The March for Life has been and continues to be a powerful defense of the sanctity of life. But the pro-life movement should consider expanding its horizons and looking to related causes that are also worth public demonstrations. Indeed, equally important as protecting the unborn is protecting the institutions of marriage and the family. Now that abortion restrictions are legal, pro-lifers should add a march for all children, not just the unborn.
The harms that children face have multiplied in recent decades, and those who are devoted to the cause for life should take a broader view. A March for Children would recognize the unborn, but also the children harmed by declining respect for marriage and increased use of assisted reproductive technology. It would furthermore underscore the importance of both mothers and fathers for a child’s well-being. The idea behind the March for Children is simple: if the institution of marriage is respected and strengthened, families—most of all children—will flourish. Just as the March for Life focused on the importance of legislative and judicial steps to protect unborn children, a March for Children would fight for legislative policies and judicial decisions that aim at strengthening the institution of marriage, which helps ensure the protection of all children.
The Success of the March for Life
As pro-lifers consider what a March for Children might look like, they should study the March for Life’s successes so that they can build on them. The March for Life began in 1974 when a group of 20,000 marchers met in Washington DC. By 2003, thirty years on from Roe v. Wade (1973), the March attracted around a quarter of a million people. This success has surprised many, especially in light of the increased frequency of abortions between 1973 and the present day.
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But the vast scale and growth of the March for Life speaks directly to the strength of the movement’s argument. Indeed, it focused its language on protecting something inherently and intrinsically good. It is not a march against something, but a march for something. Even more important, it is not just a march for something that is good in particular instances, but rather for something that is irreducibly good in all instances.
By contrast, those who defend access to abortion appeal to personal freedom, which is a good that is not absolute. The limits of personal freedom are recognized in a wide variety of other circumstances: someone has the freedom to pursue a personal hobby, such as playing a musical instrument or painting. But that freedom is limited by that person’s higher duty to his children. There are plenty of circumstances in which limits on personal freedom are necessary to protect more foundational goods, including children in the womb.
A March for Children would share the same advantages as the March for Life: obviously, all children are irreducibly good just as all human lives are; and by focusing the what’s good for children, the March for Children would also stand for something, as it seeks to protect children by defending marriage and family life.
The Strength of a March for Children
As successful and transformative as the March for Life has been, its appeal is obviously limited to those who recognize the personhood of unborn children. Unborn children should certainly be defended, and the continued success of the March for Life will only lead to more babies’ being born and protected.
But as many have made clear both before and after the Dobbs decision, it is time to expand the conversation. Many have emphasized the importance of respecting the whole of life, from conception to natural death. And it is necessary for mothers, especially those without family or resources, to receive support from their communities, churches, and even government.
All of these are valid areas for concern. But focusing on all children for a nationally organized movement would come with certain advantages: concern for children is shared across the political spectrum, and there is less disagreement over who counts as a child than there is over when life begins in the womb. Beyond the broader consensus behind protecting children, they are (as mentioned earlier) a population facing many threats today: redefinitions of marriage and the damages caused by assisted reproductive technology (ART), to name a couple of the foremost.
Children, Marriage, and ART
Both of these threats would be addressed by a March for Children in a coordinated way. First, children are positively harmed by redefinitions of marriage (both redefinitions of its composition and its permanence). Simply observing sociological data, it is no secret that, as Andrew Cherlin writes in his highly acclaimed 2010 book Marriage-Go-Round, children who are raised in stable, two-parent homes, free from recurring transitions of spouses and partners, show much greater emotional health than those who do experience a continual transition in family structure. This would mean a March for Children must push back against the horrific invention of no-fault divorce laws, which undermine the permanence of marriage and repeatedly cause tremendous family transition. Often (though not always), couples end up splitting for no other reason than personal fulfillment at the expense of the developmental well-being of a child.
A March for Children would also confront redefinitions of marriage and would seek to limit it to one man and one woman. For all of the talk about the divorce rate among heterosexual couples, economists Doug Allen and Joseph Price confirm that relationships and marriages that involve multiple persons or are same-sex are far more unstable than their monogamous, heterosexual counterparts. Even more disconcerting, this instability seems to increase if a same-sex couple has children in the home. Again, this instability is a danger to the child’s emotional and social development and so should be stopped in order to protect children from harm.
Additionally, a March for Children would be well served by involvement from those who were harmed as children by ART. ART is a medical innovation that treats children as nothing more than a commodity for one’s own personal fulfillment, with wanton disregard for the emotional health of the child produced. This harm is twofold: first, through ART procreation is accomplished completely out of personal desire, achieved through a financial transaction and an artificial process. If one’s relationship with his child is based on personal desire removed from sex, it weakens his sense of the parental obligation to care for that child, regardless of what his preferences are in that moment. Maintaining the connection between procreation and marital union strengthens a couple’s sense of obligation to their child, since the child results from an act that is by its very nature self-giving.
Second, ART denies a child’s right to both a biological mother and a biological father. Adoption does the same thing, but it is fundamentally different from ART. As Jean C. Lloyd has written in these pages, “Adoption unfolds as a gift to both parties, but it exists to repair something that in the natural order of things would never happen.” Often ART intentionally brings children into the world knowing they will be permanently separated from their biological parents. If ART is used by a single female for the purpose of having a child without a spouse, the child is left with only one real parent. Or if same-sex couples have children, they inevitably rely on a third party’s eggs or sperm. A March for Children should thus also focus on these harms and thereby underline the importance of a biological mother and biological father for a child’s developmental health.
Why a March?
The question remains: why a march for children? Why not just leave things up to lobbying organizations or think tanks? My aim is not to do away with those organizations that are currently doing this good work, but rather to strengthen their work. Marches throughout American history have been used to show grassroots support in a way that no one nonprofit on the Potomac can do. The NAACP is an organization with many chapters and offices around the country, but the most visible and effective strategy during the civil rights movement was getting people out on the streets and organizing the March on Washington in 1963. Similarly, there are many organizations that today fight for the rights of unborn children, but the most visible and effective demonstration of the broad support that exists for the protection of life is the March for Life. There are plenty of organizations that fight for children, but none can be as powerful as thousands of American citizens coming together in the streets.
Indeed, a March for Children could create breakthroughs that might not be possible for the March for Life, as important as it is. The widespread disagreement about when life begins limits what the March for Life can accomplish. While it is good to frame one’s argument around a strong intrinsic good like the life of an unborn child, the argument loses some of its salience if not everyone agrees about when the good comes to exist. A March for Children could be very effective because there are no convincing arguments being advanced in favor of redefining who qualifies as a child once a child is born.
All of these points show the strength of the idea of beginning a March for Children similar to the longstanding March for Life. Creating consensus around what counts as life is not as problematic as defining childhood. Consensus exists on the latter point. The question is, how will we use it to protect those who need protection the most?