Criticizing the March for Life for being primarily about abortion is like criticizing Black Lives Matter for being primarily about black lives. It’s okay for a movement to seek action on a particular issue.
I came to this important realization while attending the March for Life in D.C. a week ago. (For those who might not be aware, the March for Life is a demonstration that protests the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision of Roe v. Wade, a case that made abortion legal nationally.)
That said, I know my comparison between the March for Life and Black Lives Matter is problematic for many. Thus, before proceeding any further, let me acknowledge and address a common objection to this perspective. You might be thinking that, as opposed to the name “Black Lives Matter,” the name “March for Life” misleads people: the movement is not primarily about life in general but rather about unborn life. You might say that the cause should more properly be called the “March for Unborn Life.”
Though this objection has some merit, I don’t think that it holds much water in the last analysis. Just as the name “pro-choice” in the context of Roe v. Wade does not refer to choice in general but rather to choice concerning abortion, “pro-life” in the context of Roe v. Wade does not refer to life in general but rather to life concerning abortion.
Indeed, “pro-life” can mean “pro-all-life,” and in broader contexts it should mean “pro-all-life.” Nevertheless, my agreement with the broader sense of “pro-life” does not undermine my commitment to the unborn. When it comes to Roe v. Wade and abortion in the U.S., the position of the March for Life is the pro-life position. When we consider the horrific fact that more than 60 million lives have been lost to abortion in the U.S. since that fateful Supreme Court decision, it becomes clear that the March for Life is worthy of its title and its special place in the wider pro-life movement..
Returning to the main thrust of this piece, I hold that, while it is very true that all social justice issues are intertwined, there should be a place for raising awareness and activism on particular types of injustice.
All too often, we distort the “seamless garment” or comprehensive approach to social justice. We absolutize it unnecessarily. In seeking to listen to the cries of all marginalized groups, we often fail to listen to the cry of one marginalized group.
Some on the left say that the March for Life should be about all lives, not just about unborn lives. Others on the right say that Black Lives Matter should be about all lives, not just about black lives. The parallels are clear, and they are problematic.
Now, these detractors do have a point: all lives do, in fact, matter. A just society involves more than justice for the unborn and the black community.
However, this just society most definitely includes justice for the unborn and the black community. For us to make this progress towards social justice, some people need to dedicate themselves to these topics in particular. Everyone can’t do everything.
Let me point out another key problem with this dismissive approach to single-issue protests.
Such behavior against the March for Life and Black Lives Matter increases political tribalism. Instead of engaging the topic of abortion, some leftists knee-jerkingly prefer to point to potential inconsistencies in the thought of the march-for-lifer. Instead of engaging the topic of the systematic oppression of the black community, some rightists instinctively prefer to interrogate their opponents on their orthodoxy in other areas.
Both groups of critics often assume that their opponents are inconsistent, when, in fact, they have no idea about a given protester’s complete social philosophy. These assumptions are dizzying and disconsoling, whether they are right or wrong. We need to dialogue with dignity, and we desperately need to stay on topic. If we can’t have a civil and generous conversation about one social issue, we will never be able talk to each other about society as a whole.
Don’t get me wrong. I do think comprehensively, and I do vote comprehensively.
But let’s be real.
As soon as there is a march that actively advocates for the twenty or thirty social justice stances with which the Catholic Church and I agree, I will be there. Believe me. I will be there.
Until then, I will support the March for Life
Until then, I will support Black Lives Matter.
Until then, I’ll see you at your local single-issue protest.