Their rally signs were pink. That was the first indication of their bold countercultural bravery.
Lately, pink has been appropriated by Planned Parenthood, which claims to represent choice and women, health and freedom. Then there is the ubiquitous pink — as in the first sneakers I picked up in a sports store the other day — of Komen. The group established to find a cure for breast cancer has surrendered to the abortion industry’s political and media power in recent years, appearing to choose its areas of research and spending so as not to threaten the ideology of the sexual revolution that has become all too mainstream in recent years. (What a blessing it would be if Komen supported research free from politics! Maybe we’d have a better sense of the connections between abortion and breast cancer, for instance.) Even the Little Sisters of the Poor, the group of religious sisters who run homes for elderly poor people, have fallen victim to this climate of fear that treats women’s fertility as a disease and pregnancy as something other than the greatest creative gift known to man, as the government mandates that the health insurance they provide their employees must cover abortion drugs, contraception, and female sterilization.
But last Wednesday morning — a frigid day after a substantial snowfall — I met about ten women on the Washington Mall who should call us all to reflection about what we’ve settled for in our abortion politics. They were backstage just before the March for Life’s opening rally was set to begin. It was 41 years to the day after the Supreme Court issued its Roe v. Wade decision. Just when I thought I might be losing all sense of feeling in my hands and feet, and was wondering how you know whether you have frostbite, I saw them. The blood was flowing again. Life was unmistakably and boldly present. They brought a tender warmth to the snow-covered mall.
“I’m not a hard case, I’m a life,” Monica Kelsey told me.
This was the second year these signs appeared at the annual event that is, yes, a protest, but also a celebration of life and courage. This year’s event focused on promoting the joy of adoption: What an opportunity it can be for a family that yearns to provide a home for a child in need of one! And these women rallied the conscience by their presence. They stopped men and women in their tracks.
Earlier that day, at morning Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, over by Catholic University on the other side of town — where 10,000 people had gathered the night before — a homily prepared by Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia was read, the snow having kept Chaput himself from the nation’s capital this year, as transportation was a mess.
Polls show that most Americans don’t realize that the two cases decided on January 22, 1973, Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, effectively legalized abortion on demand throughout pregnancy in the United States. In the years since 1973, the abortion industry has not hesitated to suggest that even the most modest restrictions would wipe away the rulings entirely, as we saw in another pink display, Wendy Davis’s protest just this past summer of a Texas law to prohibit late-term abortion; Davis famously filibustered for eleven hours in pink sneakers. Even the president of the United States tweeted support for Davis. And yet, a Marist poll commissioned by the Knights of Columbus for the 41st anniversary of Roe and Doe found that 87 percent of Americans support some restrictions on abortion. There is enlightenment in the details.
“It’s time to look back and look ahead,” Archbishop Chaput advised. “The abortion struggle of the past four decades teaches a very useful lesson. Evil talks a lot about ‘tolerance’ when it’s weak. When evil is strong, real tolerance gets pushed out the door. And the reason is simple. Evil cannot bear the counter-witness of truth. It will not coexist peacefully with goodness, because evil insists on being seen as right, and worshiped as being right. Therefore, the good must be made to seem hateful and wrong.”
This points to the power of the annual presence of people at the March for Life, showing up to stand for the inviolability of human life. It’s hard to look away when a living human being is standing in front of you, wanting to say something. “Coexist” is the legend on one striking sign, simply and gracefully embellished with a sketch of a mother with a child in her womb. We don’t have to look at them as if they represented a conflict of rights, where the fitter, the older, and the more powerful wins. Aren’t we a people that protects the weak? “Women deserve better,” another sign says, a mantra of Feminists for Life, and a true statement. “I regret my abortion” has become a courageous mainstay of the March over recent years. And now, “Conceived from rape, I love my life.”
These women stand together near the starting point of the march to let it be known that they are “not products of rape, we are people.” Rebecca Kiessling and her sisters are nurturing common sense and decency in our politics, challenging what we settle for, calling to our attention the humanity of all, encouraging us to protect all innocent life, and helping women and men to rise to the challenge of parenthood and to know that adoption is a great, sacrificial gift of hope.
“We are not throwaway people,” Darlene Pawlik tells me, fixing my scarf as I write while the brutal wind blows. A New Hampshire mother of five and a grandmother of two, she is not the only one who would not have been born had her mother not embraced her life. That heroic choice gave birth to a life-embracing legacy.
“I’ll always be a victim,” Rebekah Berg tells me. “I wasn’t going to create another one.” She became pregnant with her ten-year-old son when she was raped. She embodies courage.
In his remarks to the rally a few minutes later, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor told the crowd, which stretched as far as the eye could see, that Washington stands on the shoulders of those gathered, many of them young people — high-school and college students — who insist on being a pro-life generation (as the Students for Life of America signs tell it) that intends to abolish abortion. That’s not a cruel threat to women’s rights but a promise. They will work to make sure that love overflows, that no woman or man needs to feel alone or abandoned or without the support to embrace life. With their witness and labor, they are making us more humane.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a director of Catholic Voices USA. This column is based on one available exclusively through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.