Jason’s Questions: #7 Why Are There So Many Catholics at the March for Life?

**Another personal request here:  we’re getting ready this weekend for the Mass Monday night at which we’ll be received into the Church.  Please remember us in your prayers.**

This post is another tough one to write, but I can’t avoid the sanctity of life issue as it was yet another significant driver in my journey towards the Catholic Church.  Please understand my purpose here is not to shoo away anyone who cares about defending life, and I certainly don’t see this as a “Catholics-only” issue.  I firmly believe this is a human rights issue that people of all faiths (or no faith, for that matter) should be able to rally behind.  Over a million innocent children are legally slaughtered in their mothers’ wombs in our nation every year, and that’s something all of us should be doing something about–and certainly praying about. 

All that said, this issue played a major role in drawing me towards Catholicism.  Even as a Protestant, I always knew that the Catholic Church took a strong position on the importance of protecting human life from conception to natural death.  I always thought, though, that whatever the official line was, very few Catholics (at least in comparison to evangelical Protestants) cared much about this issue.  Then I went to the D.C. March for Life for the first time in January 2010.  Man, was I wrong.

From what I saw at the 2010 March (and at the 2011 March), the vast plurality of the crowd (if not the majority) was Catholic.  And, not only were they Catholic, but they were devout Catholics.  They were praying the Rosary and carrying statues of Our Lady.[1]  And, what’s more, they were obviously committed to doing everything possible to end the holocaust of abortion.

My trip to the 2010 March unnerved me.  By that time, I was really struggling with feeling drawn towards the Catholic Church, and it didn’t help me any to go to the March and be surrounded by so many happy Catholic warriors fighting the battle against the culture of death.  Because of this, I couldn’t help asking myself why there were so many Catholics at the March.

Having thought about this question for a while, it seems to me there are a few reasons why Catholics turn out in such droves for the March for Life.  First, I think it shows that the authoritative articulation of doctrine actually can make a difference.  In this regard, the Catholic Church has had a clear, consistent voice on the abortion issue ever since (and before) Roe v. Wade was handed down in 1973.[2]  Contrast that with the Southern Baptist Convention (for example) which, in 2003, felt compelled to “lament and renounce” its statements and actions on the abortion issue from the years immediately preceding and following the Roe decision.  And that’s just one example.  When you consider the full range of Protestant denominations, the picture only becomes fuzzier.  As a practical matter, I think this lack of clarity on what “the church” teaches on the issue (as opposed simply to what “my” church has to say about it) has the effect of causing folks, after a while, to find it easy to lose heart or just to stop caring all that much.[3]  That’s at least how it made me feel.

Second, I have to believe there’s a supernatural reason so many Catholics turn out in the dead of winter to spend hours outside in the cold on behalf of people we can’t even see, and I’m fully convinced that reason is the Eucharist.  A people sustained by the very Body and Blood of Christ–that has His divine life running through its veins–is a people who will brave the elements to march against its own self-interest, year in and year out, until every life—especially the most defenseless ones—are protected by law.  This same people also will pray at Mass, week in and week out, as I’ve now heard so many times at our local parish, that God will work to end this scourge.

Third, and finally (and probably most controversially), I’m convinced that Catholic opposition to abortion rests on a firmer foundation than that of most Protestant churches because the Catholic Church has not caved on the issue of artificial contraception.[4]  What does this have to do with abortion?  I think a lot, actually.  Once we say that we can use artificial means to control our fertility, we’ve started to buy into the idea that our desires are the primary (if not the only) driver in whether or not we have children.  This has the effect, in my opinion, of objectifying children and turning them into commodities whose value is determined by whether their parents “want” them or not.  Children are no longer ends, in and of themselves, but rather means to their parents achieving “happiness” or “fulfillment” or who knows what.  And once I’ve bought into this idea of children, it’s not that hard to reach the conclusion that terminating an unborn child because his life is inconvenient to me isn’t really all that big of a deal.

Now, please understand me here:  I’m not saying that people who use artificial contraception don’t really love their children or that such folks who are also pro-life on the abortion issue aren’t being sincere.  I’m simply pointing out what I think the logical consequences of adopting a contraceptive mentality are, and I think the legal history of how abortion came to be a so-called “constitutional right” in the United States proves my point. 

