Is the ability to care also the ability to create change? The March shows why it’s not.
By Isaac Willour
In C.S. Lewis’ The Horse and His Boy, protagonist Shasta has just fled across a desert with nothing more than his few worldly possessions and the talking horse Bree. Seemingly born into slavery, Shasta’s journey, which began as a mere escape from slavery, has now become a contest in the fate of nations, racing against the invaders from his seeming homeland of Calormen to warn the neighboring country of Archenland. As his desert journey comes to an end, however, the exhausted Shasta is given the worst news of all: instead of the rest he craves, he must run, on foot, the rest of the way to Archenland if his quest to prevent the invasion is to succeed. Says Lewis:
“Shasta’s heart fainted at these words, for he felt he had no strength left. And he writhed inside at what seemed the cruelty and unfairness of the demand. He had not yet learned that if you do one good deed your reward usually is to be set to do another and harder and better one.”
We’ll come back to that. It’ll be very relevant.
I’m sitting in my hotel room after the conclusion of the 2024 March for Life. You can read my full journalist-y coverage here, but that’s not what I want to talk about right now. There’s much to be said about the event beyond merely reporting the frankly rather banal news that the pro-life movement still exists and wants more or less the same things, and faces many of the same challenges. The 2022 overturn of Roe v. Wade was a pivotal moment in the history of abortion in America, a moment I had the privilege of witnessing on the ground and one that fueled a lot of writing: see here, here, and here.
But the March is different. As my friend Jon Ward of Yahoo News and Border Stalkers noted, it’s one of the few political protests that’s stayed on track for decades, in sharp contrast to many other political movements that burn hot and burn out in a matter of years. Even though this year had comparatively small attendance compared to the reportedly more than half a million that attended a decade ago, the pro-life movement still shows up in force. Having been, a couple things stoof out as notable.
1. No mention of Donald Trump.
You might be forgiven for assuming that a majority conservative, majority Christian group would be pretty fine with Trump, as sad as that instinct might be. Yet the hardline part of the pro-life movement isn’t a huge fan of the former president at the moment, given Trump’s recent statements about the importance of concessions as a means to electoral victory. There’s no doubt that many both in the pro-life movement and at the March itself are supportive of Big Orange—but Trump’s name wasn’t mentioned once at the rally he spoke at less than five years ago.
2. No mention of science.
Well, that’s not entirely true. One speaker at the rally referred to science as a tool in the postmodernity-induced decline of our society. Much nuance. Much thoughtfulness. I wish I was making that up.
3. Very heavy on the Christianity.
Again, most people at the March are going to see Christianity as part and parcel of the pro-life cause. I happen to agree with that, but that’s not how we judge strategy. Off the top of my head, almost every speaker mentioned God in their remarks at the rally, to cheers from the crowd. If you happened to be in the crowd and not be Christian or conservative, your place in the movement is going to become incredibly clear.
4. Political quibbles.
The only people whose mention actually drew boos were former Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, former Senator Mitt Romney, and Joe Biden.
So what’s the point of all this? My point from the March for Life is the same point that I’ve been making about the pro-life movement ever since I started covering the movement before the fall of Roe. The March for Life is a giant outpouring of demonstrated care, and that’s pretty much it. It’s a massive demonstration that, for thousands of Americans, this is the single issue that they’ll get up, stand in the cold, walk through the snow, and hinge voting behavior on. Politically, it’s a sign of the power that conservative (and largely Evangelical) voters are capable of leveraging—House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) and Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) quite literally said so—but that’s the positive side.
The negative side is this: there’s no evidence that this is what changes hearts and minds. The amount of pro-life and pro-choice Americans is really close: after Roe’s overturn, support for abortion in any/most circumstances dipped from its initial peak into a 47 percent minority, whereas opposition to abortion in any/most circumstances grew into a 49 percent majority. We’re neck and neck—but, even as March speakers discussed, the March isn’t what changes hearts and minds. That change comes from social institutions making the choice for life as easy as possible. The fatal misgiving with the March is that it changes minds.
It’s the assumption that the people who care the most are the people who create the most change. This assumption is wrong. It can only create the impetus to try and change minds.
“If you do one good deed your reward usually is to be set to do another and harder and better one.” This is the path ahead for the pro-life movement. The overturn of Roe was, despite all the gawking and complaining, a good deed that’s led to the saving of 30,000 children made in the image of the divine. Now, it’s time to incentivize the personal change—a much harder and better task. In our fractured and divided country, let’s see if we’re up to the challenge.
About the Author
Isaac Willour is a marketing fellow at the Institute for Faith and Freedom and the editor-in-chief of Checkpoint News. He does a bunch of other writing things. Check them out here. He blogs about culture, religion, and Generation Z at The Unafraid on Substack.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed are those of the writer alone. They do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grove City College, the Institute for Faith and Freedom, or their affiliates.