So we had the March for Life in Ottawa yesterday, and a most beautiful day for it, it was—sunny, warm, all that. While crowd size estimates are approximate at best, the organizers think around 24 000 were in attendance. It does seem slightly bigger each year, but it’s hard to tell when you’re on the ground. It is, without question, the biggest demonstration that happens each year in Ottawa.
What’s the point of it? We meet, we listen to some speeches of varying quality, we process around downtown Ottawa holding signs, we return to Parliament Hill where there are more talks and some prayers, and that’s it, pretty much. The counter-protestors yell at us, strip their clothes off and rush the podium (yes, that happened again this year), and increasingly try to disrupt and interrupt the proceedings (kudos to the Ottawa police for their professional calm way of removing the disruptors).
So, what’s the point of it all? We know that the Canadian political system is not going to re-open the abortion debate as a matter of law any time soon. So it’s not for them, exactly. It certainly is an event for the young people who make up a very large percentage of the crowd. Consciousness raising and conscience formation are crucial in the long-term eradication of abortion from our society—since we cannot make abortion illegal, let’s try to make it unthinkable.
In this light, the women and men of Silent No More Awareness Campaign play, perhaps, one of the most important roles in the day, as they give their testimonies on the Hill after the march. The young men and women who remain for that event, where they hear story after story of the devastating harm done by legal abortions, cannot possibly go away thinking that it’s no big deal or an easy answer to a crisis pregnancy. I only wish that some of the counter-protestors would stay and at least listen to these people—real people, who really got into terrible situations and did turn to abortion to solve their problem, only to find it did no such thing.
My own sadness in the whole thing is the extent to which the two sides seem to talk past each other. Those of us in the pro-life movement firmly hold that a new human life begins at conception (that is a strictly scientific statement, by the way), and that every human life should be extended the protection of law (a statement grounded in the entire legal tradition of our society). One human being simply cannot kill another human being, except for very rigorously defined and long established exceptions—self-defence, soldiers at war.
In terms of the strict question of the morality of abortion, that is the beginning and the end of the matter. Once we establish the existence of a living human being (and there is no question of this from any point of view of science), the legal protections given human life apply, or ought to. ‘Everybody counts, or nobody counts’, as fictional detective Harry Bosch says when he tracks down the murderer of yet another obscure demimondaine over the objections of his superiors.
Well, that is the fundamental pro-life position, but of course the pro-choice (to use their own name for themselves) position simply refuses to engage that. They really seem to believe that we don’t really believe that, and that the whole thing is a bluff to hide our real intentions, which is the suppression and control of women.
“Our bodies, our choice,” is the chant they used yesterday, along with “Pro-life is a lie. You don’t care if women die!” But the choice is to kill another human being. I cannot use my body to do that, can I? Meanwhile, it is true that every pregnancy has its risks—there is no question of that. But many women also die because of complications from abortion, not to mention the long-term negative effects of abortion on many fronts, none of which are ever presented to the woman when she is considering the procedure (so much for informed consent!).
And many doctors, faced with a woman who is pregnant and who also has this or that health issue, are quick to pressure the woman to have an abortion. I know many women who have resisted that pressure, carried a healthy baby to term and successfully dealt with their other health issues. Too often doctors prescribe abortion, not because it is medically necessary, but because it simplifies their job.
Yes, there can be wrenching and difficult situations where there are no easy answers, and it is no service to the pro-life cause to ignore those. But in the hardest and worst of those scenarios, the basic truth remains: there are two human beings here, and both have to be considered, both have to be treated as human. Everybody counts, or nobody counts.
It just isn’t true that pro-lifers don’t care about women. We do care, and we know that abortion is no kind of a solution to the real problems and real sufferings that attend crisis pregnancies. What is needed are communities to surround all our suffering people in all situations with love, with concern, with support, with concrete help. For families to do that for their own members, and when that family network fails (which is tragically frequent in our day) for the larger community to pick up the slack. The great driver of abortion is family breakdown and social isolation and abandonment.
To say ‘You mustn’t kill you child!” and then give no help or support is not really pro-life, is it? But to say “I will support you as you kill your child!” is not really supporting the woman, either.
Anyhow, I don’t write about abortion much, not because I don’t care about it, but because I care very much, and it’s hard to write about it, frankly. But these are the thoughts that marched around in my brain as I marched around Ottawa, and listened, and prayed. Everybody counts, or nobody counts. And I believe everybody counts.