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Joining the other side

My two days as an anti-abortion activist at the March for Life

“I should be able to protest Planned Parenthood for at least an hour, but if I go to the ‘die-in’ at the White House, there is no way I will make the legal symposium on overturning Roe v. Wade.”

For the last two years of reporting on the activities on abortion opponents, at some point during an interview the subject would inevitably ask me if I had ever attended the March for Life in Washington, DC. Part memorial, part celebration, the march has become an annual rite of passage for those who devote their energy, money and time to ending legal, safe abortion access in the US. What started in 1974 as a protest of the Supreme Court decision acknowledging a right to an abortion that no state could prohibit has evolved in the following four decades. Now it is a multi-day event that combines reunion, grassroots political organisation and a generational torch passing as the original pool of pro-life activists train those born after Roe and who will inherit the mission of bringing abortion to an end.

Repeatedly, I was told that the best way to really understand what motivates the anti-abortion movement would be to join them at the March for Life. This year, I took them up on it. For 48 hours straight, I was going to attend rallies and seminars, even an abortion clinic protest. For two days, I would see up close what it was truly like to be an anti-abortion activist.

Day 1: Protests, die-ins and beer

“Man, I would love to get arrested.”

It was just after 8 am on Wednesday, 21 January and I was heading to the Planned Parenthood clinic on 16th Street, coffee warming my frigid hands. As a Minnesotan, pride kept me clothed solely in a sweatshirt, hat and gloves despite the near-freezing temperatures, but I quickly felt warmer after seeing a group of students holding a sign stating they were from a high school in the Virgin Islands. Bundled so tightly in hoods and scarves that I could barely see their eyes, the four stood in front of the clinic fence for hours, shivering as they made their stand against safe, legal abortion access.

The crowd was sparse so early in the morning, but it was quick to grow. I took a moment to talk to Father Frank Pavone, the national director of Priests for Life, an umbrella group of anti-abortion activities ranging from youth activism to African American community outreach to post–abortion counselling outreach and the “Silent No More” campaign of women speaking out about their regret over prior abortions.

On the sidewalk outside the clinic, it was Father Pavone’s show. By 9 am more than 100 anti-abortion activists, many of them teens and college students, had gathered to line the sidewalks outside the Planned Parenthood building. Meanwhile, one activist was preparing to be arrested.

Rev. Patrick Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition is no stranger to arrests, especially not at this particular clinic. A court case in the 90s over what was and wasn’t public space continued for years, and even today there remains confusion as to where exactly anti-abortion protesters are allowed to stand in order to not be accused of a FACE Act (Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act) violation.

Mahoney didn’t originally come to the clinic that day looking for a confrontation. The March for Life is essentially the one time that activists don’t want to get put into jail, since many of them have schedules chock full of meetings, conference panels and other protest events to attend.

However, when two police officers came up to Mahoney, telling him if he went to the sidewalk right up next to the clinic doors, that would be a FACE violation, Mahoney couldn’t ignore their words.

“This is how it starts,” he told me. “First they take away your freedom to speak on public ground, then they start eliminating all of your freedoms.”

What may have been intended as a warning from the DC police force instead turned into a challenge. Mahoney spent the next 30 minutes planning for his own arrest, which he said would happen at 9 am.

I never knew until I watched him exactly how much preparation goes into being arrested. It takes calls with your lawyer to be sure he or she is available to represent you. It takes finding someone to hold your keys, your credit cards and wallet, commit to moving your car and, in Mahoney’s case, take his signs for the next protest.

Being arrested is a major commitment for anti-abortion leaders, it seems, and not one that everyone can work into their schedules. “Man, I would love to get arrested too,” Operation Rescue president Troy Newman said to me as we watched Mahoney get ready. “But I have a meeting at 10, and I just can’t miss it.”

If you had told me a few weeks earlier that I would be spending two days chatting on and off with the leader of one of the most well-known and notorious anti-abortion groups in the US, I would have been shocked, especially after our first interaction. The moment I was introduced to him and my name registered, he immediately demanded to know how I felt about having the blood of Tonya Reaves, a woman who died in a Chicago Planned Parenthood clinic last year, on the hands of myself and my entire movement.

