Monday, February 1, 2010

Why the pro-life movement is a great movement for social justice

Notre Dame professor Dan Philpott describes the March for Life as "a cousin of Vaclav Havel and the Czechoslovak Velvet Revolution of 1989, of Mahatma Gandhi and his nonviolent marches of the 1920s and 1930s and of the American Civil Rights movement."

"Like these other causes," Philpott predicts, the pro-life movement "will one day be viewed by a broad consensus of people as a bright segment of what Dr. Martin Luther King called the long moral arc of the universe that bends towards justice.

"Skeptics will bristle at these comparisons," he continues, "but in three essentials the pro-life movement belongs in this great tradition."
First, it is a movement for human rights. Like all human beings, the fetus possesses inalienable human rights, just as do slaves in America, Bosnian Muslims, Rwandan Tutsis and global victims of sex trafficking. Today, unborn persons amount to an entire class of human beings who are excluded from the most basic of all human rights, the right to live. In America more than a million of these humans — the most weak, vulnerable, and voiceless of humans — are killed every year, some 50 million since 1973. Two million are killed every year in India, seven million in China, and more than 42 million worldwide.

Though leading human rights organizations rarely mention the unborn, their human rights are violated in numbers that far exceed those of the greatest human rights calamities of the post Cold War era, including the genocide in Rwanda and wars in Yugoslavia, Sudan or the Congo. In pleading for the legal protection of the human rights of the unborn, the marchers advocate for nothing other than what is prescribed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, international legal covenants and the Declaration of Independence.

Second, the pro-life movement, like history's other great protests, is a popular grassroots movement, easily the largest of our time. Thirty-six marches had taken place before this one, and the event has brought some 200,000 marchers (by some estimates) to Washington D.C. annually since 2003. Though other single protest marches have been larger, what other cause can boast such en masse consistency? ...

A third resemblance between the pro-life movement and previous great protests is vaguer but still important: it does not simply denounce injustice but also invites a better future. Just as Dr. King not only condemned racism but also raised the vision of a nation where "little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers," the pro-life movement has followed Pope John Paul II in calling for a "culture of life" where even the least "useful" are valued and protected. Not one message at the march condemned women who had chosen abortion. Featured rather was the "Silent No More" campaign of women who spoke of the devastating impact of abortions on their lives. Thousands of marchers are involved in pregnancy centers that help pregnant women find viable alternatives to abortion. ...

What I discovered at the March for Life was not the cause of the angry, the insular and the frightened but rather the cause of Saint Peter Claver, who defended the rights of the slaves in the New World in the 17th century; of William Wilberforce, the English evangelical who pleaded for the end of the slave trade year after year until finally achieving victory in the 19th century; of Gandhi and King and Dorothy Day and Mother Teresa; and indeed of the God who hears the cry of the poor.