Today’s 46th March for Life in Washington is not a Catholic thing. It’s been gratifying over the years to see the growing numbers of Evangelicals, mainstream Protestants, Jews – you gotta love the blowing of the shofar from the stage just before marchers set out – Mormons, Muslims, and others. All of whom have come to realize that killing the smallest and most vulnerable of our human kind is not humane, and no favor to women, tens of millions of whom are targeted around the world while still in the womb for the mere fact of being female.
But the March – and the pro-life cause – are not even, strictly speaking, religious things. Seeing “Atheists for Life” walking around the National Mall always boosts your spirits, but it’s also a sharp reminder. We do not oppose abortion because it bumps up against some religious dogma. If that were the case – as defenders of abortion often, and wrongly, claim – it would be difficult in pluralistic modern democracies like ours to avoid the false charge that we’re trying to “impose our religion” on others. To the contrary, we’re trying to keep people from practicing an unreasonable, false, and murderous form of idolatry.
Because it’s reason, not revelation, that tells us that – if we believe killing is wrong – then killing children in the womb is wrong. And with each year, the scientific support for that moral stand becomes ever clearer. When Roe v. Wade came down in 1973, we had nothing like the medical evidence we have today. We now know, for example, that a child’s heart begins to beat about four weeks after conception – and much else is going on that makes it clear that this growing, living thing is human (with its own unique DNA) and from the start male or female. It’s simply rational to say: Whoever would end that life, even in its earliest development, is making a grave moral mistake.
And we are perfectly right both to argue, rationally, and march for an end to abortion. In fact, it’s a moral obligation. Engaging one another in the pursuit of truth is one way we demonstrate our conviction that those we disagree with are, like ourselves, rational beings. I know – it’s asking a lot of reason when so many passions and interests are involved. That’s why marches, demonstrations, personal example often must also be in play just to get a hearing for the science and those quite good arguments.
About ten years after Roe, I was talking with a now world-famous philosopher about abortion. He predicted that, though the science and moral reasoning would make it ever clearer what we are doing in aborting our children, none of it would matter: “The day will come when they’ll have to admit the truth. And they’ll say, Yeah, it’s killing a baby, but so what?”