It’s a cold and sunny day in late January and the city is flooded with people. Hundreds of thousands of women and men, many wearing pink hats and carrying pink signs, march in peaceful protest through the streets. Young moms push strollers, church groups sing hymns, and students snap pictures of the crowds. Even though many of the marchers have traveled a long way to be here, everyone is cheerful and courteous, excited to be standing in solidarity for a common cause.
This is what this year’s March for Life looked like. It’s also what the Women’s March in Boston looked like one week earlier. And that’s where the similarities end.
The Women’s March in Washington, D.C. removed a pro-life feminist group called New Wave Feminists as a partner because pro-choice feminists lashed out at the march’s organizers on social media. When the Women’s March released their official policy platform, the document made their stance clear. The Women’s March would support intersectionality for other issues, but “open access to safe, legal, affordable abortion” was nonnegotiable.
By the time the March for Life had taken place a week later, President Trump had signed an executive order banning U.S. funding of abortion in overseas health programs. He would soon sign another executive order that would halt refugee admissions for 120 days and suspend the visas of citizens of several predominantly Muslim countries, an action that in the U.S. bishops decried as having “devastating impacts on refugee resettlements in the United States.”
What’s a pro-life feminist to make of the conflicting messages sent by both our new president and those who oppose him? I keep returning to the image of these two marches, only a week apart. The two marches are like photographic negatives, black-and-white inverses of each other. The Women’s March tried to embrace every progressive cause and focus them on one issue: standing up to the new president. And while the March for Life annually redirects our attention to the issue of abortion, the conversation occasionally seems one-sided, like being pro-life is limited only to being anti-abortion.
This where I hope the two marches can find common ground in our polarized political landscape. Mainstream feminists can make room for one more intersection in their many-faceted movement. And pro-lifers can take the Women’s March as a reminder that our own movement encompasses life issues beyond abortion that the president (unsurprisingly) isn’t treating with a consistently pro-life ethic.
“We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion,” said Pope Francis. “When we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context.” The pope isn’t saying that talking about abortion is bad, only that abortion cannot be discussed alone. As Pope St. John Paul II said in Evangelium Vitae, “When life is involved, the service of charity must be profoundly consistent.” Many U.S. bishops and Catholic lay people have already spoken out against the president’s actions on health care, immigration, and the environment, an encouraging step toward living the “coherent moral vision” of a consistent ethic of life.
But will it be enough? While both the March for Life and the Women’s March were hopeful and positive signs of resistance, in the weeks after both events I can’t say I feel hopeful or positive. The news stories about refugees being turned away at the border or immigrant families facing separation are piling up in my inbox. It seemed like the framework for being consistently pro-life is being inundated with unsolvable problems all at once. I can hope, like many of the marchers’ signs, that “Love Trumps Hate.” But right now, those slogans and signs seem like flimsy excuses for our failure to stop this slew of executive orders harming the most vulnerable among us.