Not every pro-lifer was glad to have Donald Trump addressing this year’s March for Life. But his support is also a sign of the mainstream pro-life movement’s political clout. He was pro-choice until 2011, when he first entertained the idea of running for president as a Republican. He simply could not win unless he opposed abortion, which is a testament to the mainstream pro-life movement’s strength.
And it only keeps growing. On Friday, hundreds of thousands turned out for the largest annual pro-life demonstration in the world. The Church, of course, was at the heart of it: over 10,000 – including hundreds of priests, dozens of bishops and four cardinals – attended a vigil Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
In 1970 the American columnist L Brent Bozell, Jr gathered hundreds of Catholic activists in Washington, DC for the Mass of the Holy Innocents. Most visible among their numbers were the Sons of Thunder, a student paramilitary group who dressed like Carlist partisans, complete with khaki shirts and red berets. After Mass, they raised papal flags and processional crosses, and marched to the abortion clinic at the George Washington University Hospital.
Bozell (also sporting a beret) led a forward party who would ask permission to baptise aborted foetuses. A security guard saw him coming, however, and locked the door. One of the Sons raced around to the side-entrance and jammed his crucifix into the door. Bozell and the Sons then rushed the clinic, shattering windows and crying, “Viva Cristo Rey!” Eventually the Washington police arrived and beat them with clubs. Bozell was arrested and ordered to appear in court in October, at which he declared: “America is going to have to reckon with its Christians, like it or not.”
Remember, this was in 1970 – three years before the landmark Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade, which effectively established the constitutional right to an abortion. In the 45 years since, the pro-life movement has changed to an unimaginable extent. Yes, we can admire Bozell’s courage. But his eccentric campaign could never have won the political gains the pro-life movement has achieved in recent years. It has put abortion at the centre of political debate.
If Americans would like to see how a country looks when it lacks a strong pro-life representation in politics, they might glance across the Atlantic. Ed Condon has written an excellent cover story for this week’s Catholic Herald on Britain’s latest alarming trend: banning prayer vigils outside abortion clinics. A Labour MP fears demonstrators are “weaponising rosary beads”. (Meanwhile, we hardly hear a peep from the authorities about hunting saboteurs and other animal rights extremists – people who actually set out to hurt people and damage property.)
At the moment, a UK pro-life movement with mainstream political support seems a distant dream. The two leading Catholic contenders for Number 10 are both weak on life issues. Damian Hinds, who has been tipped by several leading Tories to succeed Theresa May, either voted against or abstained from any bill that would limit abortion. And while Jacob Rees-Mogg, the favourite of Conservative grassroots activists, has affirmed the Church’s teaching that life begins at conception, he also insisted that UK law on abortion “is not going to change”.
It is, if nothing else, baldly undemocratic that those 60 percent of Brits who would like to see a reduction in access to abortion are ignored by leading MPs. This is precisely how the pro-life movement in America began in earnest: politicians realised they could win votes by championing the cause. Who in parliament is clever enough to take up that mantle and reap the reward?