This year, I was unable to attend the March for Life in Washington, D.C., so a friend and I drove a mere 15 minutes away to the local march in South Bend. Instead of joining a throng down the blocked-off streets of a major city, we walked with a few hundred companions across the bridge and streets, frequently greeted by encouraging horn honks, to the St. Joseph County Courthouse. As we arrived at our destination, a young woman with a baby strapped across her chest repeatedly called out to the crowd on a megaphone, “Pro-woman!” Each time, we responded, “Pro-life!”
The chant called to mind the recent surge in championing women’s rights across America. The Women’s March on D.C. raised issues of justice and equality with renewed emphasis—but since its platform champions abortion, it is clear that there is widespread disagreement about what being “pro-woman” means.
Curious to know how the Women’s March defined this term, I visited their website. Under the “Mission and Vision” read this sentence: “We stand together in solidarity with our partners and children for the protection of our rights, our safety, our health, and our families – recognizing that our vibrant and diverse communities are the strength of our country.” That’s actually great! I thought. That statement alone reflects a beautiful, profound goal. And even further, several of the principles on that page rang true as well: nonviolence, respect for all people, and even acceptance of suffering, which “is redemptive and helps the movement grow in a spiritual as well as a humanitarian dimension.”
The website also promoted the Women’s March as a union and celebration of differences. “We join in diversity,” the mission reads, and later, “We support the advocacy and resistance movements that reflect our multiple and intersecting identities.” The Facebook page echoed this openness, proclaiming, “This is an INCLUSIVE march, is FREE to join and EVERYONE who supports women’s rights are welcome.” Furthermore, the website encouraged marchers to look beyond just women’s issues, as the mission continues, “We call on all defenders of human rights to join us” (emphasis added).
Wait a minute. Pro-life women defend human rights. Sure, not every other woman agrees with them, but why should that matter? They are women, and the defense of human rights—the right to life—forms the basis of their movement. Shouldn’t we all come together in diversity and celebrate our common motivation for justice?
Unfortunately not. One of the “Unity Principles” of the Women’s March supports “reproductive rights,” which include “safe, legal, affordable abortion and birth control for all people.” And even though Linda Sarsour, one of the main organizers, stated, “We are not a pro-abortion march, we are a pro-women march,” the Women’s March ended a partnership with pro-life organization New Wave Feminism, clarifying that their “platform is pro-choice” and that the partnership had been an “error.” A few days later, the pro-life group And Then There Were None was also removed from the March’s list of partners. As these actions testify, access to abortion has become a dogma of the feminist movement.
As I examined these facts, I found myself wondering, Why? Why must abortion be a fundamental tenet of women’s rights? Some pictures of posters at the Women’s March gave me a clue: “Trust Women,” “Keep your tiny hands off Roe v. Wade,” and “Keep your rosaries off my ovaries” were some examples. The overwhelming message they sent was that women should not be told what to do. Contemplating the reasoning behind this conviction, one might see connections with other constitutional rights. I have the right to speak without fear, meet with whomever I want, and live my life freely. If I want to eat ice cream for the rest of my life (or survive on The Paleo Diet, for that matter), the government has no business to tell me that I must do otherwise.
At the same time, there is a way that those rights can be limited—if they harm another person. Hence, libel and slander are illegal, and if I put my whole family on an ice-cream-only diet, ignoring their dairy allergies, my actions would probably constitute abuse.
Freedom cannot be an unrestrained free-for-all. Regardless of the circumstances, one must respect the rights of all people in question when carrying out an action. When it comes to pregnancy, the woman is simply not the only person worthy of consideration. It is scientifically and logically proven that a pregnant woman’s womb contains a human being; why should that identity be arbitrarily assigned at birth, when we know that the seamless process of development begins nine months beforehand? Furthermore, that other human is not only a distinct being but also, biologically and metaphysically, the woman’s family member, her child. However inconvenient or painful the child’s existence is, “freely choosing” to terminate it inflicts fatal harm—and for a mother, that type of choice often brings more emotional damage than relief.
Does this perspective ignore women’s health for an unborn baby? Does it impose religious belief on others? Far from it. To the first objection, it should be noted that opposing abortion does not mean saying to a woman, “You’re pregnant? Too bad. You carry that baby to term, and deal with it.” That’s not pro-life. The woman has just as much dignity and right to care as any human being, including the one in her womb. That is why pro-life advocates and organizations support women throughout their pregnancy and afterwards, helping her build a good life for herself and her child. The alternative—pumping hormones into a woman and, when an unplanned pregnancy arrives, killing the life that is growing inside her amazing and beautifully designed body—hardly provides genuine care or respect.
In response to the second objection, summarized by the “Keep your rosaries off my ovaries” poster, I refer to a Rover article by Suzy Younger entitled “Ovaries Aren’t Catholic.” The female body and the best treatment for it, she writes, “function according to science … for everyone, regardless of faith or lack of it.” The goal of women’s health should be to respect and celebrate the body, working with it naturally (rather than through the “Band-Aid,” side-effect-ridden solution to which Younger testifies) to ensure her holistic health. In the state of pregnancy, that health should accompany her child, not reject it.
Defending freedom, respect, and dignity for mothers alongside their children is pro-woman to the core. Although the Women’s March sadly failed to recognize this, I hope that America will come to see more clearly that we women can and indeed must stand up for ourselves—but not standing on top of these vulnerable lives, our children. It is too great a price.
Sophia Buono is a junior PLS major and ESS minor. She welcomes discussion with women of all backgrounds and beliefs and invites them to contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.