Politics & Policy

How Marching for Life Can Change the Law

Participants at the 2015 March for Life (Reuters photo: Jonathan Ernst)
Facing pressure, prayer, and committed citizens, judges will sooner or later do what is right.

This week pro-life marchers will pile into buses, cars, and airplanes to travel to Washington, D.C., for the 2017 March for Life. The annual event protests the 1973 Roe v. Wade abortion decision issued by the U.S. Supreme Court. The Roe decision imposed a right to abortion on demand throughout the entire nation.

According to the March for Life website, the event “is a witness to the truth concerning the greatest human rights violation of our time, legalized abortion on demand.” The present day March for Life, the site says, “draws hundreds of thousands of people from all fifty states and countless countries.”

For many marchers, the event provides an annual opportunity to renew their personal commitment to social justice for unborn children, to participate in one of the great social movements of our time, and maybe to reunite with old friends over glasses of Guinness at the Dubliner.

However, as many marchers realize, the March for Life also provides an important opportunity to help to change the law in favor of innocent human life.

Here are five ways marching for life can change the law.

1. Marching for life keeps the issue an issue.

The trend today is to talk about unity, compromise, and negotiation. There is a place for that goal and those tactics. But with the issue of abortion, if pro-life activists don’t polarize the issue, the issue will die. Abortion is an uncomfortable issue. That’s true even for many if not most people who support abortion rights. Most people would probably prefer not to think about abortion much less talk about it. On top of that, elite institutions of power and influence largely favor unfettered abortion rights. And on top of that, unborn children can’t speak or act for themselves.

These dynamics will constantly push any so called middle ground on abortion further and further toward abortion rights. The one check on this drift is an active pro-life movement that compassionately yet persistently continues to polarize the abortion debate.

“Polarization” is not a bad word when it comes to abortion policy. At one pole of the debate, activists support legal abortion for any reason at any stage of pregnancy. At the other pole of the debate, activists seek legal protections for innocent human beings. Due to the very nature of the issue, there is not much middle ground.

A compassionate yet relentless pro-life movement is the only counterweight to the otherwise inevitable political and social drift toward complacency and complicity with unfettered abortion on demand.

2. Marching for life increases pro-life commitment.

Saying one is pro-life is one thing. Leaving one’s cozy home, traveling to Washington, D.C., and marching on a cold January day is another thing altogether.

Marching for life increases the pro-life commitments of those individuals who march. These commitments manifest when marchers return home and encounter opportunities to help pregnant women facing unexpected pregnancies or when they call lawmakers in support of legislative initiatives.

Further, an active, committed movement of pro-life individuals will organically influence the culture through personal witness and personal relationships. The pro-life movement will grow. Hearts will change. Minds will change. Eventually laws will change, too.

3. Marching for life keeps the pressure on lawmakers.

It’s a cardinal rule of politics. Just like water flows to the lowest point, politicians move to the point of least resistance. Hundreds of thousands of free citizens marching through the nation’s capital year after year give a powerful reminder to elected officials that we will resist if they cave on the issue of life .

4. Marching for life judges the judges.

Many observers believe that judges are influenced by developments in the law and culture, at least on some issues. When culture changes and legislation starts to change with it, it’s easier for judges to rule in favor of outcomes; we see this dynamic on the topic of gay marriage.

The March for Life is infamously underreported. The mainstream media and elite institutions won’t celebrate the March for Life the same way they do other social protests.

However, even if marching for life doesn’t exert the same social pressure on Supreme Court justices as other social protests do, marching for life still provides a valuable function by socially condemning the justices who have been or would be complicit in issuing or upholding notoriously contemptible decisions such as Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

With time, consensus will develop that Roe and Casey are indefensible as legal opinions.

This inevitable consensus is advanced by heroic public figures such as my former boss Judge William H. Pryor Jr., who described Roe v. Wade as “the worst abomination of constitutional law in our history.” A man of his word, he then refused to back down when confronted with this statement during his confirmation hearing.

The Supreme Court’s core abortion decisions are an embarrassment to the U.S. Supreme Court.

This inevitable consensus is advanced by intellectuals like law professor Michael Stokes Paulsen, who boldly argued that “Casey is the worst Supreme Court constitutional decision of all time.”

The Supreme Court’s core abortion decisions are an embarrassment to the U.S. Supreme Court. The March for Life provides an annual reminder.

5. Marching for life is a form of prayer.

Prayer is a vital part of working for social justice including social justice for unborn children.

In remarks I prepared for an address delivered at the Georgetown University Law Center I stated: “Our unelected justices on the Supreme Court might think they control the abortion issue, and in some real sense they do. But a people who unwaveringly commit to social justice, activism, and prayer will keep the issue live until those justices finally give up and allow for what is right.”

It takes sacrifice to take a day off work or school, travel to Washington, D.C., and march through cold or snow. Sometimes we pray with our words. Sometimes we pray with our hearts. When offered with the right intention, marching for life can be a way to pray with our bodies.

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