Later, I heard those same words used in his speech in front of the DC clinic. As cameras rolled, Newman shouted through the amplified bullhorn, berating the clinic, the “abortion industry” and anyone who supported the belief that legal abortion should be allowed in the country. Pavone read a list of all of the women they believe died of legal abortion, the crowd chanting “Lord give her peace” after each name. Rev. Terry Gensemer of CEC for Life in Alabama read a memorial and Bryan Kemper of Stand True Ministries, a youth outreach group associated with Pavone’s Priests for Life, reminisced about the time he went undercover as a clinic escort at the very clinic we stood in front of. He closed his speech by urging everyone to bring their churches to the clinic. “Every Christian should be on this sidewalk so no one can get in this building,” Kemper shouted through the bullhorn.

Then Mahoney made his move and walked exactly into the space that police told him he had to avoid, and absolutely nothing happened.

It’s difficult to explain the sense of tension that can grow when you think an arrest is imminent, especially when despite the veneer of impartial reporter I was truly concerned for the patients and staff inside. Then I was confronted with an even more unanticipated feeling, concern for the young anti-abortion protesters themselves.

As Mahoney’s promised arrest failed to materialise, more and more students moved off the sidewalk in front of the clinic and instead began standing on the lawn directly in front of the building itself. As a photo op, it was a beautiful thing to watch. As a person fearful that at least 50 people, mostly minors, were about to be arrested for trespassing, it was terrifying.

Later, I would find out there was never any danger. “It was already over,” Mahoney told me after the crowd started to disperse. “I wouldn’t have had them move onto the lawn if I thought they were going to be arrested.”

Perhaps anti-abortion leaders really do care a little about the wellbeing of children after they are born.

“We are the survivors of the abortion holocaust.”

After a brief trip into the Starbucks across the street to warm up, I was ready to head to the White House, where Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust were hosting a “die-in”. There, 35 young activists, all apparently in high school or middle school, arranged themselves on the cold cement street in front of the fence surrounding the building’s parameter, lying silent and in the foetal position as Survivors leader Kristina Garza and her helpers draped them with red cloth.

Curled on the ground, the students remained unmoving for 30 minutes while national and international activists – including Precious Life director Bernadette Smyth, who was recently found guilty of harassment at the Marie Stopes clinic in Belfast, Ireland – gave speeches praising the students for standing up for those who are voiceless from the tragedy of legal abortion. As they lay, snow began falling in large, lacy flakes that landed and melted on their slightly shivering bodies.

When the half hour was up they stood, many running to their parents for a warm embrace. I watched one girl, perhaps 13 years old, stumble into her father’s arms, tears streaming down her face. Whether she was crying from the cold or the emotions she was feeling from laying prone on the ground, representing the lives she thought had been lost in the four decades since abortion, became wasn’t clear. Likely it was a combination of both.

Speed-dating, anti-abortion style

By this time, I was ready to go to the hotel and really see the march participants up close. The Renaissance was easy to find once I came within a block, due to the throng of tour buses, cabs and bodies milling about in front. Inside, the lobby was pure chaos. Pools of teens milled about, luggage everywhere, as their chaperones were up at the registration desks waiting patiently to check their groups in. I’ve never been to summer camp, but I imagine that is what the first day drop-off must look like, as students greeted each other with hugs and squeals, knocking each other over with the enthusiasm and awkwardness of adolescence. The grown-ups were outnumbered 10 to 1 and I finally started to grasp what the anti-abortion activists told me repeatedly about the March for Life being predominately a young person’s movement.

Barrelling my way through and downstairs, I grabbed a bench, intending to check email while I waited for a legal conference to begin. Instead, one by one leaders I had never met face to face began filtering by, all stopping to say hello. Soon I found myself discussing state legislation with Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life, a legal group dedicated to using state legislatures to create laws to make abortion inaccessible, if not overturn Roe altogether. Soon Jeanne Monahan-Mancini, the director of March for Life, was joining us and then anti-abortion blogger Jill Stanek (Stanek, whom I have interviewed on multiple occasions for articles, was the one who encouraged me to attend the march and see what the anti-abortion movement is really like in action). The next thing I knew we were all taking pictures together, joking about how once the photos were out I would be kicked out of the pro-choice movement.

Too many people and too much information became a theme for me for the next few hours. The first hour of the law conference was more like a speed-dating session than anything else, as activist after activist came up to the podium and gave a two-minute speech about the key project they were currently working on. During that time I had confirmation of something that I had already suspected – the movement truly had a parallel universe from the “mainstream”, and it was a universe that they were carefully and deliberately constructing.

