the Cardinal O’Connor Conference on Life, noted that the “pro-life movement has been led by women, and specifically young women, since its inception.”
Ostertag said she wants to “fight against a culture that considers certain lives to be disposable” and is leading a pro-life conference after the March focused on “the vulnerability of poor and minority women to the abortion industry and a culture that often sees a woman’s child as an impediment to her success and overall wellbeing.”
The March’s theme even captured the interest and good will of some pro-choice thinkers and activists.
“I am heartened that the March for Life has turned the spotlight on women, “said Michelle Oberman, the Katharine and George Alexander Professor of Law at Santa Clara and author of Her Body, Our Laws: On the Frontlines of the Abortion War from El Salvador to Oklahoma.
“It is morally incumbent upon those on all sides of the abortion war to bear witness to the forces that lead a woman to contemplate ending a pregnancy. When we do, we see abortion is largely a response to constraints on motherhood—money primary among them. 50 percent of U.S. abortions go to women below the poverty line,” she said.
Oberman said she doesn’t believe overturning Roe will “ease the crisis occasioned when folks already on the margins learn that they are pregnant” but is nevertheless committed to dialogue with pro-lifers.
Yoder is under no illusions, however, about how difficult it is to dialogue with someone who thinks differently on this issue. Her advice is to ask genuine questions, listen and respond directly to the concerns of your conversation partner, and “surprise them with kindness.”
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