It’s always seemed a bit happy-go-lucky given the subject matter.
The March for Life, now in its 49th year, kicks off with a Christian rock concert—praise-and-worship with an acoustic guitar as a bunch of heart-shaped balloons reading “Love Them Both” bob in rhythm with their holder in the crowd up by the stage. After a prayer-cum-pep-talk that acknowledges the United States’ legal slaughter of a sixth or so of its population, the whole rally joins in a zealous rendition of “God Bless America.”
Signs matching the balloons are scattered among the marchers, too. Another places a cartoon panda above the exhortation, “Save the Baby Humans.” A disheveled twenty-something boasts a handmade poster: “Who gave Roe v. Wade the aux?” (What?) Others bear more straightforward slogans: “Abortion Is Murder” and its variations. A few eccentrics—most of the marchers look downwards as they pass—dare to show the brutalized and bloodied corpses of the victims of liberation. There are Gadsden flags, and Trump ones, and the occasional stars-and-stripes. The white-and-gold of the Vatican is heavily represented.
Counterpoint: An old man on a sidewalk as we near the U.S. Capitol is screaming into a megaphone (heaving breaths between each word), “Anti-Pope Francis is not Catholic,” over and over and over. Another geezer is putting on a concert, jamming the words “pro-life” into the lyrics of his low-budget repertory—”Sweet Caroline,” “Stand By Me,” “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay”—without much finesse and collecting tips in a massive bucket that’s already embarrassingly full.
One couple gets it. The man: “Abolish the Billionaires, Save the Children.” The woman: “End Capitalism, End Abortion.”
In between these images there is singing and prayer, and familiar faces—surprisingly easy to find in a crowd of so many thousands—are greeted with smiles and friendly conversation. Chaperones wrangle eager hordes of high schoolers who seem happy, at least, to be out of class for the day.
This is proper, in a way. Genuine human joy is a perfectly valid means of combatting an anti-human death cult. And there is a legitimate conversation to be conducted about the practical advantage of the happy-warrior approach. Even in facing the gravest atrocity in the history of man, strategic calculations must be made. Yet we need not look back far into our own history to see a different method exercised by the pro-life movement.
It was 1970—three years even before the Supreme Court turned the tide against the sanctity of life in these United States. L. Brent Bozell Jr., editor-in-chief of Triumph (the most unabashedly Catholic magazine ever to be published in America) was leading the charge. The Sons of Thunder, a pro-life organization founded at the University of Dallas, delivered a contingent dressed in trademark Carlist red berets and khakis. The group had gathered for a memorial mass at St. Stephen Martyr on Pennsylvania Ave—a building then nine years old, bizarrely arched and plaster-white inside, a cross between a longhouse and a dying coral reef. One modern atrocity for another.
After Mass, the demonstrators moved to the George Washington University Hospital—one of five abortion facilities then operating in the city—bearing papal banners and processional crosses. The steady march of Moloch’s cause had convinced them in the few preceding years that “words—discussion, debate, persuasion, the conventional political tools—were not enough,” as one participant later wrote in Triumph. What was required, as young mother Mary Jo Lawrence put it at the rally, was for men to “stand before the abortionist’s knife and the judge’s gavel and say No! to the murderers.”
Bozell and company entered the abattoir by a side door—a Mace-armed security guard had blocked the front—and requested an audience with the hospital administrator, to whom they had sent letters demanding the cessation of abortion in the facility. Though the administrator was willing to receive them, a band of overeager D.C. police burst in and started beating on the peaceful activists—apparently unprovoked—pushing the crowd back into a glass door (which shattered) and splitting Bozell’s forehead open with a billy club.
All those who entered the facility were arrested, and charges invented to justify the act: breaking the glass door the police had pushed them into, assaulting the officers who in fact had assaulted them. As each man was carted out of the building in handcuffs, he called out to the crowd: “Viva Cristo Rey!” (Long live Christ the King!) and the crowd echoed it back. It had become the refrain of the day for the Christians gathered there, “unfamiliar but now nevertheless theirs—three hundred Americans who go to church on Sunday and pay their taxes and mind their own business now shout in a public park in the center of the Nation’s Capital—Viva Cristo Rey! Neither they nor the city can be unchanged.”
The next day, the Washington Post would report: “The phrase had been something of a puzzle to police, who believed it was Latin. ‘I don’t know what it was,’ said one officer, ‘but it didn’t sound good.'”
A year later in Triumph, Bozell reflected on the episode and its implications. Unjust imprisonment had not exactly tempered his position:
It is not possible in America today to think seriously about being a Christian, much less about carrying out a public Christian apostolate, without also thinking about the possibility of jail or other discouragements, whether of lesser or greater sternness, which the state may throw up to serious Christianity.
Yet he did hold that discretion is the better part of valor:
The rule of thumb is given to the individual Christian who has any reasonable doubt that he is obliged in conscience to risk jail. The rule is: don’t. A true command of conscience is unmistakably compelling and comes to a man alone, in the simple company of God. He must heed it. But to heed a dubious command is not only presumptuous: it is to leave a battle in which he may be needed (the lone jailbird is not long remembered) to make a more effective monstration.
But this did not mean retreat, nor even disengagement. In a press conference held after getting out on bail, Bozell delivered a stern prophecy: “America is going to have to reckon with its Christians, like it or not.”
The night before the March for Life this year, some of those Christians gathered to pray at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Outside in the dark, and unbeknownst to those praying, a group called Catholics for Choice projected sacrilegious propaganda onto the front of the church’s bell tower. One projection read, “1 in 4 abortion patients is Catholic”—a kind of bandwagon argument, as if to suggest that the moral fabric of the universe were subject to a vote.
Wilton Cardinal Gregory, Archbishop of Washington—hardly a prelate of the right—issued a forceful rebuke:
The true voice of the Church was only to be found within The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception last evening. There, people prayed and offered the Eucharist asking God to restore a true reverence for all human life. Those whose antics projected words on the outside of the church building demonstrated by those pranks that they really are external to the Church and they did so at night—John 13:30.
(The cited verse comes from Judas Iscariot’s betrayal of Christ: “He therefore having received the morsel, went out immediately. And it was night.”)
Despair is a sin, and any Christian who gave up this fight would answer for it before his Creator. But half a century and 60 million lives after Brent Bozell was tried and convicted for defense of the unborn, it is hard to shake the sense that America has reckoned with her Christians, and won.
60 million. To those of us acquainted with the issue, the figure becomes so familiar as to almost surrender its capacity to shock. But it is truly catastrophic. It is certain that those who would desecrate Christ’s church with exhortations to kill—Catholics for Choice and their fellow travelers—bear some blame for this ongoing horror.
But might it be true also that those who have accepted this as the cost of peace; who have recoiled from the prospect of imprisonment or other “discouragements…to serious Christianity;” who have insisted on words, on work within the system, come what may—might we also have blood on our hands? A high price, 60 million.
The cost, perhaps, of opting for “Sweet Caroline” over “Viva Cristo Rey!“