March for Life as a Political Statement – Revisited

Two years ago, my first column for Inside Catholic came in the form of a controversial piece about why, as a pro-life Catholic, I no longer attend the March for Life. 

In my newness to the format, and taking into consideration the complexity of the issue, I failed to make an argument that was balanced and succinct, and the final product after editing for length was a legalistic consideration that left much of the nuance I included in the original piece on the cutting room floor, as it were.

What I was not able to include was my personal sense about the March: that it is — or at least has become — a largely ignored political statement that serves little purpose other than to make pro-lifers feel good about being pro-life. As a former regular attendee, I am well aware of this feeling. Get together with tens of thousands of other pro-lifers, march down Constitution Avenue on what invariably amounts to one of the coldest days of the year (“Offer it up!”) and make a stand in front of the Supreme Court to let them know you’re mad as hell that abortion is legal and you’re not going to take it anymore. (If you’re in college, you then head immediately to the Dubliner for a pint of self-congratulatory Guinness and to catch up with old friends it seems you only get to see on January 22nd.) 

 As time wore on, however, something nagged at me. It began to feel more and more like it was all just for show, and a show nobody was watching but us. You want to believe the halls of power are listening, but when you live in Washington you come to realize that your protest is just one of countless protests that blend into a faceless procession of traffic and transit annoyances for the residents of D.C. 

In addition, our focus, I began to realize, was all wrong. Here we were, marching up to the steps of the Supreme Court to show our displeasure with their judicial activism by demanding some of our own. This was plainly hypocritical, and yet somehow it took me years to see it. In essence, while what we wanted was good, we were going about it the wrong way. If an imperial judiciary which stepped outside the bounds of its own power was responsible for this horrifying law, I couldn’t see how asking them to continue acting imperiously would rectify the situation. What we would need is judicial restraint, and proper lawmaking, if we were going to remedy this situation in a permanent, lasting way – a way that wouldn’t later be overturned by the same extra-judicial means that gave us Roe  (and rid us of it, if we got what we wanted) in the first place. 

The Supreme Court should not, if it is operating within its parameters, be swayed by the protests and opinions of the public. It is not an elected body. And if it is true that the Supreme Court is not functioning properly when it creates new laws or rights out of whole cloth, finding things in the Constitution that are not there, should we not desire that it return to its rightly ordered state as quickly as possible, rather than exploit its erroneous openness to “philosophical predilection and moral intuition,” as Justice Scalia pointed out in his dissent during Planned Parenthood v. Casey? Shouldn’t we want a court that does what it’s supposed to do as defined by the Constitution, rather than following the whim of popular opinion? 

The reality is that a change in abortion policy will not happen at the national level in a country so divided on the issue and so driven by partisan politics. We need to focus on a realistic endgame. Many talk about a Constitutional Amendment outlawing abortion, but even if one believed that were a good idea (which I am not entirely convinced is so) it is indisputable that such an Amendment could not currently pass the ratification process, which requires a simple majority vote in both houses of Congress and a two-thirds majority passage by the 50 states. We need to recognize that an issue that is so important to the people must be decided by the people, not an imperial judiciary or at the whim of a President. 

On the occasion of the confirmation of Justice Alito, Congressman Ron Paul, whose Presidential candidacy I supported, made the following observation in a column published at LewRockwell.com:

Why are we so afraid to follow the Constitution and let state legislatures decide social policy? Surely people on both sides of the abortion debate realize that it’s far easier to influence government at the state and local level. The federalization of social issues, originally championed by the left but now embraced by conservatives, simply has prevented the 50 states from enacting laws that more closely reflect the views of their citizens. Once we accepted the federalization of abortion law under Roe, we lost the ability to apply local community standards to ethical issues.

Those who seek a pro-life culture must accept that we will never persuade all 300 million Americans to agree with us. A pro-life culture can be built only from the ground up, person by person. For too long we have viewed the battle as purely political, but no political victory can change a degraded society. No Supreme Court ruling by itself can instill greater respect for life. And no Supreme Court justice can save our freedoms if we don’t fight for them ourselves.

While for some people, like myself, that realization made attending seem a superfluous gesture, my advice was never to advocate a wholesale abandonment of the March for Life, but merely to see it for what it is – a rhetorical statement which lacks political teeth, but strengthens and energizes its participants. It is more effective as a tool to reinforce its constituents than as an agent of change. It cannot replace a more coherent and effective strategy. 

This year, as I see the scant coverage of the March on Fox News from my home in Tucson, Arizona, I realize that the political climate has changed since my original column. I am removed from Washington for the first time in years, and I have witnessed the grassroots phenomenon that is the Tea Party movement. With the election this past week in Massachusetts, with a growing number of voters now identifying themselves as independents, with the decline in popularity of both the major political parties, there is a sense that America is waking up. 

