The ‘March for Life’ and My Enduring Incredulity

march for lifeLast year on the day of the annual “March for Life” in Washington, DC, I wrote a blog post titled, “Why I do not support the (so-called) March for Life.” It received a lot of attention, including an article in the National Catholic Reporter that same day, “On this March for Life day, a reasoned discussion on abortion,” which generously praised my essay for its “reasonable and calmly articulated approach to an issue which has sometimes led to divisive intra-church arguments.”

On this website alone (DatingGod.org), the post elicited 139 comments that express a variety of opinions. This week I have been asked by a number of people whether I would write another post today on the same theme, but have decided not to do so. There are several reasons for this decision; the first of which is that I do not have much more to say on the subject, at least at this point. I still struggle to make sense of the resources, time, and energy that go into this particular event each year, while other equally pressing issues go unaddressed, unacknowledged, or unfunded. As I say in the introduction to this essay, I am not suggesting that there is anything inherently wrong with taking a public stance against abortion as women and men of faith, but I do continue to have questions about the manner and means by which this effort is currently executed. Here’s what I say in the essay, now published in the book, Franciscan Spirituality for the 21st Century: Selected Reflections from the Dating God Blog and Other Essays:

To begin, I have no problem with people of faith taking a public stance against abortion. You will never find me supporting abortion legislation nor encouraging those with and for whom I minister as a Roman Catholic cleric to support abortion. I believe it is a legitimate issue against which, as a Christian and Roman Catholic, I feel should be a thematic feature of social transformation. However, it is not, at all, the most important issue, nor is it the single issue upon which Catholics – or anyone – should focus their attention s in an exclusive manner.

Abortion belongs to a series of social sins of a systemic degree that include capital punishment, war and violence, limitation of social services for the least among us, economic inequality, abject poverty, and other threats to the dignity of human persons in our culture and globalized world (72-73).

As you can tell, I recognize very overtly the ostensible impetus for the “March for Life” and affirm the place it has among those social and individual sins that are in need of address. However, I’m not at all willing to subordinate the rest of the seamless garment of the consistent ethic of life in order to elevate one issue. It can be misleading, which is why I suggest in this essay that there are many reasons why one can be sympathetic to the cause but withhold support for the event.

Among the various reasons one might chose to omit him or herself from participation, I wish to highlight three: (a) the event’s moniker is incomplete at best and disingenuous at worst; (b) the mode of protest has proven ineffective; and, following the second point, (c) the ‘march’ and its related events are a self-serving exercise in self-righteousness, self-congratulatory grandstanding (72).

Today, while many gather in the United States capital for Masses and marching, perhaps it is worth considering what it is we’re really doing, what purposes and people are served by what we’re doing, and whether or not we should consider other ways to do something more constructively, more open to a consistent ethic of life, and more humbly.

The full text of “Why I do not Support the (so-called) March for Life” is available in the book Franciscan Spirituality for the 21st Century: Selected Reflections from the Dating God Blog and Other Essayswhich can also be found for the Kindle and at Barnes and Noble.

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11 Responses to “The ‘March for Life’ and My Enduring Incredulity”

  1. Thank you for last year’s post and for this one. I have a difficult time articulating myself on this issue and your words help me greatly.

    Interestingly enough, and without conscious forethought of the march today (shout out Holy Spirit), I drove to work listening to a Krista Tippett podcast between David Gushee and Frances Kissling, about both sides of this matter. It was outstanding, and I highly recommend it. (A friend had recommended it to me months ago, and why I chose today to do this… )

    Thank you for your wisdom and witness.

  2. What strikes me is the success of this March and the good feeling it seems to give those who walk it.

  3. The March for Life is made up of wildly diverse group of people…and many, many thousands do not “subordinate” other issues to abortion. And many hold signs in the march making precisely this point.

    But how can one say that this issue does not deserve a march like this? A whole class of people are denied equal protection of the law–and this has resulted in over 50,000,000 deaths. You can say that giving our prenatal children this protection would be complicated legally, and I’d agree with that. This was true with every almost class of people that were denied civil rights by those in power. It is worth noting that other marches and rallies for civil rights aren’t pegged as arrogant, or misguided, or single-issue, etc. It might be worth reflecting on why this particular civil rights cause suffers from a special kind of discrimination.

    We need to stand up and be heard that all persons deserve equal protection of the law. This march is one tool for doing that…but an important one. Is it full of youth and diversity and energy and good will. And it stands for something incredibly important.

    • The point he’s making is that sign-waving hasn’t worked. Abortion is still legal, and people are just as polarized about the issue as they were four decades ago. People would do better by volunteering at a home for poor moms who decided not to abort or something similar.

