The View from the Ellipse
Right-to-Life Day, 1993. I felt I should be at the Ellipse for Nellie Gray’s Rally on this twentieth anniversary of Roe v. Wade. This year’s rally was ominously different. The man who was outside my window in triumph at Georgetown on the Monday before, greeting the diplomatic corps, was about to do what to me was a shocking thing—remove any restriction on killing the most innocent of our kind. “This is what we have come to?” I thought.
After walking downtown on an overcast day, I got there as ceremonies began. Nellie Gray was introducing many celebrities—Congressman Chris Smith, Senator Jesse Helms, then Congressman Robert Dornan. Dornan recalled his Loyola University days. He wondered if the president had learned anything about conscience while at Georgetown. For the soggy Ellipse, I wore my overshoes. Crowds from local Catholic parishes stood with anti-abortion banners, sometimes clever, sometimes crude, always poignant.
I did not see anyone I knew in the crowd. A priest from Steubenville said hello, as did two earnest young priests from Metuchen there with their bishop. On the podium were five of the six American Cardinals, a message? Cardinal Bernardin was not there. His “seamless garment” doctrine is still a cause of the breakup of Catholic unity on this topic—terrible doctrine, however “logical.” Cardinal Mahony spoke. The bishop of Guam was eloquent. Good Bishop Thomas Welsh of Allentown was there.
But as I watched the Cardinals, just in back of them, the new president, almost defiantly, was negating, on that symbolic day, by an act of pure will, any responsibility to the unborn. As it turned out, he even authorized fetal experimentation, a kind of modern cannibalism. End justifies means.
That evening I went to supper with a wonderful group of alumni from the Saint Ignatius Institute at the University of San Francisco. They were in the just-marrying-and-having-babies stage of young married life. But they knew the score, that this was a sad day in our country’s history. I thought of what Cardinal Ratzinger has been saying to bishops about courage. A shout often heard at the rally to the bishops was to “forget tax exemption, stand for principle.”
That night, after I heard that the president signed those decrees, I woke up. It seemed what? almost diabolical to me, that scene, with the thousands of good people trying to say that human life in all its forms was sacred, while just across the way, in the White House, the man with a Jesuit education was signing into law an order that would put more blood on our hands.
Catholics had the swing vote in this election. The silent bishops surely knew this. Evidently many Catholics voted their pocketbooks, which, as it turns out, would have been more safe had they voted principle. In part, they put this scene I saw before me into being. It seemed eerie to me, in my silence, looking toward the White House from the Ellipse in the mud.
Thoughts on Conversion
I don’t think I ever imagined myself going to a pro-life march. My old roommate from college probably would kill me if she knew. I can imagine her watching the news and seeing me in the crowd; I think her reaction would be one of profound surprise—she thought I was on her side. Well, I guess I have officially confirmed my conversion, although I was never truly easy with the label “pro-choice” when I used the term to define myself. I always found myself qualifying the term.
The march was unremarkable in many ways, and yet totally remarkable. It was incredible to look down Constitution Avenue from the Hill and see people crowding the street as far as the eye could see (granted, my eyesight is not too good); incredible to realize that all these people believe as I do, and have the courage openly to admit it. I think that is what held me back. Most people I know are pro-choice and attach a stigma to being pro-life: radical, kooky. The pro-choice movement is very well organized at the national level while pro-lifers are much more of a grassroots movement. Further, organizations like the National Organization for Women, the National Abortion Rights Action League, and Planned Parenthood have a lot of money for their cause, which is already greatly aided by the prevailing mentality of “rights” in the United States.