The “us versus the rest of the world” theme was consistent through the panels I attended. According to anti-abortion leaders, there is media and then there is “pro-life” media: the news sites, cable channels, radio shows and podcasts meant to provide an alternative to a “pro-abortion” biased world view. I learned about the importance of pro-life and Christian viewpoint movies as a means of combating “Big Hollywood”, or thinktanks to offer alternative studies to fix “biased” facts.

Wandering through the expo in the hotel basement solidified that feeling of a pro-life counterculture. Pro-life shirts, rosaries with a tiny foetus ensconced in the beads, even “pro-life” cheques so you can be sure that when you pay your bills you can also promote the belief that life begins at conception and abortion is never a viable alternative.

For every entertainment, product and service, there is a “pro-life” counterpart. It made me start to wonder – was the goal to have a completely separate culture that they could feel comfortable in without being forced to interact with the rest of us, or to infiltrate the mainstream and take it over?

“Do you like Frank Capra movies?”

“Well, of course we want to get into the mainstream,” Stanek said. By this point, she and I were having an early dinner at the hotel and she was curious about my reaction to everything I’d witnessed through the day. I had told that the part that stuck out to me most was this idea of an alternative culture that could stand as a complete counterpart to the world the rest of us interacted in, creating its own reality that anti-abortion and especially Christian conservative true believers could exist in, untouched.

“Do you like Frank Capra movies?” asked Arizona lawyer John Jakubczyk.

Stanek had introduced me to Jakubczyk as we were heading out of the Pro-Life Youth Rally. The moment I recognised his name as that of the lawyer working with Pro-Life Action League in the 80s and 90s, when anti-abortion movement “godfather” Joe Scheidler was accused by the National Organization of Women of coordinating a nationwide attempt to shut down abortion clinics with blockades and sabotage, we became so immersed in conversation she decided she would have to invite him along or we would never make it to the restaurant.

Jakubczyk posed his belief that Capra, the director behind iconic movies like It’s a Wonderful Life and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, was all about using his films to embody his religious and pro-life worldview into the mainstream. “Look at when they bring bread and wine over to the Martins’ new house,” he argued. “Of course it’s part of their cultural traditions. But it’s also obviously meant to be a reaffirmation of communion.”

While activists like Jakubczyk and Stanek may want to infiltrate the mainstream, others are just as happy to stay “in the bubble” of their own world.

“We’d be more than happy to keep separate,” Andy Moore told me as we had a beer at the Dubliner a few hours later.

Drinking with “the enemy”

The Dubliner, an Irish pub a few blocks away from the hotel, is the place to be whenever an anti-abortion event is happening in town. I arrived at the bar with Stanek, her son-in-law Andy Moore, a long-time abortion opponent from New Zealand who now works for Americans United for Life, Matt Yonke, the assistant communications director from Pro-Life Action League in Chicago, and Mark Harrington, the director of Created Equal, a new anti-abortion group that schismed off the Center for Bioethical Reform but continues the CBE mission of inserting larger-than-life graphic abortion images and videos into the public square. The car full of adversaries, many of whom I have said horrible things about online and in print, should have been uncomfortable. Instead, Yonke and I spent most of the short ride showing each other baby photos and debating who was the best narrator in the Thomas & Friends series – Ringo Starr or George Carlin.

While I was pledging my loyalty to Ringo, the rest of the car was still trying to process the news that they had just heard regarding the proposed federal 20-week “foetal pain” abortion ban. The legislation, which is based on a claim that a foetus is capable of feeling pain by at least 20 weeks post-conception, or 22 weeks’ gestation, a fact that has been rejected by the UK’s Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and many other mainstream medical professional groups, was supposed to pass the US House of Representatives in a vote the following day – the day of both the actual March for Life and the 42nd anniversary of Roe. Instead, news was spreading at 8 pm that the bill was being pulled for retooling and would no longer be up for a vote.

Everyone I encountered was shocked and furious. While most would have preferred to see a bill that allowed absolutely no exceptions for any situation once a person was 22 weeks pregnant, they were holding their nose over a limited allowance that would let a person who was pregnant as a result of sexual assault still have an abortion, as long as she reported the rape to the police. That exception had become a hot potato with GOP women and moderate Republicans in the House, however, and they were allegedly refusing to vote in favour of it unless the exception could be extended to all rape victims, whether they reported the act or not.

