Having grown up in the D.C. metro area, I’ve had the privilege of attending nearly every March for Life since 1995, including while I was at Notre Dame. But somehow it wasn’t until this year, when I covered the March for National Review, that I encountered a particularly powerful pro-life message: if abortion is what we believe it is, it must change our lives.
I suppose I had always believed this, perhaps subconsciously, but it struck me in a new way this year when I interviewed a young man who was standing alone on the sidewalk a few blocks north of the National Mall, holding a large banner that swayed precariously in the fierce wind. “Be honest,” the banner read. “If abortion killed born kids, wouldn’t we fight harder?” As people passed, the young man—Jonathan Darnell—asked if they were pro-life.
His reaction to them differed from that of most pro-life sidewalk evangelizers. If they said they weren’t pro-life, he handed them a flyer and wished them well. But if they were pro-life, he told them that it was their moral obligation to do as much as they could within the confines of their vocation and state in life to bring an end to the practice of abortion.
Why don’t more of us think and speak the way Jonathan does?
Though our anti-abortion efforts surely must be morally acceptable and deferential to the rule of law, we must nonetheless view these efforts as more of a requirement than an option. This is a particularly important consideration for us as Christians and Catholics, people whose obligation to fight for the unborn stems not only from our rational understanding of human life but from our faith as well. We Catholics are often told, especially in these tumultuous political times, that the Church’s social teaching requires us to extend our “pro-life” outlook to all policy issues.
Catholic social teaching undoubtedly offers a unique perspective on every political question—a perspective centered on the dignity and value of every human life—including timely ones such as immigration, refugee policy, and border regulation. But while the most prudent policy response to these issues is subject to legitimate disagreement, the same cannot be said for a grave moral evil such as abortion. It would be wrong to view all of these policy questions as having the same moral weight. Abortion is, without a doubt, the most horrific human rights abuse of our time. All of our many cultural ills pale in comparison to the fact that our government sanctions and protects the legal right of a mother to the death of her innocent child, and that thousands upon thousands of Americans believe this right is both acceptable and even necessary.
This is not to say that we should abandon all other human rights causes or ignore the totality of Catholic social teaching in favor of an exclusive focus on anti-abortion efforts. But it is essential to acknowledge the primacy of this issue and the fact that, without defending very least among us, the rest of our political problems can never truly be resolved.
We recently have taken some smalls steps toward stemming the abortion onslaught in the U.S., but the expansion and protection of abortion rights has continued nearly constantly for decades. The constitutional right to an abortion has been enshrined in law since the 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade and since then, courts have invalidated countless state laws attempting to limit abortion to earlier in pregnancy.
Planned Parenthood—which performs about one-third of abortions in the U.S. each year—receives half a billion dollars annually from the federal government. The group’s leaders and other abortion providers insist that a woman’s right to an abortion isn’t a right at all unless she has access to it, meaning that low-income and minority women have a particular claim on government assistance to fund their abortions. And just last year, the Democratic party changed its official platform to formally oppose the Hyde Amendment, a congressional rider that prohibits federal money from funding abortion. (In reality, the fungibility of money means that any money given to an abortion provider is money going toward abortion.)
Pro-abortion lobbying groups routinely oppose state health and safety regulations, laws that reasonably require abortion clinics to meet certain health standards for the safety of mothers, and the Supreme Court ruled last summer that such laws are unconstitutional restrictions on abortion rights. There are pending bills in progressive states such as California that would force doctors and nurses to perform abortions regardless of their moral beliefs, as well as laws requiring crisis pregnancy centers to advertise for abortion clinics. A 15-month congressional investigation found considerable evidence of an ongoing illegal trafficking business that allows medical-research companies and abortion clinics to profit from the sale of the body parts of aborted babies.
In the face of this seemingly hopeless situation, we surely still have reason to hope, and we ought to reflect with gratitude on the successes achieved in large part by the perseverance of the grassroots pro-life movement. But our country’s dedication to abortion rights is a sobering reality, and as clear-eyed, pro-life Catholics, it is our duty to stay informed about these affronts to human life and set about doing everything in our power to oppose them. As Jonathan said, abortion must change our lives.
This year marks the tenth anniversary of the national 40 Days for Life campaign, an effort that has since expanded to include the entire globe in weeks of prayer, fasting, and community outreach to end the evil of abortion. Whether or not you’re able to become involved with this movement formally, consider dedicating yourself this Lent to the eradication of abortion through your own prayer, fasting, and peaceful witness. The example and power of Catholics is desperately needed in the world today, but nowhere more so than in the defense of the unborn.
Alexandra DeSanctis graduated from Notre Dame in 2016 and currently works in New York as a National Review Institute William F. Buckley Fellow in Political Journalism. Read more at: http://www.nationalreview.com/author/alexandra-desanctis.