Having gone to the March (as we always do) this past Friday (below are two pictures - Brigid with our friend Digna, and the crowd on the corner of Constitution Ave and First Street as they move toward the Supreme Court building), the essay offers some timely thoughts. As well as a nice tribute to the founder of the March, the late Nellie Gray.
One of these pioneering women was a corporal from Big Spring, Tex., named Nellie Gray. After the war ended, Gray finished college (with an assist from the G.I. Bill) and moved to Washington, D.C., where she worked for decades at the State Department and the Department of Labor, earning a law degree at night from Georgetown University along the way. Then the social upheavals of the 1970s arrived, the soldier-turned-bureaucrat-turned-lawyer helped found one of America’s most enduring mass movements, establishing an annual protest march that continues to the present day.
That protest is the March for Life, the annual rally against Roe v. Wade.
When she organized the first march, in January 1974, it drew 20,000 anti-abortion marchers to the capital. On Friday, 40 years after Roe and six months after Gray’s death at the age of 88, the marchers numbered in the tens or even hundreds of thousands.
As Jon Shields of Claremont McKenna College pointed out last year, pro-life sentiment has been steady over the last four decades even as opposition to women in the work force (or the military, or the White House) has largely collapsed. Most anti-abortion Americans today are also gender egalitarians: indeed, Shields notes, pro-life attitudes toward women’s professional advancement have converged so quickly with pro-choice attitudes that “the average moderately pro-life citizen is a stronger supporter of gender equality than even the typical strongly pro-choice citizen was in the early 1980s.” Among the younger generation, any “divide over women’s roles nearly disappears entirely.”
The pro-life cause has proved unexpectedly resilient, in other words, not because millions of Americans are nostalgists for a world of stricter gender norms, but because they have convinced themselves that the opportunities the feminist revolution won for women can be sustained without unrestricted access to abortion.
This conviction is crucial to understanding why opinion on abortion has been a persistent exception to the liberalizing cultural trends that have brought us gay marriage, medical marijuana and now women in combat. It helps explain, too, why public opinion on the issue doesn’t break down along the gendered lines that many liberals expect — why more women than men, for instance, told the latest Pew survey that abortion was “morally wrong” and (in smaller numbers) that Roe should be overturned.
This means that the abortion rights movement, once utopian in its own fashion, is now at its most effective when it speaks the language of necessary evils, warning Americans that while it might be pretty to think so, the equality they take for granted simply can’t be separated from a practice they find troubling.
For its part, if the pro-life movement wants not only to endure but to triumph, then it needs an answer to this argument. That means something more than just a defense of a universal right to life. It means a realist’s explanation of how, in policy and culture, the feminist revolution could be reformed without being repealed.
Here's Brigid and Digna
And the marchers - the "I Regret" signs belong to members of Silent no More,
Lastly, the NY Times coverage of the March (which you can get to here) was quite reasonable, which is surprising considering that in the past it's been scanty, biased or they totally ignored the event.