Tuesday, January 31, 2012

"March For Life" Takes Over D.C.

For nearly four decades, January 22 has marked the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. And nowhere in the United States will you find people commemorating quite like the nation's capital.

The Supreme Court case legalizing abortion is remembered annually at the steps of the very building where second wave history was made. Each year, a vigil is held by the National Organization for Women (NOW), the Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF) and others to remember the ruling enabling women's reproductive freedom.

But choice, rather predictably, draws a crowd from both sides.

The decision was made in 1972, and anti-abortion individuals immediately desired a way to publicly demonstrate their outrage over women's new found body autonomy. As soon as they could get organized, they hit the streets:
On January 22, 1974, the first March for Life was held on the West Steps of the Capitol. An estimated 20,000 committed prolife Americans rallied that day on behalf of our preborn brothers and sisters.
That same year "the March for Life was incorporated as a non-profit, non-partisan, non-sectarian organization." Today, they accept virtual donations in exchange for buttons or copies of their annual report-- a "how we're doing," of sorts. The protest now boasts 200,000 participants, which organizers believes is a "testimony to the increasing ranks of prolife Americans and to the importance of the March's work."

The March for Life also offers a list of "Life Principles," providing "guidance and purpose to the grassroots prolife volunteers in [their] efforts to be effective through [their] education and action programs." While the website tries to remain secular, the religious undertones are glaringly obvious:
Although a pregnant mother and/or her preborn child may die, there is no justification in the law of God or man for the intentional killing of even one innocent born or preborn human in existence at fertilization. NO EXCEPTION! NO COMPROMISE!
While the life of the mother is dismissed as inconsequential, this admittedly uncompromising organization has the audacity to demand "human life" be protected by a genetically specific amendment. They believe:
An important step is adoption of a Mandatory Human Life Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. Such an amendment would be simple and require that individuals and society provide protection for the right to life of each human in existence at fertilization. It would require that State laws conform to the Constitution and provide the same protection. 
And those are the goals of the "pro-life" movement, in a nutshell. Despite rape, incest, women's health, or any other unpredictable circumstances surrounding pregnancy, no abortions for anyone, ever.

Who would be so inflexible? USA Today recently reported 45 percent of Americans identified as "pro-life" in a Gallup poll, while 49 percent said they were "pro-choice." The nation is quite literally divided. And seldom is the conflict visible-- unless you drive past an abortion clinic.

But each year, political rivals can be seen facing off on the steps of the Supreme Court. Working a short distance from the national mall, I was promised a front row seat to the largest "pro-life" spectacle of the year. And as a waitress, I would have the distinct pleasure of serving them food.

This year's march fell on a Monday. We were forewarned they would come all at once; cold, wet, tired, and hungry. Hundreds of tourists nearing the end of their national pilgrimage, still riding the self-righteous high from the day's events.

As promised, Washington D.C. exploded with "pro-life" propaganda and those passionate enough to wear it, hold it or distribute it to others.

Priests were everywhere, collars as far as the eye could see. Nuns sported habits, as well as "Abolish Abortion" hats. And there were kids in reflective vests claiming they were "Life Guards." Men and women of all ages wore pink sweatshirts displaying the march's official logo; a single red rose wrapped around the Capital Building.

Rosaries in one hand, grotesque fetus pictures in the other, and sensible shoes on both feet, these religious crusaders were ready to march to the ends of the earth for their cause. But first, they needed to nosh.

As the March for Life began to fill the seats of my tables, I noticed they were awkward, overly-friendly people-- and anything but diverse. This was a white, Christian movement. Maybe another testament to white privilege, as the few here attempted to decide what was best for the many.

They were everywhere, eating, drinking and congratulating each other on another great turnout. Bleak signs proclaiming "Life Counts," "Defend Life," and "End Abortion" fought for our attention. One brave girl maneuvered through the crowd, proudly wearing her "Keep Abortion Legal" sticker outside her coat for all to see. She moved quickly, like a breath of fresh air, while the rest of us choked on judgement.

But as darkness fell, the regular clientele returned and the marchers began to leave, I noticed they were generously over-tipping.

Though it was a week ago, a few characters from this surreal production remain fresh in my memory-- especially a priest whose 50 percent tip was accompanied by a hi-five, as well as an enthusiastic "God bless you." Also, a group of teens huddled around an order of calamari and sodas. They tipped me 12 dollars on 20 dollar check. I'm not sure if they were compensating my service or their embarrassing attempt to order beers without proper identification.

Either way, it was an especially lucrative day for the feminist waitress, thanks to the "pro-life" movement.

All sorts of reminders were left behind. I found a stack of post cards with a short bio about an eighth grade class from a Catholic school in middle America traveling thousands of miles to attend the march. Apparently they were passing the pre-postaged mail out to fellow marchers, requesting recipients send it back with their own stories from the road.

In the United States, eighth grade is made up of 12 and 13-year-old children. They can't vote, let alone imagine the gravity of an unintended pregnancy. They don't really understand intercourse, contraception, the legal system, or the value of money. Most of them haven't even started puberty yet.

But these young soldiers are just following orders. And kids actually make up the majority of this march. Organizers estimated 20,000 young people attended the youth rally held at the Verizon Center Arena Monday morning. I imagine it looked something like that scene from Saved, begging the question "are you down with G-O-D?"

According to the U.S, Census, there were 173.4 million Christians living in the United States in 2008. Of those, 57 million were Catholic; by far the largest demographic. But even with 200,000 attendees, not all Catholics are "marching for life." In fact, some might be visiting the feminist's vigil instead.

In 2008, the Association of Religious Data found 37.6% of Catholics supported abortion "for any reason." And some of those individuals are undoubtedly involved with the alternative non-profit Catholics for Choice (CFC), "founded in 1973 to serve as a voice for Catholics who believe the Catholic tradition supports a woman’s moral and legal right to follow her conscience in matters of sexuality and reproductive health," is a refreshing alternative to the rest of the church. 

This group not only recognizes "the Catholic hierarchy's powerful lobby plays a huge role in influencing public policy and affects everyone  Catholic or not  by limiting the availability of reproductive healthcare services worldwide," but also aims to change this global injustice.

As CFC works to change the perception and the practice of modern-day Catholicism, they counter the "March for Life" by promoting the "Trust Women Week." This online march encourages progressive individuals to donate to the Silver Ribbon Campaign and protect reproductive rights.

American women's access to abortion is limited by the most restrictions we've seen since 1972-- and there are plenty of reasons it could get worse. Anti-choice legislators dominate both the house and the senate at federal and state levels. Currently, there are 29 anti-choice governors, compared to 17 pro-choice governors. 26 states enacted 69 anti-choice measures in 2011, with many more in the works.

And as republican candidates fight to prove who is more anti-abortion, we're reminded of the ultimate danger Roe v Wade is facing, given our current political environment.

Speaking on last week's increasingly important anniversary, President Obama vowed to protect a woman's right to choose. Describing abortion as a  "fundamental constitutional right," Obama said "we must remember that this Supreme Court decision not only protects a woman’s health and reproductive freedom, but also affirms a broader principle: that government should not intrude on private family matters."

Ho-ho. Hey-hey. Let's hope our rights are here to stay. But let's also preemptively do something about it.

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