Now, the anti-abortion activists’ loyalty for providing a unified front and their prize for encouraging voters to choose pro-life Republican candidates in the November 2014 midterm elections was being thrown in their faces. They felt as if the GOP was saying that their votes were guaranteed, regardless of how watered down their anti-abortion bills became.

The activists I was with were no longer willing to keep silent.

While the Dubliner is always a centre for pro-life activist networking and glad-handing, especially during the march, on this particular night it was also a place to decide what sort of protest should occur to prove just how angry the activists were about this sudden betrayal. Mahoney, who had already been planning a prayer event in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office for the following morning to remind the GOP leader that he had pledged to support pro-life causes, was eager to see a sit-in inside Rep. Renee Ellmers’ office, too. “It has to be led by women, though,” he said, referring to the fact that Ellmers, who was the face of the GOP defection on the 20-week ban, cited her belief that it would hurt the Republican party with women voters if the bill was too extreme and was being backed by most if not all of the Republican women in the House.

Stanek was eager to spearhead. “This is the sort of thing I would be willing to get arrested over,” she agreed.

They were still working on details as I left the bar, a little shellshocked. One thing I had prepared myself for as I agreed to cover the march was the inevitable situation where I would end up in a debate about abortion rights – the “conversion” portion, as I had been jokingly calling it in my head. Although I was entering the arena officially as a reporter, I knew the opportunity to try and debate with me, and especially to change my mind, was going to be too tempting for everyone to ignore forever, and I wasn’t wrong.

It started with Operation Rescue’s Troy Newman offering to help me go “even further undercover” by giving me a “precious feet” pin, a tiny golden set of baby feet meant to represent a foetus at 10 weeks in the womb, the age of gestation in which he said most abortions in the US occur. It was a soft sell, an easy opening that later brought me over to his table to talk about some story ideas I had about his group and their history.

“I haven’t had a conversation like this since Judy Thomas,” he joked, referencing one of the authors of Wrath of Angels, the 90s book currently considered the definitive history of the anti-abortion movement.

I relaxed, flattered by the comparison, since the book was part of what led me into researching anti-abortion activists in the first place.

The next thing I knew, Newman was questioning my parents’ church background and how I could have grown up without any values instilled in me by a formal weekly religious training. “Wait, so were they atheists? They didn’t take you to church? Did they hate churches? So how did you develop any moral code? You do believe in a moral code, don’t you?”

I scurried back to my beer, only for Moore and Yonke to ask if I wanted to go outside for a bit. Their questioning was much gentler, as if they felt the need to handle me with kid gloves out of fear I would run away. “We just never get the chance to really talk to someone like you without it getting defensive or angry,” Yonke explained, almost apologetically.

Unsurprisingly, no one changed each others’ minds, and no conversions were accomplished, but I was ready to call it a night. After all, tomorrow was the actual march itself.

Day 2: “We are the pro-life generation!”

Breakfast with the Duggars

In some ways, the march itself was my least favourite event of the conference. I started the day with a 7 am radio interview and then raced to the headquarters of the Family Research Council, a “pro marriage and pro-life” advocacy organisation, arriving about 15 minutes late for ProLifeCon, the conference for anti-abortion bloggers and media. By the time I sat down, Star Parker was wrapping up her speech and Miss Delaware was coming on to discuss how she turned her time as a beauty pageant winner into a platform to talk about pro-life issues. Next came a young couple who had chosen not to abort after they had learned their unborn baby had anencephaly and would die soon after birth. Instead they dedicated their pregnancy to giving him every experience they could think of while he was still in the womb, creating a Facebook page called “Shane’s Bucket List” to honour his existence and very short life.

Scattered throughout the speakers was live video of the Duggars, the gestationally prolific family of American reality TV show 19 Kids and Counting, with a handful of younger Duggars being interviewed by Josh, their big brother and a Family Research Council employee.

What I was mostly there to see, however, were the politicians. I was interested in learning how their speeches to the activists might change in the wake of the failure of the 20-week ban the night before, and I wasn’t disappointed. Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, widely believed to be a viable 2016 Republican presidential candidate, expressed his sorrow that the bill was pulled, but reminded the crowd that the real victory is a bill that will pass all branches of the legislature, not just introducing one that can never get enough votes.

Republican Senator Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, a 20-week ban senate bill sponsor, agreed. “I hope and pray that we can find a way to resolve the current conflict about definitions,” he said, referring to the internal battle over how to define rape. “If we do not, shame on us all, because this is a debate worth having.”

