In Year of Progress, March for Life Leader Says Pro-Life Unity Trumps Some Tensions

Some emerging voices raise questions about the Trump Administration. Yet March for Life president Jeanne Mancini says what unites the movement is greater.

By Josh Shepherd Published on January 19, 2018

Thousands of pro-life advocates descended on Washington, D.C. in advance of today’s 45th annual March for Life. With President Donald Trump set to address the National Mall rally, it has seemed a banner year for pro-life policies. Abortion rates have declined to record lows. Yet leaders note that some tensions exist.

“It’s been 45 years of the largest annual human rights demonstration in the world,” says Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life. “But look at what we’re marching for, the loss of life we’ve had over those 45 years. It’s horrific. We really want to work ourselves out of a job as soon as possible.”

Thousands of activists gathered in conference spaces in downtown D.C. before the large-scale rally and march. Sessions centered on how to be effective advocates — including on Capitol Hill. Called the “most effective pro-life lobbyist” in her introduction, Autumn Christensen serves as policy director at Susan B. Anthony List.

Youth Participation Adds to Hope

“This march makes me so hopeful,” says Christensen. A panel discussion noted how she often spends long days in negotiations with top Congressional aides and White House officials. “I have cousins who are in their teens and they come out to march. Seeing their energy and enthusiasm inspires me.”

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Mancini also points to how students animate the march. “One of my favorite moments of the weekend is seeing the crowd of young people at the rally,” she says. “It’s literally the thing that makes it all worth it. It’s because they aren’t cynical. They haven’t been jaded by things not going their way. They really know that abortion is the human rights issue of this generation.”

“The enthusiasm of the young people is reflective of the year that we’ve been in.”

The Democrat Focused on Pro-Life Goals

Yet even Mancini, often a unifying force with her vibrant presence, admits divides are present. “There certainly is a degree of tension in some groups within the movement right now,” she says.

Some voices strain to grasp how the pro-life movement came to strongly back then-candidate Donald Trump. As one of only few registered Democrats attending the conference, Kristen Day has a unique perspective. She has long served as executive director of Democrats for Life of America.

“I’ve been teaching my kids a lesson lately,” says Day, a mother of three. “At school, their classmates bicker and say unkind words. I tell my kids: not everyone is going to like you. In the pro-life movement, I feel like we haven’t grown up. Some of them won’t talk to me. Not everybody is going to like you, but you get through it. We have a larger goal here.”

She pointed to recent drama around paid family leave. Some experts say this policy was minimized in the final tax reform bill.

“The only way we’re going to see pro-life victories is with bipartisan cooperation.”

“We want to have comprehensive compassion for women,” says Day. “The only way we’re going to see pro-life victories is with bipartisan cooperation. We have to try to work together to pass things, though that doesn’t seem to be the sense in D.C. right now. We need to give and take.”

Day faces pushback from both right and left. “We all want to support women and end abortion,” she says. “We’ll do whatever it takes to achieve that goal. Some may not be a huge fan of Trump, but we’re moving the football forward.”

She manned the Democrats for Life booth at the March for Life Expo. From teens to policy analysts, people circle the hundred exhibitors to purchase pro-life apparel, pick up free educational resources or start a conversation.

A dozen booths away, a spokeswoman at the Institute on Religion and Democracy offers her take on the current divisive climate.

When Tensions Divide People of Shared Values

“Christian pro-life women are especially divided here,” says Chelsen Vicari. Her work often addresses trends among Protestant Christians.

“On one side, you see Christian women distancing themselves from a president who dismisses sexual assault allegations as ‘locker room talk,’” she says. “On the other side are bright, Christian, women pro-life experts and advocates who now have influential jobs within the administration.”

Vicari cites the phrase Personnel is policy, often attributed to President Ronald Reagan. “They are producing policies that promote human dignity,” she says. “We know these pro-life Christian women would not have been appointed had the election results tallied differently. So there is a certain tension.”

As head of the March for Life, Jeanne Mancini seeks unity among factions. She has been an ally of the Democrats for Life group.

