In many war stories, both real and fictional, whether placed in a novel or film, there’s often a moment that captures the imagination and emotion of the viewer or listener, and it looks something like this: Hiding behind enemy lines and separated from the troops, a beleaguered solider crawls into a barn terrified of what he or she might find. A small child playing discovers them, and goes to get the family, who in their humanity offer food and shelter. They connect. They eat together. Suddenly the “enemy” is not a collective of ogres incapable of ethics and reason. They are flesh and blood and family and all the things common to the soldier’s life back home.
Sometimes in these vignettes, which often occurred during the Civil War or World Wars (both I and II), soldiers were injured and left for dead whose memoirs citied accounts of civilians from the “other side” nursing them back to health or pulling them from death. It’s shattering and painful when we read or watch these moments of reconciliation and connection and know that they aren’t “allowed” to stay friends; the solider must reconnect with the war side of his story and go back into battle.
The current climate surrounding the “Two Marches” feels similar to the kind of destruction and fury that war brings. Words are not well tempered these days; opinions are either “ridiculous” or “perfect,” with no space in between. We cut one another out of conversation threads and unfriend those we cannot understand because “we can’t stand to know you.” This is just surrounding abortion.
When it comes to immigration issues, those un-friending the pro-life or pro-choice are still posting constant “they’re not the enemy” photos and “seek to understand the different” encouragements about those holding differing faiths or cultural backgrounds. So. As my childhood book Madeline stated, “Something is not right.”
Here are the facts: The March for Life is an annual event founded by Nellie Gray on January 22nd 1974, originally intended to protest the then-recent outcome of Roe v. Wade. It had 20,000 on that day, and has continued to engage support from those who want, as the mission statement puts it, “to testify to the beauty of life and the dignity of each human person.” Although in many ways an “unpopular” march, it has steadfastly continued with support from leaders such as Ronald Reagan. The Pro-Life movement doesn’t just have the Reagans and Bushes behind them, either; they have feminism founders Susan B. Anthony and Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell and, arguably the greatest American emancipator of the 20th Century, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, who was an outspoken pro-lifer.
Words are not well tempered these days; opinions are either ‘ridiculous’ or ‘perfect,’ with no space in between.
This year’s march was different for multiple reasons. The “common” date of January 22nd changed to the 28th, and at least an estimated 400,000 showed up. The majority of those attending were under 30. Signs and slogans were pointed and specific as they come, citing that “Abortion degrades women,” “Marched last week for women, marching now for life,” or “I was adopted not aborted.” They also utilized the already popular and powerful slogan citing “Women’s rights are human rights,” including the addition of “Preborn rights are human rights.”
Perhaps to the surprise of those who claim the Right to Life movement is composed predominately of “right wing fundamentals,” there were many signs of “Gays 4 life” or “Atheists for Life,” proving a diversity to this movement often unstated.
We asked some of the women who marched to comment on why they came out in support of this continuously contentious topic, and received impassioned replies:
“I march because I understand pregnancy is hard, I understand raising children is hard,” commented Chesed. “However, I think we all know deep down that when a woman is pregnant she is pregnant with a separate life. When a mother miscarries it is not the loss of fetal tissue, it is the loss of a life. When a woman has a late term pregnancy and there’s an issue, she and her baby are treated as two patients. If a pregnant woman is murdered, it’s considered a double homicide. It’s just so obvious to me.”
One woman, Sarai, told us she is confused concerning our continuity as a society, telling us that “our culture is about everyone’s rights — from every type of human with every type of preference to animal rights and even ‘no kill’ shelters. To me it’s an atrocity that we don’t deem a baby the same rights as everyone else.”
Like all marches, there was the inevitable “small but visible” percentage that brought their own additional political agendas or disturbing commentary into the March, wearing pro-Trump hats and paraphernalia or shouting somewhat violently, but overwhelmingly last Friday’s crowd refrained from political slogans and kept their agenda streamlined and simple. They focused less on “anti abortion” and more on “life mattering” in their chants and points.
Even still, there’s no way around the fact that this march is about a fierce conviction, as one older woman told us:
“I believe that abortion is our modern-day slavery. I don’t think women who believe abortion isn’t killing a life are monsters, but I think history will prove them wrong in the same way it proved southern slave owners wrong.”
Unfortunately, between both marches that have occurred in the past week, there isn’t just a space of days or ideals, but a chasm of disrespect and ostracization. From both parties. Women split from women. Women told they cannot love themselves and one another if they… [insert the opposing opinion here]. From comments that we’ve read on Instagram or Facebook, to general comments heard in the media or personal conversations, it is our observation that women aren’t getting better at allowing one another complexity, robust debate, humanity. And we need to.
… it is our observation that women aren’t getting better at allowing one another complexity, robust debate, humanity. And we need to.
Here’s the pill we don’t seem to want to swallow: There were pro-life women marching against sexism on January 22nd, and anti-Trump women marching against abortion on January 28th. So here’s to the hope that we cease to view this as “two sides of a war” because that makes the “other” the enemy.
Instead, may we begin to speak rationally, lovingly, and even hopefully around the table of open discourse and thoughtful debate, celebrating our common conviction in the power and necessity of protest in democracy.
Featured Image via WUSA 9