The “non-traditional” pro-life alliance

Determined not to be late for absolutely every event that day, I quickly left and dashed for the march itself, pledging to make it to the one rally I was the most anxious to see. Destiny Herndon-DeLaRosa of New Wave Feminists, a feminist anti-abortion group from Texas, had invited me to their pre-march press conference, where they were announcing a new coalition of “non-traditional” pro-life groups to remind the mainstream activists that there must be room for those who don’t fit the “white, male, Catholic” stereotype.

“Peace cannot be attained by factions,” said Aimee Murphy, president of Life Matters Journal, announcing the new alliance between Democrats for Life, Secular Pro-Life, Feminists for Non-Violent Choices, And Then There Were None (ATTWN), the ministry for former abortion clinic workers, and others. The new alliance pledged to create an inclusive movement that didn’t reject members because of their sexual orientation, their religious beliefs or lack thereof, their youth, race, or even if they had ever worked in what they referred to as “the abortion industry”.

“The idea that you have to be this kind of pro-lifer has to end,” said Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood worker who now runs ATTWN and has become a staunch “no exceptions” anti-abortion activist who even rejects hormonal forms of contraception as “harmful” to women.

“If you are pro-life I’ll link arms with you,” said Johnson.

“We love babies, yes we do!”

My original plan had been to actually march with the feminist wing of the anti-abortion movement, but soon I was antsy and wanted the chance to experience the entire march completely as an independent participant. I started to wander to the official pre-march rally, a stage surrounded by jumbotrons, and worked my way slowly back through the crowd.

And back. And back.

I will be honest – as a pro-choice activist I had always found it hard to believe the crowd estimates that I would hear about the number of people at the March for Life. But I easily saw a few hundred thousand people standing at the rallies, lining the sidewalks and streets, looking for their schools or churches, or otherwise milling about.

They were young. Bryan Kemper of Stand True Ministries told me Wednesday that about 75% of the people attending the march were students and I scoffed. I was wrong. They were everywhere. Church groups, Catholic schools, seminaries, high schools and colleges; students were everywhere.

Many of the groups were clustered with matching stocking hats, used as a way to help them stay together. I eventually found myself immersed in a pool of purple stocking caps, all from high schools in Louisiana, and that was where I decided to stay while I waited for the march to officially begin.

“Can I march with you?” I asked one of the slightly more grown-up, in charge looking purple-hatted members. “Y’all look like you are having the most fun so far.”

It was hard to miss the group. A drummer had joined them, and was setting up the beat while the students danced. Every few minutes the kids would burst out with a new chant, some traditional, (“WE! ARE! THE PRO-LIFE GENERATION!”) others a little less so (“HEY! OBAMA! YOUR MAMA CHOSE LIFE!” and “I’M A FORMER EMBRYO! I DESERVE THE RIGHT TO GROW”).

The chants continued throughout the march as I worked my way further through the crowd, finding new pockets of people to watch. On one corner I spotted activists vying to eliminate rape exceptions from all anti-abortion legislation. In another portion of the walk I found myself directly behind burly men in leather carrying a banner reading “Professional Bikers for Life.” I even passed an evangelical street preacher on the sidewalk castigating the mostly Catholic marchers, telling them to repent and turn to Jesus.

For a reporter accustomed to covering anti-abortion events like Good Friday vigils or 40 Days for Life silent witnesses, the march was a completely different event – full of joy and energy and youthful exuberance. Still, there were moments of discontent and disagreement even among the unified ranks.

I was surrounded by students from a pro-life university group when we hit a stretch of sidewalk that made them turn away in disgust. A jumbotron was showing videos of abortions being performed in close and graphic detail. Soon after came a series of large posters six feet tall, showing more images of foetal remains – some whole, some unattached limbs, all bloody.

“Come on, I’m pro-life, I don’t need to see this!” one student griped to a friend.

“They are too much!” another agreed, referring to the posters. “Kids come here.”

Once they had passed the photos, however, the images seemed mostly forgotten and the students were back to their former enthusiasm for life.

I continued to work my way through the crowd, trying to get to the end goal of the Supreme Court, but everyone around me was slowing down. I once more ran into John Jakubczyk, my dinner companion from the night before, and slowed down for a bit to chat with him and an adviser to Senator Lindsay Graham. I took pictures of Ryan Bomberger of Radiance Foundation and his family, marching together with smiles on their faces.

