Every January for the past fifteen years Aimee has taken a twenty-four-hour bus ride with about fifty high-school-aged girls to join hundreds of thousands at the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C. She is an original gangster of our ever growing Archdiocese of New Orleans youth pilgrimage. (This year there are thirteen busses) You could say that she is the General Leia of our school resistance against the culture of death. (I’m her husband, so forgive me if I’m starry eyed. She isn’t into Star Wars, so she will also have to forgive me for the comparison.)
While she marches I stay home with our kids for five days and thank God for Chick-Fil-A. I am always impressed by the lucidity and nuance of Aimee’s thoughts about the March, abortion, and the dignity of women. I thought in advance of this year’s March for Life, I’d ask her to reflect on the meaning of it all, and help those of us who can’t be in D.C. to stand in real solidarity.
Why march? Are we trying to overturn Roe v. Wade or is it about something else?
We march for the reasons people have always marched for anything: to be a visible sign of a belief or cause. Marching for life is a critical way to communicate, above all to a woman considering abortion that she is not alone and that there are hundreds of thousands of people ready to support and love her. We want her to know that abortion is a false solution based on the false dichotomy that choosing life conflicts with her other goals.
Marching also communicates to our fellow citizens the powerful, positive truth about the pro-life cause, which is often misrepresented in the media. The March for Life consists overwhelmingly of young adults who are smart, open-minded, educated about science and biology, compassionate, generous, and religiously, socially, and demographically diverse. This is not the usual portrayal of pro-life advocacy.
Marching shows our legislators clearly and boldly how many of us insist that the law should honor all human life. While truth-based laws are an important part of justice, merely overturning Roe v. Wade without providing real alternatives for women is not adequate. We march not only to end abortion, but also to end the perceived need for it by calling for new policies that genuinely meet and honor the unique needs of women. Abortion must not only be illegal, but unnecessary and unthinkable. That will happen only when society offers women better choices than we do now.
Why take teenage girls to the March for Life? Why is it so important?
First, because they are women, and women must be part of any solution to injustice, including the grave injustice of abortion. As Pope St. John Paul II said in his Letter to Women, the presence of feminine genius in all places in society is “a matter of justice but also of necessity,” because women “will force systems to be redesigned in a way which favours the processes of humanization which mark the ‘civilization of love’” (Letter of Pope John Paul II to Women, 4).
But also because young women are bombarded with incessant mixed messages about who they are and from where their value comes. Young women who insist on the dignity of all life are often outright ridiculed and dismissed by the elite pop culture that, ironically, claims to represent women’s interests. It is critical for young women to see how powerful their voices and actions truly are, and it is empowering for young women to experience solidarity with thousands of other young adults. They never forget the hugeness of the March for Life, and that gives them courage.
What does a real culture of life look like?
A real culture of life acknowledges that equality is not sameness, and cherishes uniqueness. Women and men are equal in dignity and importance, but we are not the same. Conflating equality with sameness actually diminishes what is unique about each, and historically it is the feminine that is sacrificed by this sameness model of equality.
A real culture of life would honor and reward femininity, pregnancy, and motherhood instead of penalizing and criticizing women for them. A real culture of life might include policies that accommodate the woman as she is, not merely give her access based upon her ability to conform herself and her body to the norms of a man’s body and experience.
One of my students told me about her female relative who was the only woman in her law school class. Everyone congratulated her on having achieved equality because she had access to something only men had access to before. Then she became pregnant during her studies. She continued law school, but in every class she had to sit sideways in the desks because the desks could not fit her pregnant body. She went to class month after month contorting her body to fit into those desks that were never designed for a pregnant body, which could only be a woman’s body, because no one had ever thought a woman would be sitting in those desks.
This story struck me as so exemplary of a false culture of life—one that allows women access, but doesn’t ever change the underlying structure that does not accommodate her as she uniquely is. Everyone thought equality is merely allowing women to be in those law school desks too. But no one ever offered her another option that would fit her pregnant body. A true culture of life would have built and offered her a different desk.
How is abortion anti-woman?
It’s often promised that abortion frees a woman—from fear, from an interrupted life, from devastating social and economic ramifications, from rejection, from damage to a career, from limitations to her future, from loss of her education, from captivity to the systems of her body.
I have heard many, many women testify that this promise failed them. I believe them because they are not speakers or politicians or teachers or theologians or social leaders, but the women who have actually experienced abortion. I do not know what only they can know.
But I do know this: abortion does free almost everyone around a woman from our deep obligation to her.
Abortion frees a man from responsibility for his actions, from any uncomfortable consequences of utilitarian sex, from the sleepless agony of decision-making, from the before-and-after division of his life.
Abortion frees an extended family from their embarrassment, from their fear of social disgrace, from bending the rigid borders of their own lives to do something unexpected, from the personal sacrifice necessary in authentic support.
