Should Democrats March for Life?

Pro-life Democrats attend the March for Life every single year but should we?

Every year, we march because we believe that our message is vital for both the pro-life movement and our society as a whole. Our message is that we as a country must be pro-life for the whole life. We must protect the life and dignity of every single person from the womb to the tomb. This includes not only direct threats to human life, such as abortion, euthanasia, and the death penalty, but also indirect threats, which are nevertheless grave and can also end up killing millions of people around the world each year, such as poverty, inadequate access to health care, and environmental degradation.

Some see our whole-life approach as a distraction and believe that we are taking our eyes off the ball. Of course, some of these critiques are offered in bad faith by people who have tried to tie the pro-life movement to other issues, such as their personal opposition to same-sex marriage or various other conservative causes. But others sincerely believe that the focus should just be on the immensely important issue of abortion.

Now, we are not afraid to call ourselves anti-abortion, and we firmly believe that protecting the lives of unborn children should always be at the absolute center of the pro-life movement. But being pro-life should be more than that. Those who call themselves pro-life should show that they have a coherent, consistent commitment to protecting human life. Otherwise, let’s just call it the anti-abortion movement.

This is not about imposing litmus tests. And it is not a demand that every person become an expert on every single issue that prematurely ends the lives of human beings. It’s not even about countering charges of hypocrisy, the accusation that pro-lifers are actually pro-birth rather than pro-life, though hypocrisy does hurt the movement by damaging its credibility and its ability to persuade others to join the cause.

We march for the life and dignity of all because that is the foundational belief that motivates all of our actions. We do not seek restrictions on abortion because we want to control women or impose religious rules on the entire society. We believe that each unborn child has unalienable rights. Justice demands that each human being be treated equally and that no one be denied his or her inalienable human rights. Government exists to guarantee these rights and this equality, and the protection of the vulnerable is the ultimate measure of the government’s commitment to equal human dignity and justice for all.

So we march against abortion. But we also rally together to oppose other grave threats to life and human dignity, which are so closely intertwined. Abortion matters deeply to us. If it didn’t, many pro-life Democrats who are active in the party would set their pro-life position aside and rise up the ranks of our party, which is so captive to pro-choice special-interest groups at the moment. But we refuse. And we refuse to stop caring about hungry children, the millions killed by pollution, and the shameful holes in our country’s social safety net.

A partial commitment to protecting life and opposing dehumanization is simply inadequate. Remembering Martin Luther King, Jr., we know that acquiescing to injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. So we march to rehumanize those who have been dehumanized and to replace a culture of indifference with a culture of solidarity.

We march because ensuring support for the mother is as important as securing legal protections for her child. A look around the world shows that the abortion rate is lowest where there is a comprehensive approach that includes maintaining a robust social safety net. We need greater economic and social justice to achieve this in the U.S. And while there has increasingly been encouraging “pro-woman, pro-child” rhetoric in the broader pro-life movement, and opponents of abortion on the right often support and volunteer in critical charitable efforts, the truth is that many in the movement are not actively supporting the changes we need to build a true culture of life, which requires justice. We feel obligated to encourage our fellow pro-lifers to support a comprehensive approach.

We also march because we know that a bipartisan pro-life movement is essential for building a culture of life and sustaining it. Tying the movement to one party will subject the movement to the inevitable ups and downs of electoral politics, and it will make the movement vulnerable to being used to advance other priorities. Republicans just spent two years in control of every branch of government. They got their coveted tax cuts, yet Planned Parenthood remains flush with government money. Not only does a one-party approach make it more difficult to break through and create a strong pro-life majority, but it also acts as an obstacle to the bipartisan work and compromise that have produced concrete results for the movement in the past.

So yes, pro-life Democrats should march next week. The movement needs us, and we need to be there to remind those who have forgotten that.