Marching for Life After Dobbs
Why we continue to gather in Washington— for the sake of constitutional justice and a righteous political order.
The March for Life takes place in Washington, D.C. today. Americans from across the country will be braving freezing temperatures and snowfall to bear witness to the joy of human life and advocate for the human right to life.
It almost beggars belief that Americans have been marching for life for 51 years, ever since Roe v. Wade was first imposed in 1973 and began its steady deformation of the American conscience. The endurance and success of the pro-life movement over so many years is due in no small measure to the degree of conviction we will see today along Constitution Avenue.
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida channeled that conviction in a memo published this week, saying that “pro-lifers should recall that protecting unborn human beings is the moral center and purpose of our movement—and we cannot be shy about saying so.”
Yet Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization reversed Roe nearly two years ago. The fiction of abortion as a constitutional right was repudiated in that 6–3 Dobbs decision. So why does the March for Life continue after Dobbs? Why do we continue to speak about abortion, almost as if Dobbs had never happened?
We continue to march even after Dobbs because the guiding light of the pro-life movement has always been constitutional equal protection for every member of the human family. Reversing Roe was a crucial victory for human rights, and surely we now march in thanksgiving for the end of Roe. Abortion, nevertheless, remains the gravest and most immediate threat to human persons today. Incredibly, abortion remains the leading single cause of death nearly the world over, despite being the one cause of death which any state could immediately address by prosecuting corporate abortion practitioners and adopting smart pro-family policies.
Abortion remains such a threat because Roe’s reversal effectively offered Americans an ignoble lie, a new fiction about human rights. If the old fiction of a constitutional right to kill the innocent had become unworkable, the new fiction promotes constitutional indifference toward the innocent.
The March for Life, the largest annual gathering of the movement in the nation’s capital, still takes place every January, even after Dobbs, because Roe changed the culture. Even after Dobbs, a definitive acknowledgement of the embodied reality of human life prior to birth remains elusive. Our work was never simply about reversing Roe, but about restoring the natural right to life, which our constitution recognizes as foundational.
Even as the pro-life movement continues to act as the advocate and moral center for the right to life, we see how far we are from the future we seek. How ready are future pro-life presidents to harness the power of the executive to curtail abortion? Despite President Reagan’s observation that the “unalienable right to life is found not only in the Declaration of Independence but also in the Constitution that every president is sworn to preserve, protect, and defend,” presidents who in other areas embrace virtually unbound executive power strike a curiously reluctant pose when it comes to fulfilling their oath to vindicate the rights of the most defenseless.
How ready are future majorities in Congress to set a boundary—any boundary—of protection for innocent human life? Further, how ready are members of the judiciary to acknowledge that a constitution that upholds equal protection for every other member of the human family, as the Lincoln Proposal from Americans United for Life underscores, obviously protects preborn persons?
We continue to come together for the March for Life, and to advocate throughout the year, because we are guided by the north star of constitutional equal protection for all. Live Action is to be credited for reminding the pro-life movement of its founding vision and message from nearly the moment Dobbs was handed down. It’s a vision that we must continually articulate to avoid settling for anything less than a future of equal justice under law.
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Our new era requires new standards by which to judge success. It requires new litmus tests for aspiring presidents, elected representatives, and future judges and justices. It means simultaneous federal and state protective actions, as AUL’s American Life Initiative makes clear. It means boldness and courage to leverage the power of the state to fulfill through law and policy its core responsibility to the common good: the protection of every member of our political community.
We march to reverse the lingering effects of Roe on the American heart. We march to reject the new fiction of constitutional neutrality to killing innocents. We march because we know that our law remains the normative teacher concerning the right and proper use of our liberties.
Winning hearts and minds through personal encounter and witness will always be at the heart of pro-life advocacy. But we come to Washington not simply for personal witness, but for the sake of constitutional justice and a righteous political order.