As I noted above, Roe was decided in 1973.  In that case, the Court found that the rights guaranteed by the Constitution were “broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.”  In so finding, the Court relied on its 1965 decision in Griswold v. Connecticut, in which it had recognized a Constitutional “right to privacy” that encompassed a “right” to use artificial contraception.  This “right to privacy” was central to the Court’s decision in Roe.  Consequently, without the Griswold decision, it would have been much more difficult for the Roe Court to justify its conclusions regarding a “right” to abortion.  I think this shows that, simply as a matter of American constitutional history, the “right” to use artificial contraception was a logical and temporal precursor to the “right” to abortion.[5]

I know this might be tough to read, and, believe me, it took me a long time to get to the point I accepted the Church’s teaching on artificial contraception and connected the dots between contraception and abortion.  Now that I have, though, I am fully convinced that this teaching is a critical element of a robust culture of life and that living it out would greatly increase the credibility of pro-lifers.  It was way too easy for me as a contracepting pro-lifer to shake my finger at all those terrible abortionists “out there” and the poor women who sought their services.  It cost me nothing to do that, even though, when it came down to it, my attitude towards the conception of children wasn’t much different from that of Planned Parenthood.  Because of all this, as important as I believe events like the March for Life are, I even more firmly believe that the solution to the abortion problem starts at the same place the solution to most problems starts:  at home.


[1]               They were also very young.  Every year, a Youth Rally and Mass for Life is held at the Verizon Center on the day of the March for Life.  In 2011, according to the Washington Post,  there were over 27,000 youth at the Mass.

[2]               I do recognize that the Catholic Church did at one time draw a distinction between an “ensouled” and an “unensouled” fetus, reflecting the biological understanding current at the time.  I don’t believe this undermines the conclusion, however, that the Church has always taught that the killing of an unborn child is a grave evil.  As biological and genetic knowledge increased, the Church (in 1869) completely abandoned this distinction.  If you’re interested in learning more about this, I suggest the paper here.

[3]               Just in general, it seems to me that Protestant evangelicalism has “moved on” from the abortion issue to things like “creation care” and “social justice.”  Now, I’m not denying these other things are important, and there certainly are plenty of people within the Catholic Church who also seem very much to want to change the subject when the topic of abortion comes up.  It’s easier, though, for a Catholic to assert the primacy of the life issues and to stick to his guns.  The Church clearly teaches that the life issues are paramount.

[4]               It’s perhaps hard to believe, but up until 1930, all Protestant denominations agreed with the Catholic doctrine that the use of artificial contraception was wrong.  Check out what Luther and Calvin had to say on the issue here, and I think you’ll conclude that the Catholic Church’s articulation of its position is actually quite mild in comparison.  In 1930, though, the Anglican Communion became the first significant Protestant denomination to relax its teaching on artificial contraception, and, over the next forty years, the rest of the Protestant world pretty much followed suit. 

[5]               My purpose here, of course, is not to engage in a lengthy discussion of American constitutional law.  It’s simply to note the connection in our legal history between artificial contraception and abortion.  It’s also worth mentioning here that artificial contraception is linked in American law to the effort to recognize same-sex relationships as “marriages” as well.  The federal court that struck down California’s definition of marriage as one-man-one-woman relied on Griswold for the proposition that, since heterosexual married couples have a Constitutional right to contracept as much as they want, there is no necessary link between marriage and the ability to procreate.  Given this, the court reasoned, there is no rational basis to limit “marriage” to heterosexual couples.  I, of course, disagree strongly with the court’s conclusion, but its logic is impeccable, once you accept the premise of Griswold.

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7 Responses to Jason’s Questions: #7 Why Are There So Many Catholics at the March for Life?

  1. wineinthewater says:

    Thank you for that. I think that so often, Christians do not really get that they themselves, their live and their action are supposed to be the evangelization. Evangelization is not just proselytizing, not just going door to door.

    To give a little more context, the Catholic understanding of ensoulment did not have the practical consequences that many people think. Moral theologians at the time did not use ensoulment as a deliminator for when it was a sin to kill a child. It was considered a grave sin to kill a child even before ensoulment.

  2. Fr. Bryan says:

    Congratulations on entering the Church! On the feast of the Assumption, no less. I pray it will be a beautiful experience for you and your family. Being a Catholic (let alone a Catholic priest) has not been the easiest thing, but I find it to be a beautiful life.

    Blessings!

  3. Jennifer says:

    Hi Nikki and Jason! We have been thinking about you all day today, and we are so glad that you are now Catholic! Welcome home! What a blessing to receive our Lord in the Eucharist on this beautiful feast day! We hope to see you around St. James sometime soon.

    In Christ,
    Jennifer & Sunil Tellis (you met us at the Haislmaier’s house!)

  4. Great piece. I think you’ve said it well. I’m an evangelical convert to Catholicism myself, and while I was always against abortion before, since becoming Catholic it’s become a much bigger deal to me, and I do agree that the consistent, clear voice of the magisterium on the issue is a big part of that.

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