By Katie Fletcher ’10
On January 22nd—the 27th anniversary of the infamous Roe v. Wade decision—Princeton Pro-Life sent a delegation of students to participate in the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C. The estimated 200,000 protesters were not just holdovers nostalgic for the days before Roe, but they also included many young people who grew up in the age of permissive abortion laws. The overwhelming participation of people born well after the decision in Roe was handed down shows that abortion remains a controversial topic that is far from settled. Despite growing up in an age in which abortion as a legal right is taken for granted, the presence of so many children, teens, and young adults at the March proves that not all young people embrace the “progressive” concept of reproductive rights.
Of course, children do not gain their values in a vacuum. Doubtless, many of the children and teens at the March for Life were inculcated with pro-life views by their parents and other adults, such as teachers and clergy. It’s perfectly natural for parents to pass on their beliefs and values to their children, values that, in the case of pro-lifers, include teaching children to have a respect for human life beginning at conception.
Since many religious sects and denominations encourage or mandate opposition to abortion, this pro-life upbringing is, in many cases, motivated by religious convictions. This was obvious at the March for Life, with many of the groups and individuals present displaying religious messages or symbols. While some children and teenagers were there with their families, many of them seemed to also be affiliated with churches, youth groups, or parochial schools.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with religiously motivated opposition to abortion. At the same time, though, pro-life advocates need to recognize that religious arguments won’t necessarily hold water on the national political stage. It’s crucial that the pro-life movement continues to encourage not only religiously motivated concern for life issues, but also to embrace secular arguments which incorporate philosophical and scientific approaches. If the pro-life lobby wants to be taken seriously, simplistic points like “Your mother chose life, and so should you” must be replaced by, or at least supplemented with, more substantive and intellectually rigorous arguments.
Young activists cannot settle for parroting pro-life catchphrases like “It’s a child, not a choice.” One of the most widely distributed signs at the March for Life featured a picture of an infant’s face and the message, “Face it… Abortion kills a person.” While this type of tactic may be emotionally appealing on a certain level, it simply won’t cut it in a serious discussion. Preaching to the choir is never a politically effective strategy, and neither is failing to address your opponent’s best arguments. Many pro-choice advocates dispute that a fetus is a person, so continuing to base arguments on that undefended premise is not going to be a particularly helpful way of convincing them otherwise. Similarly, a pro-choice atheist isn’t going to change his mind because he’s told God loves babies or because a Bible verse suggests life begins at conception. While these beliefs frequently reinforce some people’s commitment to their pro-life values, they are not enough to convince those who disagree.
Those who truly believe in their pro-life convictions should be confident that their views can be vindicated not only on religious grounds, but also by medical evidence and secular philosophical reasoning. This may be one reason why the Princeton and Yale delegations were greeted with hearty cheers by their fellow activists at the March for Life: having two secular universities represented at the march demonstrated that the pro-life cause is supported not only by church youth-groups or grassroots organizations, but also by academics and intellectuals.
The many young people seen at the March represent the future of the pro-life movement, and judging by both their strength in numbers and in energy and enthusiasm, it has the potential to be a very bright future. But while many of these young people have a basic (and often religiously based) understanding of the pro-life values passed on to them by their parents, teachers, or clergy, they may still have trouble communicating their instinctive and deeply rooted convictions.
As they grow up, they need to add a dimension of intellectual understanding to their pro-life beliefs. If the pro-life message is going to be politically palatable, pro-lifers need to be able to speak a common political and intellectual language. The kids and teens who so enthusiastically participated in the March for Life should continue their passionate defense of life, but they must also be sure to hone their best intellectual arguments in order to be taken seriously. Ultimately, the future of the pro-life movement lies in the hands of groups like Princeton Pro-Life, which must continue to passionately support their beliefs with a wide battery of arguments from many disciplines in order to engage and defeat the pro-choice lobby’s most challenging arguments.