Maybe now, more than any time in recent memory, the March is more significant than I’ve given it credit for. Americans have remembered the power of grassroots activism, and are using it to challenge the status quo in government. We’ve got a long way to go before building a culture of life in America that would overwhelmingly support legislative change on abortion, but for the first time in many years, I feel something I had all but lost:

Hope. 

 

By

Steve Skojec serves as the Director of Community Relations for a professional association. He is a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville, where he earned a BA in Communications and Theology. His passions include writing, photography, social media, and an avid appreciation of science fiction. Steve lives in Northern Virginia with his wife Jamie and their five children.

  • RK

    Well put. And your evaluation about the misplaced protest at the Supreme Court is something I hadn’t thought about before but is, I think, excellent. Roe was an egregious violation of judicial restraint and, while we can appreciate the sentiment of pro lifers, asking the court to reverse itself becomes just another request for judicial activism. which is why Roe was passed in the first place.

    I too attended numerous Marches when I lived in DC and realized that it was pretty futile, other than enabling the marchers feel good about themselves. As unpopular as it is to say this in certain circles, I believe the March for Life reflects the ill conceived strategic thinking on the part of pro life leaders.

    By letting the states handle this issue many lives will be saved and abortion would cease to be the political football it has become. Democrats want abortion to remain legal and so do Republicans, lest they lose a fertile source of fundraising dollars and an easily identified voting block.

    Hope should spring eternal. It should also be governed by realism and an honest appraisal of what works and what doesn’t work.

  • Stephen Wise

    Scalia’s justification for the inaction of the Supreme Court with respect to restricting abortions, is as wrongheaded as David Boies’ interpretation of the Constitution to defend gay marriage.

    http://lotuseditions.wordpress.com

  • georgie-ann

    i think the March is a wonderful statement for God & for Life & for Americans & AGAINST the status quo of Washington, the Northeast liberal establishment, and lots of other “bad” things,…i hope they “crack Heaven open” with their actions & prayers,…God IS “on our side,”…maybe the author had to get far enough away from the “smoke” to enjoy a clearer vision!,…in any event,…welcome to the Hope Club!,…God is not mocked!,…His Word will not return unto Him void,…”If God is for us, who can be against us?!”…Love

    “We walk by faith, not by sight!”

  • D.B.

    Was inevitable, because the very concept of Judicial Review is itself the Court being part of the Legislative process. If the Court exercises Judicial Review someone is going to cry foul if a particular law they like is deemed Unconstitutional. Brown VS Topeka Board of Education is also “Judicial Activism.” The States Rights argument falls on its ass when you actually get into the weeds of what is and isn’t, and usually it depends on the particular ideology of the person. It’s a joke.

    The idea that you should relegate to the States the issue of Abortion is just as ridiculous and immoral as those who made the same argument about Slavery or Segregation.
    America at large no longer shares the common values of the Catholic Church (or conservative Protestantism for that matter)…certainly there are pockets of conservatism, but for the most part the uneasy truce the American Church and American State enjoyed since our beginning is in danger of collapse. Federalism will not restore sanity to America, because State Governments are equally degenerate. The stubborn belligerence displayed by Rep. Stupak is in my view, the way forward. No more compromising of Church Teaching, and if they want to play hardball than let’s play…if it takes a Pius IX approach with a formal condemnation of the US Government, so be it.

    It shouldn’t be this way, but if we continue to be wishy washy, then the Secularists will have won.

  • Kyle

    It’s a shame nobody clued Jesus in that it’s “judicial activism” for, say, widows to constantly demand justice from judges.

  • Loretta

    Thank you D.B. You got it right!

  • Mark

    Today, 51% of Americans call themselves “pro-life” on the issue of abortion and 42% “pro-choice. Back in 1996, only 33% considered themselves “pro-life” and 56% “pro-choice”

    This momentum swing is huge and other than EWTN and “the March” I can’t think of too many reasons for it. The MSM, public schools and the Dems in power are all strongly pro-abortion yet the courageous keep gaining while swimming against the current.

    Therefore, it is completely illogical to assume that the March has been ineffective.

    I sincerely hope that those who support third parties are not trying to minimize the success of the March for political expedience.

  • Michael

    This momentum swing is huge and other than EWTN and “the March” I can’t think of too many reasons for it.

    Therefore, it is completely illogical to assume that the March has been ineffective.

    How about the ultra-sound? It is difficult to maintain the belief that what is being destroyed is not a baby based upon modern technology’s ability to image inside the womb.

  • Zoe Romanowsky

    Steve, your points are well-taken, and articulate the reasons why I’m not particularly drawn to the March anymore. I went for many years and if I’m honest about it, there are only two reasons that motivate me now: to show solidarity with the others who are there, and to see people I know who I otherwise do not see. These are fine reasons, but I’m left wondering whether the March is otherwise effective.

