Last week I, along with a few dozen other students from Loyola and neighboring universities, traveled to Washington, D.C., for the annual March for Life, which this year marked the 41st anniversary of Roe v. Wade. The event routinely draws upward of 400,000 demonstrators.
While I was pleased to see some mainstream media coverage following the rally, I found its content deeply disheartening.
The Washington Post, for example, wrote: “Friars and nuns in woolen winter capes and thousands of fellow Catholics rallied Wednesday in frigid temperatures and snow.”
The Chicago Sun-Times reported, “Thousands of abortion opponents confronted wind chills in the single digits Wednesday to rally and march on Capitol Hill to protest legalized abortion, with a signal of support from Pope Francis. … The event draws many Catholic high school and college students from across the country for a series of events and prayer vigils leading up to a rally and march on the National Mall.”
And from The Guardian: “Thousands of marchers, many of them teenagers who had traveled from across the country on buses, gathered on the snow-covered National Mall, to sing, dance to Christian rock and pray for an end to abortions.”
From this, one would think that only devout Christians oppose abortion — a generalization without factual basis.
A 2013 Gallup poll found that 48 percent of Americans identify as “pro-life” (compared to 45 percent who identify as “pro-choice”). Yet abortion opponents are commonly portrayed as extremists: as pious Catholics (“Keep your rosaries off my ovaries!”), as homophobes (“If the fetus you save is gay, would you still fight for its rights?”) and as morality crusaders confined to a small fragment of the Republican Party.
Where’s the disconnect?
I’ve had people tell me that it’s impossible to make the case against abortion without an appeal to religion. Quite frankly, that baffles me. One does not need religion to understand that taking another human life, except in cases of self-defense, is morally impermissible. Similarly, one does not need religion to understand that the fetus, which is genetically distinct from both parents, qualifies as a human life. Establishing arbitrary standards (e.g., “personhood”) for when life becomes worthy of protection is philosophically suspect and serves only to muddle the issue.
The problem, as I see it, is twofold. First, of the 48 percent of Americans who oppose abortion, only a fraction are vocal about it. And second, within that fraction, the overwhelming majority do fit the stereotype.
As a socially liberal pro-lifer, I catch the heat from both sides. On one hand, I agree with just about everything pro-choicers generally advocate, except the obvious. I side with them on ways of reducing unwanted pregnancy (namely, comprehensive sex education), as well as other issues that, while fundamentally unrelated, always seem to pop up in debate — like gender equality, full sexual freedom and LGBTQA rights. I reject the “new feminism” that extols motherhood as woman’s noblest aim, affirming instead her right to decide when and if to become a parent — and to use contraception if that time is not now.
On the other hand, I cannot endorse the supposed right to abortion, and so I am subject to the criticisms directed at the pro-life movement as a whole. Within it, I am branded a “non-traditional” activist because of the views articulated above.
Considering the 48 percent statistic, however, I question whether my stance is really that non-traditional.
The stereotype is, sadly, self-reinforcing: Because conservative Catholics are the face of the organized movement, the media writes it off as a religious cause. As a result, non-Christian and/or non-conservative abortion opponents are uncomfortable participating.
Yet these are precisely the voices the movement so desperately needs. I do not discount the contributions of my Catholic and conservative colleagues, but religious or moralistic arguments are ineffective at reaching those who do not share the base ideology. I am thankful for organizations like Secular Pro-Life, All Our Lives and the Pro-Life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians (PLAGAL), which advocate against abortion on secular, liberal grounds.
Can you enjoy sex and be pro-life? Absolutely. Can you use birth control and be prolife? Absolutely. Can you be atheist? Can you be pagan? Can you be openly gay? Absolutely.
And I want to meet you.
Kris Skul is a contributing columnist. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you can identify with any of these things, or if you share my frustrations with the media’s portrayal of anti-abortion philosophy, I invite you to consider Loyola Students for Life. Meetings are Sunday evenings at 6:30 p.m. in Cuneo 311.