    • This march is done every year. There was only one March on Washington. The only other march that happens every year is Rolling Thunder.

      Why is this significant?

      First, doing the march every year completely drains any effectiveness out of it. My Twitter stream is loaded with complaints about coverage, but it’s difficult to expect coverage of something that has lost any novelty.

      It’s also hard to see any positive effect from this march. This march has been rather large over the last decade or so. What concrete benefits have resulted from it?

      Second, millions of dollars are spent every year to hold this event. That money would be much better spent supporting organizations that might actually save the life of a child by supporting the mother rather than on buses, hotel rooms, dinners, arena rentals, etc.

      Let’s say next year you want to have a march to recognize the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Good idea. However, a yearly party to end abortion seems like it’s an ineffective use of resources and focus.

      This, unfortunately, is the state of the pro-life movement though. It’s easy to line-up and make a scene. It’s a lot harder to deal with the realities that lead to abortion and try to stop them, or support someone who is faced with this decision and help to lead them to the best choice.

      This post is urging the second path. It’s the only path that really matters. And it also acknowledges the fact that even if Roe v. Wade is overturned, or abortion is illegal, abortions will still happen, as they did before. It will be our job to stop them in the only way possible, through love and direct support; not through marching and arena masses.

  4. melanie statom Says:

    Elevating specific moral and ethical issues is intrinsic to the prophetic call of Christ. The difficult thing is for us is to ” elevate” in the spirit of Christ, the One who brings true conversion of heart. History reveals how messy this can get. To turn a spotlight on in a darkened room is ultimately for illumination, conversion. Arrogance keeps the room dark and distorted as does covering ones eye to painful dark truth.

  5. At the Vigil Mass Bishop Sean O’Malley stated that society accepting abortion is leading to society accepting euthanasia or “society allows parents to kill children, then society will allow children to kill parents.” The death to the child is not the only injury incurred in abortion. The injury to the mother and others occasioned by an abortion is equally harmful as values are skewed and/or lost (killed) in the process.

  6. Kate Jackson Says:

    Could you give us an example of a protest/march you support, if you support any, so we can better understand?

  7. Fr. Dan, I agree completely with what you wrote in your essay noted above about abortion belonging to a series of social sins (pp.72-73).

    This concept was first introduced 25 years ago by the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin as the “Seamless Garment Ethic,” a/k/a, “Consistent Ethic of Life.” The phrase “Seamless Garment” was based on the Gospel of John 19:23 in which Jesus is referred to as having a seamless garment, which was made from a single piece of cloth. This connotes an inclusiveness to all life, in seeing that there are no “seams” closing individuals out.
    (Note: This information appears in the Siena News, Education Dept., pp. 6655, no date given. Siena College is in Loudonville NY.)

  8. K. Murphy Says:

    In his January 17th post on gun violence, Father Horan quite correctly expresses outrage over the topic. He states that, with the exception of hunting rifles, “individual citizens should not have access to instruments of murder,” a strong opinion considering the right to a firearm is guaranteed in the Constitution, but one can see his logic and that it is born of a genuine moral outrage. In his subsequent January 22nd post on the same topic, Father points out that that “there have been nearly 1.4 million deaths on record caused by firearms in the United States since 1968 compared to the nearly 1.2 million casualties over the course of the nation’s entire [military] history.” Again, a disturbing, saddening fact. Today, January 26th, thousands who share Father Horan’s outrage are participating in a march on the National Mall in Washington and in other cities in support for gun control. I’m sure they are concerned about many life issues, but this is particulary important to them and I don’t doubt their sincerity.

    Since 1973’s Roe v Wade decision there have been more than 55.5 million abortions in the US, roughly 40 times more the number of firearm deaths. In that period, the pro-life movement, also outraged, has made great strides towards lowering that figure through political activism and bearing witness to those who have perished. The annual march is the most visible form of that witness. However, Father Horan expresses his “enduring incredulity” over the annual march, labeling the protest a “self-serving exercise in self-righteousness, self congratulatory grandstanding” because marchers are focusing on one issue in the pro-life seamless garment which also consists of, as Father states in his January 22nd post, gun control. He reminds “all those who are thinking about “life issues” today, don’t leave the victims of gun violence out of your thoughts and prayers. To be “pro-life” is also to be anti-gun.”

    Are the individuals marching today for gun control also engaging in a “self serving, self-righteous exercise,” guilty of “self congratulatory grandstanding” because they are also only addressing one strand – gun-control – of the seamless garment? I’m sure some clergy are involved. Are they wrong to do so? I think not, and I wish them all well, as I also do for those who protest for the unborn.

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