    I do think there are a few reasons it probably IS important:

    First, it energizes and edifies those who attend. This is no small thing. Pro-life people, like everyone, need to experience connection and common purpose with others. Especially given the differences and disagreements that exist among pro-life groups. Gatherings like this give attendees the excuse to get together under the same banner. The benefits are social, emotional, and spiritual.

    Second, solidarity is just an empty word for most people, but in gatherings like the March, it is experienced in a tangible way. Again, I think this is no small thing.

    Third, at this point, I think the drying up of the March would embolden the pro-choice side, giving them reasons to further dismiss and doubt the seriousness of the pro-life movement.

    Fourth, people need to exercise their free speech rights to appreciate them. The act of publicly protesting is an important way to do this. It puts people in touch with what it means to publicly witness to something, and to stand for something.

    All in all, I think the marchers themselves are the beneficiaries of the event… and that’s a good thing.

  • Steve Skojec

    Zoe,

    Your points are well taken, and I agree with them. Despite the lack of efficacy I perceive with the March, it would likely be quite detrimental if it were to go away. As little media coverage as the March receives now, if it was abamdoned, the story would be huge.

    I suppose if it isn’t making progress, it’s at least an exercise in holding the line, which is important in its own right.

  • Mark

    “How about the ultra-sound? It is difficult to maintain the belief that what is being destroyed is not a baby based upon modern technology’s ability to image inside the womb.” – Michael

    Great point. I also would like to mention the good people who attend weekday Masses that include saying Rosaries for Life (among other intentions) before or after the service.

  • Maria

    Your points are good, but let’s not forget the effects of the March on the young people who attend. The solidarity they experience among their peers and adults is so important. It’s good for them to see other young people who agree with them and are not afraid to “stand up” for their beliefs, their faith.

  • Joshua Mercer

    CORRECTION: It’s actually tougher to amend the Constitution than you said. It requires a 2/3rds (not majority) vote in both Houses and 3/4ths (not 2/3rds) of the states.

    And you’re not going to get 67 Senate votes anytime soon.

    To their credit, most of the pro-life movement is not focusing any real energy on an amendment. It was about partial-birth abortion during the Bush years. Right now, it’s stopping abortion in healthcare.

  • Mark

    PRNewswire-USNewswire-

    “On the eve of the 37th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion throughout the United States, a new survey shows a strong majority of Americans believe abortion to be “morally wrong.”

    “Millennials” (those 18-29) consider abortion to be “morally wrong” even more (58%) than Baby Boomers (those 45-64) (51%). Generation X (those 30-44) are similar to Millennials (60% see abortion as “morally wrong”). More than 6 in 10 of the Greatest Generation (those 65+) feel the same”

  • Scott Johnston

    I agree strongly with Zoe. The effect of building commitment, energy, and solidarity among pro-lifers, especially the young, has powerful effects that translate into saving real human lives throughout the year back home in people’s local towns and cities.

    And the dearth of MSM coverage with each passing year becomes less of a hindrance to getting public exposure, since alternative means of publicity are more and more effective.

  • RC2

    Don’t forget the most committed Marchers –the ones actually working through the March for Life organization, as opposed to the thousands more who just show up for the demonstration– do not stop at the Supreme Court building. They go to their senators’ and representatives’ offices and lobby there. The purpose of the March for Life as such is not to lobby the Court (that’s for public witness) but the Congress.

  • Jay Anderson

    Roe was an egregious violation of judicial restraint and, while we can appreciate the sentiment of pro lifers, asking the court to reverse itself becomes just another request for judicial activism… By letting the states handle this issue many lives will be saved and abortion would cease to be the political football it has become.

    Huh? Those statements are completely contradictory. As long as Roe is the “law of the land”, “letting the states handle this issue” is legally impossible. Asking the Court to overturn Roe is NOT asking for judicial activism. It is asking the Court to correct an error that the Court has made in taking the abortion issue out of the hands of the state legislatures and the people.

    It is NOT judicial activism to ask the Court to remove its own judicially created impediment to abortion being decided by the states. Yes, there are many pro-lifers who want to the Court to rule that the right to life of the unborn is protected by the Constitution. That step, arguably, might be considered “judicial activism”. But overturning Roe does not involve that step. Overturning Roe would merely allow the states to decide the issue for themselves. Until Roe is overturned, the states (and the people) are powerless to decide the issue. And until Roe is overturned, we’ll continue to be left with the only option of fighting this out in battles over Supreme Court nominees.

    I would think that after 37 years, pro-lifers at least would have some working knowledge of what overturning Roe would actually mean.

  • Steve Skojec

    Asking the Court to overturn Roe is NOT asking for judicial activism.