Eventually, I could go no further.

I would later find out that the crowd had been stopped by a group of abortion rights supporters, who were blocking the path directly in front of the Supreme Court. Many of them dispersed when the DC police threatened them with arrest, but a handful had refused. The dissenters were members of Stop Patriarchy, a far left group that protests for abortion rights and an end to pornography, which they view as another form of “female enslavement”, and the march was stopped while those activists were being arrested and removed.

As I waited for the throng to start moving again, I heard chanting to my left. Gathered on the steps of the building were about 20 male seminary students, all shouting: “We love babies, yes we do! We love babies, how ’bout you?”

Suddenly, to my right, a gaggle of teenage girls, matching pink stocking caps, answered back: “We love babies, yes we do! We love babies, how ’bout you?”

The seminary students took up the call again. “We love babies, yes we do! We love babies, how ’bout you?” And the teens returned it, giggling. “We love babies, yes we do! We love babies, how ’bout you?” It repeated, at least five rounds, in what could only be described as the oddest pro-life youth flirting ritual I hope I ever witness.

By that point, still unable to move forward and beginning to grow uncomfortable watching the flirtatious banter for life, I decided to try and force my way back through the crowd.

After all, I still had one more protest to attend.

“They won’t arrest me.”

Because of the blockades and police presence along the march route, it took me much longer to get to the protest at Representative Renee Ellmers’ office than I had planned, but once I arrived I learned I had missed very little. Aware that angry abortion opponents were coming to make a stand at her congressional office, Ellmers had left town. Instead of the open door that many of the other GOP offices were offering to visiting activists, Ellmers’ door was blocked by two staffers who stood by with water as a peace offering, but were refusing to let anyone enter.

I worked through the hall crammed with a few dozen protesters and approximately another dozen media, trying to get a closer look. At the door Jill Stanek, Rev. Pat Mahoney and Andy Moore were joined by Students for Life of America president Kristin Hawkins, all urging the staffers to let them inside, but Ellmers’ staff was adamantly not moving.

Stanek, who had been preparing herself all day for a sit-in inside Ellmers’ office, and to be arrested by the police when she refused to leave, was disappointed and visibly emotional. “They won’t arrest me,” she told me, gesturing at the Capitol police waiting on the outskirts of the crowd. “They said the only way they would arrest me is if I break a window or punch someone.”

“Jill,” I replied. “I’m willing to do pretty much anything you want to help you get arrested, but sorry, I’m not going to let you punch me.”

That managed to provoke a small smile, but she was obviously still upset with the way events had unfolded, just one more disappointment on top of the betrayal of the GOP for pulling the 20-week ban in the first place.

As it became apparent that there wouldn’t be any arrests, I decided to call an end to my time as an anti-abortion activist – or at least witnessing as much as I could of their life during their biggest event of the year. It was easier than I had expected to immerse myself into the movement, in part due to the openness and generosity of everyone I met who was willing to share their experiences, their insights and their time with me.

Of course, I had no conversion moment in the end, no matter how many pro-life luminaries I met or how many “precious feet” Troy Newman had to offer me. What I was able to walk away with, however, was a reminder that behind every caricature of an anti-abortion activist is a person with a real story that “radicalised” them to the movement just as much as I was radicalised to my own side – a stillbirth that changed the way an entire church community viewed the lives and losses of infants both born and unborn, a micro premmie from an induced abortion, just below the cusp of viability, clinging to life for a few minutes, comforted by a nurse’s embrace, or the story of a woman tragically and needlessly scarred emotionally by an abortion she didn’t want, but felt she had no other option at the time because of her lack of finances and emotional support.

I will never, ever believe that the rights of a life developing in the womb outweigh the rights of the person carrying it, or that she has an obligation once pregnant to provide society with a live, full-term infant regardless of her own emotional or medical needs. But the march has reminded me once more that those who oppose abortion have their own set of truths that they believe just as much as I believe mine. If there is ever going to be a point where the two sides work to a common end – say on supporting pregnant workers, extending maternity leave and childcare subsidies or ensuring access to quality healthcare – we have to be able to focus on where our interests do actually intersect.

It would be wonderful to find a way to get past that barrier and have policies where we can work with abortion opponents. After all, as I learned at the march, there truly are a lot of them.

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