TW: Explicit language, sexual violence, politics.
Some semi-scattered thoughts…
I’ve spent a lot of time trying to convince my pro-choice friends that pro-life people care about women, that we advocate their care after birth, that we advocate care for their children, that we don’t want to just condemn women to a small corner of the world bearing and raising children, that we respect women, and that we firmly condemn rape and sexual violence.
We all know the common criticisms of pro-life people. We’re often accused of just being puppets of the Republican Party, of just playing partisan politics. It’s assumed that if you’re pro-life, then you’re anti-immigrant, anti-gay, and anti-woman. I worry that this year’s March for life will just serve as a confirmation for all of those accusations. The March for life will now be forever inseparable from the presidency and the person of Donald Trump.
One Version of the Pro-Life Movement
In many ways, I understand the decision to invite our current president to speak at the March. Some have argued that he’s the most pro-life president in US history. Certainly he has used his executive power to limit abortion across the United States. And those invested in the dignity of the human person from conception to natural death should be glad for these efforts. Even if you find him abhorrent as a president and a person, I believe it’s important to recognize certain achievements in his presidency.
President Trump is the perfect person to speak at one version of the March for Life. Where the pro-life movement is characterized by anti-abortion public policy and demoralizing pro-abortion advocates, President Trump is the perfect spokesperson. He’s also the perfect selection for a March for Life that is totally uninterested in gaining the collaboration, participation, openness, or even curiosity of pro-life democrats, those on the fence about abortion, or thoughtful pro-choice persons. He’s polarizing, dismissive, and domineering. He’s perfect for advocates who want to celebrate their own power and disenfranchise others. President Trump fits a certain brand of the March for Life and the pro-life movement generally. He represents a certain political might that many hope to achieve. From the standpoint of using executive power to advance anti-abortion policy, President Trump probably has done more than any president in the last few decades. That’s why many anti-abortion advocates love him.
I say “anti-abortion” and not “pro-life” intentionally. I believe that all pro-life advocacy is anti-abortion. But not all anti-abortion advocacy is pro-life. Indeed, anti-abortion advocacy can be dangerous. Like a Christian who affirms abstinence because they believe sex is evil, rather than because they believe sex is too good to be used irresponsibly, the anti-abortion advocate can put forward efforts that seem pro-life in appearance but ultimately harm the dignity of others. Because it resembles a true good, it can be misleading and cause greater harm.
A look at the (largely Evangelical) purity culture of the last couple of decades can be instructive here. It claimed to present a biblical view of sexuality by alleging that the existential value of a woman is tied to her being sexually untouched by men whose desires need to be mediated by women’s dress codes. Over the years, purity culture’s leaders have denounced their past writings, and countless women have come forward, sharing struggles with shame and confusion and stories about their trauma responses to sex with their husbands. The story of purity culture is still unfolding, but its semblance to an authentically Christian account of human sexuality has created great harm in the meantime.
The story of pro-life Republicanism is likewise unfolding. Pro-life advocates this week are having to grapple with Rand Paul’s recent revelations about Republican leadership and the difference between true pro-life advocates and those merely pushing anti-abortion policy to further their careers. According to Newsweek:
[Paul] drew gasps from the largely evangelical Christian audience last week as he relayed to Faith & Freedom Coalition conference-goers how many seemingly anti-abortion Republicans are in fact political frauds. Senator Paul said there are Republicans “that are more concerned with spending money than protecting the unborn.” Speaking one day after President Donald Trump touted anti-abortion measures at the conference, Paul told “Road to Majority” attendees Thursday many Republicans only pay “lip service to pro-life” backers.
“I’ll give you an example,” Paul continued. “Last year, I tried to attach to a spending bill a prohibition to have any money spent by Planned Parenthood. You know what happened? [GOP leadership] sat me down and one of the senior Republican senators said, ‘We cannot have the vote today.’ I said ‘why?’ He said ‘we might win.’’”
For many pro-life persons, we have to grapple with the question of what’s more insidious: pro-abortion advocacy (largely Democratic) or pursuits of power masked as anti-abortion advocacy (largely Republican). We have to struggle with the difference between true pro-life positions and actions which are pro-life primarily in appearance but not in reality and which create confusion and cause damage because of their semblance. Many pro-life persons would rather combat the devil they know than deal with devils masquerading as angels.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t pro-life advocates who really do have a solid grounding for their positions and who work to promote them with integrity. This seems to be what Rand Paul is doing by bringing political hypocrisies to light, and I think he should be praised for that.
Pro-life advocates should look at these issues from a holistic perspective, considering which politicians have lifestyles and positions more likely to create the conditions under which abortion becomes a compelling option for women. A push for laws affirming the dignity of the human person by banning abortion can’t be abandoned. But there are other things to consider as well. We need to look at the relationship between job opportunity, the ways in which we talk about women, access to healthcare, and abortion. When we look at these questions holistically, we can start to see whether our politicians (or ourselves) are really pro-life or are just anti-abortion.
The President’s Position
I do believe that President Trump should be considered apart from other members of his party who seem to be playing games with abortion politics. Trump says that he believes in protecting the life of the unborn child. Some question his sincerity, but I’m inclined to think of him as a man who is unabashedly sincere. He says what he means and he doesn’t apologize. For example, when he talks about grabbing a woman by the pussy or calls migrants animals, I trust that he means what he says. That’s the man speaking at the March this year. Many of my pro-choice friends view abortion limitations as just another version of forcefully grabbing a woman by the pussy. We’re giving them reason to think so. And how can we get our pro-choice friends to stop calling unborn children just “fetuses” when our president refers to born men, women, and children as “animals”?
This year the March for Life is an affirmation of my pro-choice friends’ worst stereotypes about the pro-life movement. It’s preceded by a serious accusation against the credibility of pro-life political leaders. And it’s keynoted by a man who refers to human beings as animals and jokes about the sexual use of women.
This isn’t the March for Life I grew up attending and loved. How did we get here? For the first time, I’m sorry to say that I’m grateful I can’t attend.
For another look into pro-life versus anti-abortion:
Chris Damian is a writer, speaker, attorney, and business professional living in the Twin Cities. He received his B.A. in Philosophy from the University of Notre Dame and his J.D. and M.A. in Catholic Studies from the University of St. Thomas. He is the author of “I Desired You: Intellectual Journals on Faith and (Homo)sexuality” (volumes I and II). He is also the co-founder of YArespond, a group of Catholic young adults seeking informed and holistic responses to the clergy abuse crisis. In his free time, he enjoys hosting dinner parties and creative writing workshops.