Marchers carry signs at the 2020 March for Life in Washington, DC, on Jan. 24, 2020. (Peter Zelasko/CNA)
Young people have a powerful role to play in a world where, especially in the next few years, the culture of death will flail viciously to protect its death grip through Roe.
The vibrant, voluminous, and vigorous presence of young people in the annual March for Life in Washington gets a lot of notice. “I am the pro-life generation” proclaim many signs, and it’s true: the demographic at the March skews young, and the pro-abortionists cannot but notice that. Sometimes it gets snarky ripostes (e.g., a comment in the Washington Post that the youthfulness of the March for Life is because of forced attendance by parochial school students) but one thing is true: more and more people reject the orthodoxy of abortion-on-demand-without-regret-through-birth.
I write this blog sitting at the 21st Cardinal O’Connor Conference for Life, an annual event put on by college students themselves on the Saturday after the March for Life at Georgetown University. The determination yet positivity of those young people (in contrast to the grim faces of their peers protesting for abortion outside Healy Hall) is infectious. These young people are positive and engaged, determined that Roe et al. v. Wade join other infamous Supreme Court rulings, like Dred Scott v. Sandford (slaves are property) and Plessy v. Ferguson (separate but equal is allowed) in the trash can of constitutional errors.
We Catholics must encourage pro-life youth, not just to stand up for life but to weave that commitment into their work and vocation. I say that in part from my own experience. Roe was galvanizing moment for me. I remember hearing that Roe was decided during lunch in eighth grade, when I was 13 years old. The horror that grown men we were supposed to respect as “justices” said that it was not just legal but a “right” to kill unborn children got me involved right back then and has sustained me for 47 years. My engagement eventually led, in part, to some work on bioethics as a moral theologian and carries me through writing, including this blog today. From that experience, I remain convinced that getting young people actively involved in the pro-life movement early is critical. This is the pro-life generation, and it’s the future. Indeed, one Marcher for Life captured it well this year: her handmade sign read “Youth Are 1/3 of Our Population—And All of Our Future.” I’m not sure, given our demographic dearth, that young people are still one-third of our population, but she’s absolutely right that they are our only future. Of our country. Of our movement.
I would certainly not downplay the importance of every person that marches against abortion, writes his congressman, or protests against and prays at abortion clinics. But, as I look at the young college students assembled here at Georgetown today, let us encourage them to make their pro-life commitment part of their lives and vocations.
I can’t help but have the impression that, sometimes, those who March for Life have a very basic idea of civics and the constituent-representative relationship. That’s not bad, because we need people to believe in the principles that animate our country. But the political machinery of Washington functions in more complex ways. It’s not “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”
That said, let me make one point about “Mr. Smith.” I’m old enough to remember a fellow New Jerseyan, Mr. Chris Smith, who was running for the first time for Congress back in 1978. Back then Chris—who was also associated with the New Jersey Right to Life Committee—was willing to talk to this teenager, encouraging me to stand for life and to keep writing to my pro-life-but-doesn’t-want-to-be-too-public-about-it Democratic congressman, Ed Patten, urging him to stick to his convictions.
Let’s urge these young people not just to March for Life, but to become the next Chris Smith, the next Dan Lipinski, the next Josh Hawley to fight for life in the House and Senate. We need the next Dr. Mildred Jefferson, a distinguished Ivy League graduate who led the National Right to Life Committee as the first black woman to graduate from Harvard Medical School. We need the next Paul Greenberg and other journalists to fight the perversion of language over abortion. We need a pro-life Margaret Atwood to tell the story of abortion in a novel. We need psychologists and social workers to help pregnant women and their families in need.
All of this is, after all, part of our Confirmation vocation. Confirmation is about bearing witness to Christian truth in the world, and there’s no more preeminent place where that truth is needed in the contemporary Western world than against the culture of death. Young people—especially lay young people—have a powerful role to play in a world where, especially in the next few years, the culture of death will flail viciously to protect its death grip through Roe. If Roe is modified, much pro-life action will likely go back to the state level, where we need young, pro-life voices in state legislatures. Young people might also reflect on their call to bear witness through a religious vocation like the Sisters of Life. (Alas, in founding the female Sisters of Life, Cardinal O’Connor perhaps didn’t think about that charism for men). Lay or religious, give yourselves, because your community and you both need it (see Matthew 16:25).
Yes, you ARE the pro-life generation … and we’re counting on you to win the victory for the culture of life!