I have problems with the “right to choose” argument put forth by the pro-choice movement; I don’t believe it is anybody’s “right” to kill our unborn children. But I also have grave difficulties with “quality of life” arguments. While in school, I constantly heard pro-choice supporters argue that the unborn child’s potential “quality of life” needs to be factored into the decision to abort. In actuality, it is these people’s own “quality of life” with which they are concerned. A friend says to me: “Maybe it sounds selfish, but….” Yes, it sounds selfish, and it is selfish. She, like so many other pro-choicers, simply wants the government (and everyone in the country) to support what she knows, deep down, is wrong—abortion supporters need assurance that it’s okay to take the easy way out. Well, life is not easy, and it’s not okay to take the easy way. I guess I finally realize that I, too, can no longer hedge the issue.
January 22, 1993-12.:45 P.M.
At the Ellipse a sea of signs, one after the other, a festival of colors: Injured by abortion? Call 1-800-YOUCANSUE… Two Victims from Abortion: 1 Killed, 1 Wounded… Impeach Clinton… Abortion You Can Live Without… Syracuse, New Jersey, Connecticut, Wausau, Minnesota, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Hoosier Country ProLife… ProChild not ProChoice… It’s a Child, not a Choice Abortion… Sucks… , 4,000 Babies Aborted Each Day… Abortion is Bloody Murder… Life—What a Beautiful Choice… We Saved Kuwait, We Saved Somalia, and We Murder Our Babies—Ironic!!… Join the Rush Limbaugh Revolution… Clinton and Gore—Kill No More… (Three lost children found, where are their parents?—1 mother seeking 7-year-old)
1:00 P.M. I saw a group of ten young men and women under a banner: “Survivors of ’73“… And still more signs: Mendham, NJ chooses Life… Fetal Tissue Research—Nazism of the ’90s… PA Protestants for Life… “The care of human life and happiness and NOT their destruction is the chief and ONLY legitimate object of good government,” Thomas Jefferson… Thomas Jefferson chose the words “The Right to Life”… Prolife Atheists.
1:1O P.M. Pat Buchanan spoke (“Rush Limbaugh for vice president in 1996”). Crowd fills out from the platform beyond the circular sidewalk to the road… Les Acadiens Pour La Vie… Some babies die by chance, No babies should die by choice.
1:25 P.M. People still crossing the fields; lots of people on the route marked out for the parade lining the avenue. Monessen, Charleroi…
1:45 P.M. Overcast, one streak of brightness through the rolling banks of grey cumulus behind the Washington Monument, as I wait at 15th and Constitution. With a roar, the parade gets underway. Drums begin to beat. A silver jet slowly descends behind the Washington Monument toward National Airport, passing over the flags and white markers in the demonstration cemetery, lined with white crosses and white Stars of David. A brace of orange-hatted Washington Post poll takers, young people, take a poll through the crowd.
Again, the signs glide by: University of Michigan students for Life… You’ll never forget the day you killed your baby… Stop the media bias… Adopt, don’t abort… Thank God I’m adopted, not aborted… The fetus is an innocent human… Gettysburg for life… The natural choice is life… Pro-woman, prolife, feminists for life… (it’s gotten very chilly with the sun behind the clouds.) Ukrainians for life… Fort Wayne, Indiana: When I ask them, they say came by train… Ashtabula for life… Orthodox for Christian life… Canadian flag…
2:00 P.M. 15th & Constitution: Crowds coming from the park blend into the parade that started along Constitution. And more signs: Even Hippocrates valued the unborn… Humans die, not just tissue… We are with you baby, Baltimore, MD… Missouri right to life… Don’t blame me, I voted for Bush… Bill, abortions kill… All are made in God’s image…
2:03 P.M. The front of the line is a long block down Constitution from 15th… Choice before conception, not after conception… RU-486, the baby pesticide?… Only half the patients who enter an abortion clinic come out alive… Hey, Clinton, was Chelsea not alive when she was in the womb?… Presbyterians for life… Abortion stops a beating heart… It’s a girl, not tissue… Equal rights for unborn women… Lutherans for life… Every third baby dies from choice… Save whales, kill babies—some choice! (A great clatter fills the streets. Helicopters overhead.)
… Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.