This Sad – and Glorious – Day

This is a sad day in America.

Even the muddled minds who combined bad science and poor legal reasoning to give us Roe v. Wade in 1973 probably would not have imagined that by 2011 almost 50 million babies would have been aborted in the United States. Or that, as we learned last week, over 40 percent of the pregnancies in New York City end in feticide.

If these numbers do not shock you, let me offer a friendly suggestion: you are suffering from a numbness so great that you don’t even know how to react any longer. And I confess to suffering from the same syndrome.

The days are long past when such mayhem could be justified as necessary for “women’s lives” or “reproductive freedom.” When nearly half of all children on the way to being born are summarily killed in a city like New York, you’re not talking about hard cases anymore. You’re looking at a strange and lethal blindness by people who think it’s the rest of the country that is violent and a prey to dangerous beliefs.

I’ve been looking at reports about the lucrative butchery at abortion clinics since 1980, but I was still shocked this past week at the story coming out of Philadelphia. I’ll spare you the details, but you can read about them here if you have the stomach for it. Some have tried to play this down as just unusual abuse by a clinic in a poor area. But even the medically “proper” abortion clinics are revolting, and stories of mangled fetal bodies thrown in garbage pails and callously disposed of in dumpsters have been known, and routinely ignored, by the mainstream press for decades.

This week, as appeared here, a former Planned Parenthood clinic director, told the moving story of what turned her towards pro-life beliefs and Catholicism. The last straw was when she watched on ultrasound as a thirteen-week-old fetus squirmed away from the cannula that a doctor positioned in order to suck it out of the mother’s womb. Which he did, as she looked on in horror, joking to the nurse he ordered to turn on the suction, “Beam me up, Scotty.”


That’s the kind of coarseness that thirty-eight years of an abortion regime has produced, paradoxically most often among defenders of “choice,” who consider themselves compassionate and civilized.

But today around noon, something quite different will take place, as it has since these horrors were legalized. Tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of pro-lifers will march in the freezing January cold on the National Mall in Washington. The numbers are always debated and do not much matter. As usual, The Washington Post will probably tuck it back in the Metro section. Several years ago, asked why pro-abortion events appeared on the front page and pro-life events, when they were even covered, in inconspicuous places, the Post ombudsman commented that reporters tended not to know any pro-lifers.

No matter. I was inoculated in the 1960s against political demonstrations. When I saw, after very little acquaintance, what they are usually about, I stayed away. They almost always embody egotism, self-seeking, and self-righteousness – not to mention self-deception – writ large, and cast as a kind of entertainment with low production values.

But not the pro-life march. The people who take the trouble to come every year – young and old, men and women, Catholics and other Christians, Jews, Muslims, and even a few atheists for life – get nothing personally out of it except, perhaps someday, to live in a less spoiled and murderous culture. Standing in the freezing cold for several hours, often with rain or snow falling, is no fun. And the people who do it don’t expect it to be.

Yet I come away from it every year, humbled and inspired by people who actually do care, disinterestedly, about others.

Pro-lifers continue to be criticized, of course, for their alleged “love affair with the fetus and lack of concern for women and babies after they are born.” This is the rankest nonsense. To take just the example of the Catholic Church, we are the clearest pro-life voice in this country and the whole world, and we also administer the most extensive network of relief agencies and healthcare facilities of any private organization anywhere.

It’s true that Catholics put life questions and other matters on different planes, but that’s because it’s where they belong. There is simply no just reason to take innocent human life anywhere, including in the womb. By contrast, there are multiple and sometimes conflicting opinions about policies to care for women, children, and the poor. And concerned people may reasonably pursue one or the other – and, imagine, even change their minds as circumstances dictate, about what may be most effective.

The popes have made this clear, and our American bishops have followed suit to a degree. The bishops’ document, Faithful Citizenship, states the differing moral status of such questions, which is settled Catholic principle. But then blurs the distinction with far too much confusing detail about social justice obligations, a holdover from a time when matters had not been thoroughly thought through. Serious work needs to be done about this, even among Catholics, who have shown a tendency to take the lack of clarity as an opportunity to misunderstand what our bishops have said.

But over and above these theoretical considerations, today there will be yet another moving testament to the fact that the will to defend innocent human life is far from dead in America. A slim majority of Americans now describe themselves as pro-life, the result of many years of argument and witness. No other nation on earth has had so long and dedicated a pro-life movement, and if abortion is ever seen for the outrage it is in world opinion, our people will deserve no little credit for having kept the flame alive.

This is a glorious day in America.

Robert Royal is editor-in-chief of The Catholic Thing and president of the Faith & Reason Institute in Washington, D.C. His most recent books are Columbus and the Crisis of the West and A Deeper Vision: The Catholic Intellectual Tradition in the Twentieth Century.