On January 22nd I jumped into a vehicle with 5 other people at 4 AM and headed to DC for the March for Life. I had not been to the march for several years, mostly due to my frustrations with it. I had a mostly good experience with it but my frustrations are definitely still there.
An example of my frustrations: the march is always proceeded by a rally in which various people speak about abortion. The rally started off this year with a brief concert by Matt Maher, a Catholic musician. As he was starting to play he talked about how our country needed to come to a greater respect for life. His solution? We need God.
I didn’t stay for the entire rally but every speaker that I heard mentioned God at some point. We even had a statement from Pope Francis. There was plenty of prayer during the rally.
Don’t get me wrong, I love God. I love prayer. I love my Catholic faith. But the March for Life should not be a religious event. Abortion is the greatest Civil Rights issue of the 21st century. It affects more people than any other issue. And yes, I believe we need the grace of God to combat the evil of abortion. Prayer is important when combating evil. But in the political arena we should keep religious arguments out.
Why? I’m glad you asked! Allow me to outline a few points:
1. Religious arguments are not effective in influencing policy.
Our political system does not base decisions on what we as a country believe the will of God is. Some would argue that our nation was founded on Christian principles, but that is certainly up for debate. Regardless of the founding, it is obvious that we do not now base decisions on the will of God. Some individual politicians perhaps believe they are doing that very thing, but as a whole we are a secular country politically. Religious arguments are not effective in influencing policy decisions.
2. Religious arguments do not change hearts and minds.
Let’s separate out people into a few groups here: people who are not religious, people who are religious and support the legality of abortion, and people who are religious and do not support the legality of abortion. Religious arguments obviously do not change the hearts and minds of those who are not religious. People who are religious and do not support of the legality of abortion do not need their hearts and minds to be changed. People who are religious and support the legality of abortion do not listen when you make religious arguments. There are many reasons here, one is that we tend to compartmentalize our faith and determine for ourselves what it means and what beliefs we agree with. People who are religious but are pro-choice are very unlikely to listen when someone makes a religious argument.
3. Religious arguments ostracize fellow pro-lifers.
The March for Life is probably the only time and place I am ever embarrassed to be Roman Catholic. We Catholics turn a civil protest into a celebration of Catholicism. We talk about which dioceses are there, we read a message from the pope, we have priests and bishops speak, we have little Marian processions, one group even plays “Hail Holy Queen” with their brass band. The March for Life is a Catholic event. How do you feel a pro-life atheist would feel at the rally or during the march? How about a muslim, or a buddhist, or even a jew? Heck, I bet even the other Christian denominations feel somewhat awkward amidst all of the Catholicism present. Before the march I met a lady in my march group who was a buddhist. At the end of the march we were standing in front of the Supreme Court when a group of post-abortive women was beginning to speak. They asked Fr. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life to begin in a prayer. As he started a (beautiful) prayer, the buddhist woman mentioned to me that she did not feel comfortable there and she was going to leave. Anecdotal, I know, but I believe it’s indicative of how non-Catholics feel.
4. Non-religious arguments work better.
What is the goal of the March for Life and the prolife movement in general? To end abortion, which we consider to be an evil killing of human life. To gain this end shouldn’t we use the most effective arguments? I am no ethicist, but I believe that killing a human being is wrong. There are many arguments which more philosophically-inclined people can outline better than I, but my personal beliefs boil down to just that: killing a human being is wrong. Unborn children are human beings. The science of embryology tells us that. For that matter, unborn children have some political rights as well: they can inherit property and they can be considered victims in murder cases (killing a pregnant woman and her child is often considered a double-homicide). We consider them human beings except when they inconvenience us.
To me, arguments along those lines of thought are far more compelling than “God loves unborn babies,” especially when it comes to atheists, agnostics, and just your average everyday non-religious person. To win the right to life, we need them on board.