Packed With Young Advocates, March for Life Highlights Divides in Congress and Culture
New polls give diverse pro-life leaders reason for hope. Yet the newly divided Congress will present challenges for those seeking protection of lives in the womb.
On Thursday, a few thousand pro-life activists from dozens of U.S. states gathered in Washington, D.C. for the March for Life Conference. The day-long event offered educational sessions, film screenings, ample free materials from pro-life exhibitors and networking opportunities for leaders and students.
It preceded the 46th annual March for Life on Friday, which drew an estimated 100,000 people from across America. Speakers on the National Mall included Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen, State Rep. Katrina Jackson (D-LA), pro-life leader Abby Johnson and a video message from President Donald Trump.
“This event is the very heart of the pro-life movement,” said Obianuju Ekeocha. She took a break from directing her team’s Culture of Life Africa booth to provide comments. “Every March for Life that I’ve been to around the world started in some way because of this one. The pro-life movement in America is doing amazing work that the world recognizes and sees.”
In an interview Thursday evening, Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler (R-MO) pointed to a newly released Marist Poll as reason to be optimistic. “The majority of Americans are really pro-life,” said Hartzler. “They don’t necessarily identify themselves with that term, but they believe in significant restrictions on abortion.”
“New polling also shows that millennials are more pro-life than people would think, which gives us a lot of hope.”
The Pressing Issue of Planned Parenthood
Sue Thayer of Storm Lake, Iowa reflected on the somber reasons the thousands were gathered. She recently joined ecumenical faith-based group 40 Days for Life as director of outreach. The prayer ministry was one of over forty pro-life groups exhibiting at the Thursday conference.
“Forty-six years is way too long,” said Thayer, referring to the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. “61 million babies is really beyond our comprehension. It’s the most pressing issue in America. We have immigration, border walls and all this stuff, but until we can solve this one issue, the rest is much smaller.”
Thayer worked for two Planned Parenthood clinics in Iowa for 18 years. She left ten years ago after they began the practice of what she refers to as “webcam abortions.” It involves non-medical staff providing women the Mifeprex pill regimen following an exam with a physician via the internet.
A few booths away, Herb Geraghty of Rehumanize International spoke to attendees about their decidedly liberal human rights organization. He noted their stance against Planned Parenthood, recognized as the leading provider of abortions in the U.S. Still their literature also spoke out against police brutality, unjust wars and torture.
“As someone who leans more left than the Republican Party, it’s frustrating to see both parties claim to stand for human rights,” said Geraghty. “Planned Parenthood still has public funding, despite the Republicans having the White House, Senate and House. With liberals, they’re not even trying.”
“It feels like neither party is working for pro-lifers, whether you’re liberal or conservative.”
Global Challenges and the Right to Life
As a scientist of Nigerian descent currently living in England, Obianuju Ekeocha challenges such discouragement. She points to the Mexico City Policy established by the Trump administration as saving vulnerable lives in Africa.
“This is a global pro-life movement, and America has a large role to play in it,” said Ekeocha, author of the recent book Target: Africa. “If America’s President is pro-life, then children around the world have a better chance. People in poor African and Latin American nations now have a voice who will defend their right to life.”
She also minces no words about the newly divided Congress. In November, Americans elected a Democratic majority in the House while the Republican majority in the Senate was solidified.
“It’s very discouraging that there is a Democrat — let’s just say a pro-abortion majority in the House,” stated Ekeocha. “I’m trying to keep it non-political. On the very first day, they put out the HR 21 appropriations bill to undermine the Mexico City Policy. They were very eager on day one to bring abortion to the world.”
Rep. Hartzler agrees that significant pro-life advances in the House will be unlikely over the next two years. As chair of the Values Action Team, she meets twice monthly with over 100 House members who, in her words, “stand for life, for family, for those values that make our country great.”
“Certainly this will be a time of clarity for us to raise the difference between life and abortion,” said Hartzler. “Why should Planned Parenthood be defunded and instead give those funds to federally qualified health centers that provide true health care for women? We are going to make that case.”
“We will be speaking up for Americans who don’t have a voice in leadership in the House now.”
Pro-Life Democrats Disappearing?
Even Herb Geraghty — who identifies himself as a liberal atheist — strongly criticizes Democrats for shunning pro-life members. Though Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL) spoke at Friday’s March for Life, he is one of only a handful of pro-life Democrats left in Congress.
“We have a situation where the Democratic party is very aggressively pushing out pro-life members,” said Geraghty. “It’s upsetting that these are liberals who claim to be ‘standing up for the little guy.’ Yet they’re arguing that the working class should eliminate their babies to get out of poverty, instead of actually helping them.”
With Rehumanize International particularly resonating with millennials and Generation Z, he gives their bottom line. “A lot of us want two pro-life parties,” concluded Geraghty. “We want abortion to be abolished and to be unthinkable. Then we’ll fight over other issues like taxes and immigration.”
Former abortion clinic worker Sue Thayer cites her own reasons for optimism as a pro-life advocate.
“If you go to the March for Life or the Walk for Life, you see the excitement and the drive behind the life movement,” said Thayer. “I’m probably one of the oldest people here. There’s a lot of people in their high school years and college years.”
“That gives us great hope for the future of the pro-life movement.”