At this 42d March for Life Mike Pence became the first Vice President to speak at the annual March For Life. Links to that speech as it is variously covered are available here, here and here. The March for Life and the Pro life movement has many components and many of them are groups of people motivated by the highest and noblest of motivations. They represent student groups, crisis pregnancy groups and traditional adoption agencies representing both religious and secular facilities along with many other people working together. The expression of the values that drive hundreds of thousands of people there every year is in many ways a beautiful thing. This year, with the speech by Pence and the address by Trump’s former campaign manager Kellyanne Conway there is among parts of the movement a celebratory and hopeful tone.
This March for Life takes place during the weekend that follows the January 22, 1973 decision Roe v. Wade which established in the law of the United States a constitutional right to an abortion. fifty-five to sixty million abortions have been performed legally in the United States since that time. The implications of that number have to have a place in any real discussion of the abortion related issues in the United States of America. Over the years I have attended my share of pro-life events, brought supplies I paid for myself to protesters and sidewalk counselors near abortion clinics, helped people find adoption and support services and challenged those who asserted some parts of the Pro-Choice agenda. That is one side of my personal story. There are more than two sides to it. I have never been to the March for Life. I participated in Catholic memorial services for girls who died in abortions, legal and illegal in other countries in areas where the official diocesan position was not to have such services. I knew a good number of girls who had abortions when I was a teen in youth ministry and sometimes my keeping their secrets could be argued to have encouraged or at least supported their decision to end the life of their unborn — I do not think that was ever my intent. This mostly happened outside the United States but it happened here as well.
The significance of fewer people being born in the United States is one that can be argued. It has many causes and abortion is only one. I think abortion has served to help sever men from the real sense of procreation as a social responsibility. Abortion is one thing, laws related to marriage, types of legal filiation and child support are other contributing factors. The war on men is real enough and has a thousand faces but abortion is widely supported by many men and the one who did not want to support the kids produced by bad behavior have been a major factor in the pro-choice movement .The cultural aspects of birth have certainly changed over the years since Roe v Wade, that change may very well have been accelerating in recent years. Here are a few quotes from a study by Pew Research Foundation not tied to that Supreme Court decision but illustrative nonetheless:
Another notable change during this period was the rise in births to unmarried women. In 2008, a record 41% of births in the United States were to unmarried women, up from 28% in 1990. The share of births that are non-marital is highest for black women (72%), followed by Hispanics (53%), whites (29%) and Asians (17%), but the increase over the past two decades has been greatest for whites — the share rose 69%.
There have been changes in the other direction but they hardly count as seen in this report by Fact Tank:
In 2014, 40% of births were to unmarried mothers, a slight decline from the 41% share that had held steady since 2008. The share of births to unmarried mothers had been climbing more or less steadily for many decades; the last dip happened in 1995.
Although the single percentage point drop in 2014 was small, it was only the third one-year dip in this measure since the end of World War II. The decline also is notable because it occurred among all racial and Hispanic origin groups.
Still, the share of children born to unmarried mothers has more than doubled since 1980, when it stood at just 18% of births.
The odd thing is that while abortion is more common among unmarried women it makes the choice of bringing a baby into the world a woman’s decision and not a couple decision. It has also led to conservatives being less judgmental of women who have babies out of wedlock because they choose to give them life. A further factor in all this is that the rising divorce rate makes births to unmarried women less readily distinguished from birth to married women. As a childless divorced man the fact of childlessness is not irksome when I consider how horribly my life personally has turned out. But it is possible for me to wonder if it might have been less horrible in a less abortive society. In other words I would not want a kid in the life I live but, yes I really think I deserve a better life and yes I really do blame a society in which abortion has played a key and formative role in our social and cultural development over my lifetime. The stresses on fatherless kids and their mothers, on fathers abused by an irresponsible and idiotic system, on men unable to find wives or keep them — these are all real stresses beyond our usual debate. Population crises really can occur in both directions by population going up or down. But economies need people and they come from somewhere even when they are born here they are not replacing the old populations exactly. Quoting the same Pew Research Foundation study as before.
Another influence on births is the nation’s growing number of immigrants, who tend to have higher birth rates than the native born (although those rates have declined in recent years). The share of births to foreign-born mothers, 15% of U.S. births in 1990, has grown at least 60% through 2004. Births to foreign-born women in 2004 accounted for the majority of Hispanic (61%) and Asian (83%) births.
The March for Life reasonably has focused on protecting the Right to Life which is a separate issue than what I have been discussing. I quote from the student prolife link given above:
Today, those who receive a poor prenatal diagnosis are more-likely-than-not to be legally aborted. This country allows the abortion of any child with a “fetal abnormality.” Although the law protects people with abnormalities after they are born, it fails to do so prior to birth. Law Students for Life is honored to lead the March for Life this January in support of the principle that the law must protect all people – including those who have not yet been born.
The totality of the right to life among Catholics has been called the seamless garment and embraces a movement to a culture of life and away from a culture of death. It gets into lots of arguable specifics right away. Other strongly pro-life groups such as Evangelicals and Mormons have often taken at least a nonjudgmental passive view of this larger teaching . It is a real body of work and it matters in terms of social justice the death penalty and other matters. But abortion is the big issue and there is an emotional appeal in the site just quoted that rings true to much of the feeling expressed at Pro-life events.
The decisions that steered this nation away from the culture of life were rendered long before we were born. Yet, the consequences of abortion continue to impact every generation. There are empty places in our hearts for siblings, friends, cousins, nephews, and nieces who were never born. We see the pain on a woman’s face – the remorse in her eyes – when she remembers the child she never met because she chose to end an innocent life. We cry with men whose girlfriends abort their child while they stand powerless to prevent it. That is the state of our laws.
Not everyone agrees with how much this concern for the lives of the unborn connects with respect for other lives. The truth is that respect for the sancity of human life is by no means assured to any society. We can think of many examples of the callous disregard for taking life but a few stand out. This year the March for Life coincided to a large and principal degree with the January 27 observance of Holocaust Memorial Day.. The largest Nazi death camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated on January 27, 1945 by Allied (principally Soviet) troops. About 1.1 million people were executed at Auschwitz. Almost all of whom were murdered under established standards of international law and virtually none of whom were legally put to death for capital crimes legitimately prosecuted. In addition, the evidence of how vast the killing operations were in the Nazi Third Reich continues to mount.
This year the March for Life also coincided with the Chinese Lunar New Year or Spring Festival in that it is a festival that spills around and the official day this year –January 28,2017 is also a day when many March for Life activities are going on. The coincidence can be seen as significant if one wishes to see it that way. In many ways this holiday is a vast celebration of life and family in China. yet China has in recent centuries known huge amounts of killing and forced abortions continue. Starvation has killed millions in the past and the issues of how to create and define a right to life have challenged the regimes there in many ways.
Where is the discussion of human life and its value going to take us in years to come? I don’t know. I do have many friends who are concerned about the repeal of Roe v. Wade. I really do believe that we have to face all of the realities of life but I also can empathize with the joy of those who hope for a different and better statement of our values as Americans than the ones currently enshrined in law.