    It is if you’re expecting to overturn the case specifically as a result of public protest. There’s a process that needs to be followed, and to the best of my knowledge, the SCOTUS doesn’t initiate it’s own cases or the review thereof – please correct me if I’m wrong.

    Overturning Roe would kick the matter back to the states. I personally like the idea of Ron Paul’s Sanctity of Life Act (HR 2533), which one of his legislative assistants tells me only has 2 co-sponsors in the House.

    Too much political maneuvering hinges on the SCOTUS. If we can’t beat them, why not circumvent them?

  • RK

    Asking the Court to overturn Roe is NOT asking for judicial activism. It is asking the Court to correct an error that the Court has made in taking the abortion issue out of the hands of the state legislatures and the people.

    It is NOT judicial activism to ask the Court to remove its own judicially created impediment to abortion being decided by the states.

    From Wikipedia:

    Findings

    The Sanctity of Life Act would have defined human life and legal personhood (specifically, natural personhood) as beginning at conception,[1] “without regard to race, sex, age, health, defect, or condition of dependency.” By contrast, the Born Alive Act of 2002 (Public Law 107-207) amended 1 USC 8 to provide that legal personhood includes all Homo sapiens who are “born alive”.

    The Sanctity of Life Act further would have recognized that each state has authority to protect the lives of unborn children residing in the jurisdiction of that state. Such legislative declarations are nonbinding statements of policy and are used by federal courts in the context of determining the intent of the legislature in legal challenges.[2][3]
    [edit] Provisions

    The Act would have amended the federal judicial code to remove Supreme Court and district court jurisdiction to review cases arising out of any statute, ordinance, rule, regulation, or practice, or any act interpreting such a measure, on the grounds that such measure: (1) protects the rights of human persons between conception and birth; or (2) prohibits, limits, or regulates the performance of abortions or the provision of public funds, facilities, personnel, or other assistance for abortions.[4]

    As stated this bill removes the court from jurisdiction over abortion. This is worth fighting for. Waiting for SCOTUS to grow a spine is futile.

    While the court may be quite politicized, pro lifers, idealistic though they may be, undermine their own cause by lobbying the court.

  • John Jakubczyk

    When the pro-life community descends upon Washington D.C. from the rest of the country, it is not just to protest the evil of abortion but to make a statement affirming life. This affirmation has an effect upon the people of D.C. and helps many to realize that they are NOT alone in their support of the right to life. When I am in D.C. I make it a point to speak to these very people and to explain if they are not aware what is happening in the city on January 22nd. Most are very responsive. Even tonight at a restaurant near BWI, both hostesses were pro-life as was the server and bus boy. All were unable to attend this year but expressed their presence in other years and their excitement to know that so many attended this year. These events serve to remind us all of our duty before God to stand in the gap.

    In Tucson, over 3500 marched and gathered at Holy Hope Cemetery to pray of the end to this holocaust.

    Again we all were there in D.C., in Tucson, and throughout the country in prayer, asking God for His mercy.

    That in itself is a reason to stand up publicly to march for life.

  • Gabriel Austin

    How do you suppose Our Lord would feel about The March? Is it not a form of prayer? Is it not a call for repentance? Is it not an asking for forgiveness?

  • Kate McMahon

    I work at 101 Constitution in DC and the March goes past my office. It does make an impact on the city of DC; it closes streets, causes a spectacle and forces the city to pay attention as you cannot physically go anywhere in the city without being affected by it.
    I grew up in NY state, one of 10 kids and completely self-conscious of being the only big family and the “weird ones”. I went to the March for the first time at age 16 and was awed to find that there were this many young people who believed the same thing that I did, and the sense of being normal in a crowd was awesome. I participated again this year and was again overwhelmed by the number of 15-35 yr olds and by the number of girls. The awe remains and the emotional kick in the pants is something I know I need every year. I walk out my office door on my lunch hour to march, I don’t get on a bus for two days or even two hours. If this many people are willing to make sacrifices and offer it up (I hated it when my parents said those words) for the statement the March makes, how many more are praying at home, voting and making their voices heard?
    We are convicted of our pro-life stance through reason, as we should be. But positive peer pressure and emotional response should not be underestimated, especially during formative years. Frequently emotional response is the catalyst for action. We emphasize the importance of good schools, good friends, good priests, knowing that just teaching our children is not enough, they need to see examples of virtue. This issue requires courage, and teenagers trying to fit in often find it difficult to stand up for their believes. As an adult is still difficult. I know that the March for Life gave me courage and still does. And it does send a message. The Washington Post had an article this year httphttp://tinyurl.com/ykvpeqc and the message is getting through. As an abortion supporter the author discusses the number of young people and how it makes him nervous. Very encouraging from where I stand. Steve, glad to see distance gave a different perspective.

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