“The culture of death is relentless in trying to bring things down,” says Mancini. “Even sometimes within our own people, there can be a sense of ‘divide and conquer’ — which I don’t think is a good thing. It’s not of God.”

“One of my favorite moments of the weekend is seeing the crowd of young people at the rally. … They really know that abortion is the human rights issue of this generation.”

Despite her differences with the current administration, Kristen Day welcomes the current pro-life agenda. “You have to look past the person and keep your eyes on the goal,” she says. “So what if some people like Trump and some people don’t? We all have the same goal, so let’s focus on that rather than infighting.”

Pro-Life Unity in Supporting the 20-Week Ban

The Democrats for Life leader offers specifics. “If Congress passes the 20-week ban, it is going to be signed,” says Day. “Even if you personally don’t like him, he’s going to sign it. For Democrats, guess what? He would sign a full paid maternity leave policy as well. So we’re getting to where we want to go.”

The Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, or 20-week ban, has been the top priority among pro-life leaders. It passed the House in October and is expected to have a Senate vote in the coming weeks. For Autumn Christensen, it’s a point of discussion on Capitol Hill nearly every day.

“The science is so clear — that’s why the Pain Capable bill is so important,” she says. “We are now able to see a window into the womb. It’s medical fact that a baby is developing and truly just like us, with ten fingers and ten toes. It’s a travesty that babies who can feel pain can be aborted.”

Christensen notes it’s an uphill battle, and Day cites only three pro-life Democratic Senators. “There are a number of Senators who need to be put on record on this issue,” says Christensen.

“We are certainly hoping there will be a vote in the Senate on this bill soon.”

Leaders Highlight Caring for Moms and Children

The theme of this year’s March for Life is Love Saves Lives, with particular focus on helping women facing crisis pregnancies. “Pregnancy care centers and maternity homes are the backbone of what we’re about at the March for Life,” said Mancini to open the conference.

In our interview, she cites a report from Charlotte Lozier Institute. It shows that 2,752 pregnancy help centers are operating in America, compared to “about 700” abortion facilities, according to Mancini.

“Pregnancy care centers provide over $100 million every single year in free resources to those facing unexpected pregnancy,” she says. “Compare that to abortion clinics, which really are for-profit in many different ways.”

“Pregnancy care centers provide over $100 million dollars every single year in free resources to those facing unexpected pregnancy.”

 

Pro-Life Persuasion

The art of pro-life persuasion also came up often in sessions. Mancini introduced keynote speaker Stephanie Gray. The author notably was invited to Google headquarters this past June to speak on “Abortion: From Controversy to Civility.” Gray’s speech now has over 130,000 views on YouTube. It compares favorably to a talk from Planned Parenthood CEO Cecile Richards, with less than 2,000 views.

Gray spoke of interacting with a particularly hostile pro-choice person. “I realized I had made the intellectual arguments,” she said. “Now I just needed to be present and show this person, who had been victimized, that I loved him as much as the pre-born child.”

Over and over again, speakers noted how protecting the vulnerable is a fight beyond birth. They spoke of valuing human dignity at all stages of life. “Part of that report surveys women who’ve been to pregnancy care centers,” says Mancini. “They have such high marks in terms of how they were treated and feeling they were more dignified by the experience.”

“You’ll see the opposite with women who go to Planned Parenthood or an abortion clinic,” she says. “They have the experience of being herded through.”

Reflecting Dignity in Word and Deed

Leaders interviewed were never reticent to praise the Trump administration’s pro-life progress. Yet some question how certain social media rhetoric and past actions uphold human dignity. Few have disputed President Trump’s checkered past.

“It’s vital that women have lent their witness to the #MeToo Movement, yet the President seems to dismiss it,” says Chelsen Vicari. She references a group of whistleblowers and truth-tellers, mostly women, who were named Time’s Person of the Year.

She concludes with a question. “Are Christian women and men trading our public witness for the sake of policy influence and the greater good? I’ve found myself personally wrestling with this same tension.”

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