Every year I travel to Washington, D.C., to walk in the March for Life. As a woman who is pro-life, I never take this trip or walk that walk without encountering a controversy that affects me deeply. One year, as we marched down the Mall, I found myself face to face with a small group of protestors waving signs and chanting a slogan: “Anti-woman, antichoice!” Seeking to end legal abortion, they seemed to be saying, was equivalent to hating women. And they sincerely believe that abortion must remain legal so that women can have the freedom to make their own decisions.
Yet I am a young woman, free to make my own decisions, and I am pro-life. And I am certainly no woman-hater.
Many of my friends are not pro-life; one of them even volunteered at Planned Parenthood during college. (When I was a student at Fordham University, I would pray and protest in front of the buildings where she worked.) Some of my friends are pro-life for religious reasons, because their church says abortion is a sin. They are right, I think, but I am not pro-life simply because my church holds that position.
Why am I pro-life? The fundamental reason is that I believe that at the moment of conception a unique life has been created. As a woman, I feel that it is a privilege to carry a new life. This may, at times, interfere with other plans we women have for our bodies and our own lives. Yet the unique life created inside us should not be punished or treated as inferior simply because it has not grown to its full potential yet. I have not grown to my full potential yet either; none of us has. Each of us began in the same way, in our mother’s womb, and regardless of whether our life was planned, intended or wanted, every life has significant worth and value. Does it make sense that we should protect some of these lives and not others?
I recently graduated from college and have embarked on a business career in hope of securing a comfortable and successful future for myself. As a strong woman with many gifts, I am eager to see what life has to offer. I am also proud to be living at a time when I can be treated as an equal in the workplace with men. But the fact that I defend the rights of the unborn does not mean I am somehow opposed to the freedoms of other women. It is important for women to realize that authentic feminism comes not from destroying the life created within us, but from embracing our unique opportunity to carry and deliver a human being from the moment of creation into full life in the world.
It seems obvious to me that no woman desires to have an abortion. Because of circumstances or lack of resources, however, women are sometimes left with no other choice. If we truly care about empowering women, we should seek to understand what drives a woman to take the life of her child. Why can’t we provide every pregnant woman the support and encouragement she desperately needs?
At the March for Life, I sometimes meet older women whose life experience is very different from my own. When they were my age, they picked sides in the abortion debate when it seemed to require a fierce ideological commitment. Today, the political waters are more muddied. The older women I encounter seem puzzled when I say that I am a big fan of the organization Feminists for Life, or that I would consider voting for a pro-choice candidate. I realize it is quite possible that the health and social initiatives proposed by pro-choice candidates could, in the long run, help to reduce the number of abortions. Yet my conversation partners don’t always see things this way.
Over the years, I have learned a lot about the pain of abortion and the negative effects it can have on women. When I first started developing my pro-life views, I saw the issue as black and white, but I have come to see the grayer shades. Now I try to look at the issue from the perspective of a pregnant woman. The decision to carry a child to term is surely a very difficult one for many women, one that can at times lead to rejection and even violence. While I remain committed to the protection of unborn life, I long to see greater compassion for women and for children following birth. The credibility of the pro-life movement rests on its willingness to fight for life at all stages and ages.
Many Americans, if not most, agree that abortion should be rare, but our society does not do nearly enough to support the women who make the noble decision to continue their pregnancy and raise their children. Many organizations that provide housing and medical care for pregnant women go unnoticed. Yet if we mean to respect life in a real way, it is crucial to provide for women during the difficult times before and after the birth of their child. The pro-life movement has recognized the importance of such work and has begun to devote more resources to helping women in these circumstances. It is also a wise move politically, a rare initiative that could win the endorsement of both parties.
This year’s March for Life was another inspiring occasion for me and many of those who marched. Once again, it was a young people’s event, with high school and college students from all over the country. Surely it tells us something that the pro-life movement continues to attract the young, and that 35 years after Roe v. Wade the arguments of the pro-choice movement have still not taken hold among many of us. For me and many of my friends, the march is a happy occasion; it instills in us an enthusiasm that energizes us throughout the year. We do not go there to protest or to shout angry slogans, but to cheer for the possibility of change. We are not anti-woman, or even antichoice. Instead, we are on the side of life.