America News Analysis

This year’s March for Life was a success, not that you’d know that from the media


The 46th March for Life (M4L) brought an estimated 200,000 to 300,000 marchers to Washington to demonstrate for the legal prohibition of abortion.

The pro-life movement has had much to celebrate over the past year, particularly in the judicial realm: Brett Kavanaugh, who is thought to be pro-life, was confirmed to the US Supreme Court following one of the bitterest confirmation hearings in American history.

In a taped address to marchers, President Trump promised to veto any law that “weakens the protection of human life”. Vice President Mike Pence made a surprise visit after calling in to Ben Shapiro’s live podcast, delivered from the pre-march rally stage. A handful of pro-life Democrats addressed the rally, giving voice to that dwindling political tendency. Rep Dan Lipinski was the only national-level Democrat to speak, but Louisiana state representative Katrina Jackson also addressed the rally.

While a plurality of marchers are Catholic, the Southern Baptist Convention hosted Evangelicals for Life, and Anglicans for Life held a conference of their own. An organisation called Secular Pro-Life was also present.

Pro-life marchers have had a long-standing gripe with the news media over coverage of the event. For example, CNN’s headline read: “Crowds converge on Washington for annual anti-abortion event.” Compare that to another recent headline, also from CNN: “The Women’s March is evolving, but its enemies are the same.” Feminists are marchers; pro-lifers are “crowds”.

There is a disturbing amount of rhetorical manipulation around the issue of abortion. Bishop Steven Lopes of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St Peter highlighted this with his call for plain-speaking about moral truths during a homily at a Mass before the event. Defenders of abortion talk of foetuses and “clumps of cells”. (In fairness, the marchers tend to choose language that casts themselves in a favourable light as well.)

The article by CNN was syndicated elsewhere, including at the local radio station WTOP. The original lede read: “Crowds of people packed the National Mall on Friday for the March for Life, an annual march against abortion.” The WTOP version read: “Crowds of people packed the National Mall on Friday for the March for Life, an annual march of abortion rights opponents.”

“Against abortion” is not a terribly objectionable way to characterise the pro-life movement, though it isn’t one that the movement itself prefers. It still contrasts with the Women’s March headline, in that in the latter, CNN is basically portraying marchers in exactly the way they would like to be portrayed. But WTOP editors appear to have taken a hostile stance in their coverage of the M4L that the pro-choice lobby would no doubt relish. NBC evidently got the memo, too, writing in its headline that Trump and Pence “vow to support opponents of abortion rights”.

If the use of language to control media narratives was an art form, “abortion rights opponents” would be a masterpiece. If you see the phrase appear in a newspaper article, it’s a good sign the author is unfriendly to the perspective of any of the people marching in DC last Friday. Yet, as a group of Kentucky students found out during the march, perhaps fairness is simply not something we should expect from fervent supporters of abortion in the media.