Today, countless Americans will gather on the National Mall for the annual March for Life, an event that has taken place every year since the Supreme Court ruled in 1973 that the nebulous “right to privacy” supposedly found in the Constitution permits a woman to end the life of a distinct human being growing inside her.
I don’t yet know exactly how many will gather on the Mall, but if past crowds are any indication, it will be at the very least tens of thousands. It might be more, but it’s difficult to estimate. Media outlets that cover events such as the progressive Women’s March in painstaking detail rarely pay more than glancing attention to this march, an event that has drawn thousands without fail every year since Roe.
This year, though, they’ll be watching, because Donald Trump will be the first president in the history of the march to attend and to speak to the crowd before the rally.
It makes sense that Barack Obama and Bill Clinton would have ignored the March for Life when they were president. Their presidencies were, though not in equal proportion, harmful to the cause of protecting the unborn.
It makes less sense that past presidents like Ronald Reagan and both George Bush Jr. and Sr., presidents who swore their opposition to Roe and occasionally signed anti-abortion legislation, would fail to be present. It is a hassle, to be sure, for a president to bring all of his security to the mall, presenting a logistical difficulty to the crowds by shutting down parts of the city. But it means something to a movement when a political leader takes heed, when a man who pays lip service to their cause bothers to show up.
And that’s precisely what Trump has done, not just by becoming the first president in history to speak in front of this crowd but by acknowledging the pro-life movement as his ally throughout his presidency.
There is little doubt that media outlets will pay far more attention to this “anti-choice” march today than they have any other year — out of sight, out of mind — as a result of Trump’s presence, but that coverage will almost certainly be centered on his person and his rhetoric rather than on the purpose of the March, its history, or its aims.
They will ask: Is a man who has led such a dissolute life really a good representative for a cause centered around promoting “traditional values”? How can any person of faith embrace a man who speaks of other human beings in coarse and callous terms? How can a march with the theme “Pro-Life Is Pro-Woman” throw its support behind a man who speaks of women the way Trump has?
To some extent, these questions are fair, and pro-lifers ought to ask themselves just these things, especially if they plan to throw their unqualified support behind him. There is little doubt that Donald Trump is a complicated witness and leader for this movement, that his personal history and much of his rhetoric are not in line with those of the pro-life movement, that he causes many outside the movement to view it with disdain, that he brings on pro-lifers the charge of hypocrisy, and that he doesn’t talk about abortion in the polished or careful way other pro-life leaders do.
But Donald Trump is not today’s story. Though it is undoubtedly fair for pro-lifers to show up at today’s March and celebrate the fact that this administration has made real progress for them — appointing judges and justices with an understanding of the Constitution that rejects the fallacies of Roe, approving regulatory changes to remove taxpayer funding from organizations that perform abortions, reinstating conscience protections for those with moral objections to funding contraception and abortion — the March for Life is not about Trump any more than it is about any politician, any leader, or any one man. Which is to say, not at all.
The March for Life is about representing the belief that every human life has intrinsic dignity and value. It is about ending the violence of abortion. It is about the fact that Roe v. Wade and subsequent jurisprudence has taken the issue of abortion out of the hands of the American people and created a political landscape in which it is nearly impossible for any state to pass legislation protecting unborn human life in any capacity. The country is jurisprudentially required to ignore the will of a sizable minority of its people — and, in many states, to refuse to enact the will of the majority.
As blue state after blue state enacts laws to legalize abortion later and later in pregnancy, red-state laws regulating abortion clinics or requiring parental involvement or prohibiting abortion after fetuses can feel pain have been struck down one after another.
Courts control abortion policy. The American people do not. As they gather today, once again, despite making progress so slowly and incrementally in the realm of politics, those pro-life people will be told they ought to feel ashamed that Trump will stand before them in support of their mission. But is it so wrong for a movement that rightly feels it has so little ability to effect political change to celebrate the fact that a president would acknowledge them and work toward their ends — if only, as the most cynical allege, for his own political gain?
Though the Trump administration’s efforts to protect life do matter, and though there remain reasons to criticize the way in which Trump’s behavior and rhetoric complicate his role as a messenger for the pro-life cause, his involvement today should not be the focus of the coverage. Because in the end, the March for Life is not about politicians or politics at all. It is a testament to the fact that hundreds of thousands of unborn human beings are killed in our country each year — and whether progress is made by the president, through the courts, through legislation, or through changing hearts and minds, that killing must stop.