The Meaning of Active Participation in the Pro-life Movement

By M.A Student, Harry Scherer

The reality of preborn life is not questioned by science. The most sophisticated arguments in favor of abortion don’t even try to deny it. We can take as settled that the sexual act produces a new organism, deriving and distinct from its parents. 

But the cultural event of the sexual revolution, the crown jewel of the expressive individualism described by Carter Snead in his 2020 excavation What It Means to Be Human, endures thanks to the resources of a dying generation and the active participation of an alienated youth.  

But a sizeable portion of the same youth also have a deep awareness that abortion is not only a lie but a grave social evil: it may have threatened their own lives, but it certainly threatens the life of their nation. This generation learned from their parents to treat abortion as the principal litmus test for political candidates. When they encounter someone in their freshman sociology class who favors abortion, they do their best, with varying degrees of confidence, to present the case that we should all care about the equal protection of preborn life.

The pro-life movement’s interest in changing hearts and minds will always be present: these personal encounters are marked by the virtues of charity, justice, and patience.

But once a year, the movement gathers from all corners of the country to encourage one another in this fight and to send a message to Washington that pro-life Americans will not be silenced until all human persons, from conception, are recognized as bearing equal protection in the law. 

The two pillars of the movement, then, are changing hearts and minds and changing law and policy. However, the order of my treatment does not indicate which pillar takes priority. In fact, the two goals, as I’ve described them, are inverted in priority. Right now, it’s clear that most Americans do not recognize the personhood of preborn Americans from conception. The polling data is spotty – and subject to the questionable legitimacy of polls in general – but it seems clear that a good share of Americans is uncomfortable with late-term abortion. This awareness indicates a sliver of moral sensitivity on which the pro-life movement should be sure to capitalize. 

But the ultimate message of the movement – that a human person has equal value from its position as a zygote to that of an 80-year-old body – is not accepted by the majority of Americans. In addition to the clear lesson that changing hearts and minds will take time, this goal is difficult to track as successful and does not necessarily translate into the ultimate goal of changing policy. 

That the annual march takes place in Washington should not be confused as a convenient location – a good number will tell you that the location is, in fact, inconvenient. But those who walk in the cold and slush are more concerned about the protection of preborn life in federal law than their own convenience. 

They realize that the natural right to life was not explicitly defined by the framers of the Constitution because it was simply presumed. If the federal government cannot protect the most innocent Americans from murder, what can the federal government claim to protect? The natural right to life is so foundational to the American project that to deny its existence is to misunderstand why our nation was founded in the first place. 

The younger generation of the right understands this on a deep level. They are more concerned with social issues than some of their conservative forebears and see the pro-life movement as integral to the conservative movement. The post-Dobbs landscape has offered some unacceptable defeats, including the wave of pro-abortion ballot measures funded by monied interests that are opposed to life. But the younger generation – as their presence at the march proves – will not sit by while Washington political action committees take over the law of their states and their country. The legal and political operations by which the movement will secure the rights of preborn Americans are yet to be seen: our system allows for a variety of strategies. But the march does not seek to articulate a strategy but to throw gas on an instinctive commitment to the preborn. Because Roe taught the country to forget about the sanctity of human life, the march comes to Washington every year to help it remember. In the life of a nation, this act of remembering is foundational to the securing of liberties and the common good of the people. We’ll be back next year.