Abortion frees schools from doing the hard work of policy revision, from the criticism of a thousand judgmental voices, from the discomfort of changing the status quo, from the cost of building for and investing in a woman’s unique needs.
Abortion frees companies from interference with their profit margin, from being compelled to offer truly just protocols that accommodate women as women.
Abortion frees lawmakers from having to really work and fight instead of just chatter, from having to give up their power if necessary to effect genuine solutions.
Abortion frees a society of taxpayers from digging deeper and giving more, from having to solve poverty, from having to uproot and replace male-centric standards of equality, from having to really listen, from getting involved, from inconvenience, from sacrifice not for personal benefit but for a woman’s good.
Abortion doesn’t change the broader surrounding circumstances that place crushing burdens on a woman facing unplanned, unwanted, or doomed pregnancy. The poor woman remains poor. The abusive relationship remains abusive. The system threatening her with life-altering consequences remains unfair. Moreover, she remains a woman who, even before her pregnancy, was already living in circumstances that were already unjust. Her pregnancy doesn’t cause the injustice, but rather reveals its sinister magnitude.
Abortion frees all of us around a woman from doing what is hard and what exacts a personal cost and what is uncomfortable. Abortion frees us to be apathetic and self-preoccupied. Abortion frees all of us around a woman from having to enter into her pain alongside her, and from having to carry each other.
Women, now and always, deserve more.
Is abortion a religious issue?
Yes and no. Abortion is wrong because it ends the life of a unique human person, which science clearly informs us begins at conception. When life begins really has nothing to do with any particular religion; it is simply factual reality. Our faith does not contradict reality, and draws moral directives from the truth. As I like to say to my class about many moral issues that derive from natural law: “It’s not true because it’s Catholic; it’s Catholic because it’s true.”
Beyond the March for Life, what should we be doing to promote a culture of life?
An authentic culture of life begins with loving those around us, because that is the only source of both the discipline to love sacrificially and the credibility to call others to do the same.
As St. Mother Teresa said in her 1994 prayer breakfast speech:
“As always, we must persuade her with love and we remind ourselves that love means to be willing to give until it hurts. Jesus gave even His life to love us. So, the mother who is thinking of abortion, should be helped to love, that is, to give until it hurts her plans, or her free time, to respect the life of her child. The father of that child, whoever he is, must also give until it hurts.”
Practically, we must fund life-building efforts much, much more—so much more that they can offer real alternatives to the behemoth of Planned Parenthood. There are dozens of wonderful pro-life organizations doing things like women’s health clinics, maternity homes, youth education programs, material support for families, daycare centers, and more. Research and find organizations to support, or search out the need in your own community and do it yourself!
How do I talk about abortion to people who don’t agree with me?
First, there is no “us” versus “them.” Many people who support abortion are doing what they believe is best, even if they are mistaken. We can actually learn so much by listening to why they believe they need an abortion—this reveals a lot about what needs are going unmet, what needs must be filled in order to end the perceived need for abortion. Also, the pro-life cause must be very clear that it is not merely “pro-birth,” but that our support continues after birth for these children and their parents.
I have found simply asking questions like “Why do you need an abortion? Can we help you find what you need instead?” can be helpful in meaningful dialogue. And perhaps most powerfully: “You are not alone. I won’t abandon you no matter what you choose.”
With that said, we should never diminish the gravity of abortion for the sake of being winsome. Abortion is one of many human dignity injustices that exist, but they are not all equal in gravity. In abortion, human persons are not being discriminated against or unjustly imprisoned or deprived of material needs—in abortion, human persons are being killed.
Why is this important to you personally?
I want children to live and not be killed. I want women to be free, because only when women are free to be women as women will we be able to genuinely participate in society—justice and necessity. I want all of us to know that our lives have intrinsic worth, and are not dependent upon being wanted or convenient or productive by fickle cultural standards.
But especially because I am the mother of two children who are the prime targets of abortion—children who were unplanned, conceived in unstable circumstances, whose existence disrupted the lives of their birth parents. Their lives light up the darkness. There is simply no denying that they are worth more than any other treasure.
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Aimee and Colin MacIver are co-authors of Power and Grace: A Guide to the Catholic Sacraments, TOB Teens Middle School, and The Parent and Sponsor Guides for Chosen: Your Journey Toward Confirmation. Colin is also the author of the Quick Catholic Lessons with Fr. Mike companion. Both are graduates of the Franciscan University of Steubenville and teach at St. Scholastica Academy. They live in Covington, Louisiana with their two children, Leo and Zelie. Colin is host of the TightRope: Reflections for Busy Catholics podcast.
Featured image by Matt Pirrall: A grandmother and her two daughters, one biological and one adopted, attend the March for Life 2019 in Washington, D.C.—her biological daughter’s husband and four children, two biological and two adopted, stand with them.