Melinda Henneberger: Pro-lifers are more diverse than you think — and more divided

Don’t misunderstand those who will attend the March for Life. They’re demographically and ideologically diverse, writes Melinda Henneberger.
Don’t misunderstand those who will attend the March for Life. They’re demographically and ideologically diverse, writes Melinda Henneberger. The Washington Post

That other march happens Friday — the one held every year on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade — and though the March for Life usually gets the kind of cursory, condescending coverage otherwise reserved for an astrologers convention, I’m confident my colleagues will see that this year is different. For one thing, Vice President Mike Pence will be there — the first time in the march’s 44-year history that a president or veep has shown up. Presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway, a longtime advocate for the unborn, plans to address the crowd, too. And finally, shame is a factor; you can’t treat last week’s women’s marches as the news of the millennium and then persist in ignoring the 40 percent of American women who were, alas, made to feel unwelcome among the pussy hats.

The official position of the pro-life lobby is that President Donald Trump is about to give them everything they ever wanted. But like any group that’s almost half of the population, pro-lifers are not a monolith on what it is they want, and some activists have argued even after Trump’s election that he’s so clearly the antithesis of all they hold dear that he’ll be the movement’s undoing: “This was an absolutely terrible election for the pro-life movement,” wrote Fordham theologian Charles Camosy. The “most damaging event for the pro-life movement was the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States. By far,” he added.

Reporters who venture to this year’s march will see how diverse it is, not just demographically but ideologically. Among those marching will be contingents focused on opposing the death penalty, protecting the environment, welcoming immigrants and fighting poverty. The stubborn one-third of Democrats who self-identify as pro-life, despite the party’s repeated invitations to get out of the tent, will be well represented.

Those new to pro-life politics will discover that, as always, with diversity comes strength but also divisions: They’ll see that not all of those marching are focused on overturning Roe or shutting down clinics; some are, while others are more concerned with supporting women through unplanned pregnancies, or changing not the laws but the consensus. Many who do want legislative change want to bring abortion law in the U.S. more in line with laws in Europe, where abortions are typically banned after 20 or 22 weeks, with health exceptions.

That’s in stark contrast to our law under the lesser known abortion case Doe v. Bolton, which was decided the same day as Roe. Doe says that a woman may obtain an abortion after viability if it’s necessary to protect her health. But it defines health this way: “The medical judgment may be exercised in the light of all factors — physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman’s age — relevant to the well-being of the patient.”

The organizers of last week’s well attended Washington march who decided to bar the sponsorship of the anti-Trump, pro-life New Wave Feminists have already brought new attention to the views of women who challenge the stereotype that to be pro-life is to be an anti-woman proponent of forced birth straight out of the pages of “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

Those stick figures are constantly reinforced by an abortion lobby that is to the Democratic Party what the NRA is to the GOP — in control and unwilling to yield a single grain of sand to common-sense compromise.

But while the pro-life and pro-choice lobbies raise money on the promise and fear of overturning Roe, both sides occasionally slip and admit that’s unlikely: “Let’s face it,’’ Nancy Pelosi told me in 2012 while we were discussing Missouri Republican Todd Akin’s repulsive remark about “legitimate rape.” “The Republicans have had the House, Senate and White House any number of times; they could have overturned Roe and they didn’t.’’

She had a point, didn’t she? And now that everything is once again up to Republicans, we’re about to find out how much of what they’ve been promising for decades we should have taken literally.