At March for Life, varying views on what ‘pro-life’ means

Jon Ward
Senior Political Correspondent

Washington, D.C. — As thousands of pro-life supporters prepared to begin marching up Constitution Avenue toward the U.S. Capitol around midday on Friday, Liz McCloskey sat by herself off to the side, holding a sign that read, “Pro-life, Pro-woman, Anti-Trump.”

McCloskey wore a pink hat, a signal that she had also attended the Women’s March here last weekend, from which pro-life groups had been disinvited as sponsors. McCloskey, a Catholic who worked for Sen. John Danforth, R-Miss., earlier in her career, said it was a “tactical error” for the Women’s March organizers to shut out pro-life groups, but that she had attended anyway.

“Nobody is going to define for me what it means to be pro-woman, pro-life,” she said.

Her bigger lament was the gulf — unnecessarily wide, in her view — that existed between people at the March for Life and the Women’s March.

“The national conversation is not nuanced, and I think that’s the fault of both the pro-life and the pro-choice camps. It’s an impoverishment of the conversation when we don’t see the complexity,” she said. “From my 20 years working in faith and politics, I would say it’s hardened, even though for practical purposes, with greater education and availability of contraception, the issue of abortion should go away.”

McCloskey said she thinks there’s “little chance” that abortion will be made illegal even if the Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade in 1973 is overturned by a new court with a President Trump-appointed justice. A decision to overturn Roe would simply shift the issue back to the states, where a majority would be likely to allow abortion in some fashion. “So I think the emphasis should be on talking about the moral issue,” McCloskey said.

The annual March for Life proceeds up Capitol Hill on Constitution Avenue in Washington on Jan. 27. (Photo: James Lawler Duggan/Reuters)

But among many others at the march, overturning Roe and outlawing abortion seemed like a real possibility now that Trump will soon nominate a jurist for the Supreme Court who is likely to shift the balance of the court in favor of conservatives. The court is currently deadlocked between an equal number of liberal and conservative justices.

Bev Oswalt, of Dayton, Ohio, said, “We would like to see him overturn Roe v. Wade. We’d like to see abortion clinics closed down in our nation.” She had traveled to D.C. with a group from Elizabeth’s New Life Center, a “network of pregnancy resource centers” in her hometown.

Oswalt had not attended the Women’s March the week before, and was not a fan. “I didn’t think it represented the women of this nation. I thought it represented an angry group. I don’t believe it was positive,” she said. “But this group is a positive group.”

Similarly, Ericha Van Brimmer, a mother of three young children married to an Army officer stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C., said the election of President Trump had “brought new life” to the pro-life cause.

“I feel there’s more legitimacy behind us, as opposed to years before. We feel like our voice is finally being heard,” Van Brimmer said. “We hope to abolish abortion all together.”

Van Brimmer added, however, that she supported allowing abortions in cases where the life of the mother was at risk. She had personal experience of such a situation.

“I’ve had a history of ectopic pregnancies, so I myself have had to terminate a pregnancy due to a ruptured tube,” she said. She said her pregnancy was estimated to have been about eight weeks along when she terminated it. “We’re pro-life, so that means life of the mother as well.”

Van Brimmer was unequivocally enthusiastic about Trump’s first week as president. “I think he’s done awesome things so far,” she said.

Pro-life activists converge in front of the Supreme Court in Washington during the annual March for Life on, Friday, Jan. 27, 2017. Thousands of anti-abortion demonstrators gathered in Washington to protest the Supreme Court’s landmark 1973 decision, which declared a constitutional right to abortion. (Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP Photo)

But there were more measured expressions of support for the new president among many others in the crowd, especially among Catholics, who make up a significant portion of the pro-life movement.

“There are areas where we strongly agree [with Trump], and there’s also areas where we strongly disagree,” said Rev. Peter Grace, a Catholic priest at St. Anne’s Parish in Smithfield, N.C., who came to the march with a few dozen mostly Latino parishioners.

“We’re here to support life from conception to death, and that means every stage in between. That means people who are vulnerable. Just as the Holy Family, Jesus, Joseph and Mary, had to flee Egypt for their own safety and protection, we stand with the refugees,” Grace said.

Senior Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway, herself a Catholic, who spoke at the rally, used similar language when talking about the march on Fox News earlier in the day.

“I believe in the sanctity of life. I think if we can promote and protect life from conception to natural death, it says an awful lot about our country,” Conway said.

Vice President Mike Pence also spoke at the rally, becoming the first sitting vice president to do so in the 42 years that the March has been held. “Life is winning again in America,” Pence said. “It is no more evident in any way than in the historic election of a president who stands for a stronger America, a more prosperous America and a president who, I proudly say, stands for the right to life.”

Pence described Trump as “a man with broad shoulders and a big heart.”

However, Chris Crawford, a D.C. resident who works at a local nonprofit and had attended the March for Life several years in a row, said he was disheartened that Trump signed an executive order Friday to temporarily ban all immigration to the United States from a handful of countries in the Middle East.

“I’m happy with the pro-life promises [Trump’s] made. But some of the executive orders that he’s doing I find really tragic, particularly with refugees,” Crawford said. “My church is welcoming a refugee family and co-sponsoring them. We got word on Tuesday that the family was approved to get here Feb. 6, and if the draft of the executive order that he’s gonna sign is true, then they’re not going to be able to come in, and so I’m heartbroken by that.

“The family that we are welcoming, they’ve gone through two and a half years of vetting in Syria,” Crawford said. “There is a really strict vetting process right now, so I’d be interested to see what they come up with for what they call ‘extreme vetting,’ beyond what we’ve seen for two years with this family waiting in hell on earth to come to the United States.”

Crawford, who attends the Holy Trinity Catholic Church in the capital’s Georgetown neighborhood, held a sign that said, “I stand with people who are: unborn, undocumented, unemployed, under educated, unhoused.”

“I think we need to also be calling for a whole-life perspective that supports human dignity of all people,” he said.