I knew going into the March for Life’s rally that it would be really easy to make fun of the event. But I didn’t drag myself out in sub-freezing weather to mock antis; after all, I can do that quite well from the comfort of my own home. And besides, I was genuinely curious to see just what a very, very large gathering of anti-choicers from around the country would look like – and sound like.
Well, for starters, it was big. I’m terrible at estimating crowd size so I won’t even try, but there were several blocks’ worth of people crowded around the speakers’ stage and spilling out to the sides. There were a lot of signs, both of the homemade variety and more professional-looking ones. The marchers that I saw tended to be Caucasian, though I did see a few African-Americans and Asian-Americans in the crowd. Lots of children, adolescents, and college students – enough that I found myself wondering why they weren’t in school – but more older attendees, and a pretty even split between men and women.
In terms of the speakers, however, men’s voices dominated. Aside from Nellie Gray and a co-founder of Silent No More, all of the speakers that I heard were men: politicians, priests, and the brother of Terri Schiavo (because, as one speaker opined, “euthanasia follows abortion as night follows day”). That didn’t stop them from talking about what was best for women, of course, or declaring that abortion was a form of violence against women, or that Roe v. Wade was, variously, evil; bad law; and had caused an American holocaust. (Thanks for that one, Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker.)
Even given all that, what I found most disturbing were the two political assaults on Roe mentioned during the rally: the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act and the Life at Conception Act. The first act, which is likely to pass the House, would not only make the Hyde restrictions permanent, it would also penalize individuals or businesses that use private insurance to pay for abortion care. The Life at Conception Act, which was introduced in the House on January 24, would essentially do what the title says: define life as beginning at conception. The crowd absolutely loved both of these bills; anything related to either Hyde or fetuses received huge cheers. Also popular? Repealing health care, overturning Roe, and proclaiming the rights of the “preborn.”
But for as loud a cheer as those hot topics received, I was kind of surprised at how unfocused the people around me seemed at other times. There was a lot of talking, texting, and wandering around by both kids and adults; small children ran over the wind-swept grass, students fidgeted by their banners and signs. At times the hum of conversation around me was so great that I couldn’t hear the speakers.
Yet I still left the rally feeling intensely uneasy about the future of choice in this country. For all the overheated rhetoric and little distractions, this was a crowd of people myopically focused on obliterating abortion. Do I think Roe will be repealed? No. And I don’t think that the No Taxpayer Funding or Life at Conception acts will be signed into law, at least not in this administration. But see, that’s the catch – we’re safe now, but in two years or six years, who knows? During a relatively pro-choice-friendly administration, we’ve already seen abortion rights sharply curtailed in Nebraska and women’s health used as a bargaining chip in a much-needed health care overhaul. So it almost doesn’t matter if pandering, illogical legislation dies on the House or Senate floor – what matters is that there are democratically-elected officials who actually think a fertilized egg has the exact same rights as a person.
While both pieces of legislation may sound like extreme posturing that are not at all concerned with matters like women’s health, personal freedom, fertility treatments, or birth control, they are perfectly in keeping with the collective mindset that offered up this quote from Henry Hyde himself to sum up just who the anti-choice movement cares about: “Let the innocence of the unborn have the last word in this debate.”
Sarah's first book, Generation Roe: Inside the Future of the Pro-Choice Movement, will be out March 2013. For more information, follow her on Twitter @saraherdreich, or check out saraherdreich.com.