Evangelicals Gather Before March For Life To Plan Less Angry, Less White Anti-Abortion Movement

The annual March for Life brought thousands of people to Washington, D.C. on Friday, the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision. This year, Focus on the Family and the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission teamed up to create more of an evangelical presence at the heavily Catholic march.  “Our burden was to see the reborn stand up for the unborn," said the Southern Baptists’ Russell Moore on Thursday. At Friday’s march, Focus on the Family’s Jim Daly acknowledged that evangelicals took “a while to come to the party” on abortion.

A few hundred people attended the first Evangelicals for Life conference, which began on Thursday and continued on Friday morning until the rally and march were set to begin. Among the conference speakers, in addition to Moore and Daly, were Charmaine Yoest of Americans United for Life and Samuel Rodriguez of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. 

The day started with Moore and Daly interviewing and praying for David Daleiden, whose videos have been at the center of the latest right-wing effort to destroy Planned Parenthood. Moore gave Daleiden a chance to respond to criticism that his deceptive tactics had required lying, asking if he was engaging in moral relativizing. Daleiden explained that his “undercover” work is different from lying because its ultimate purpose is truth-telling, an extremely dubious claim in this case.

Charmaine Yoest celebrated the anti-choice movement’s success at generating a “tidal wave” of restrictions on abortion, explaining as she did in her remarks at the World Congress of Families summit in October, that those victories were based on a strategic decision to focus on state legislatures, pass restrictions, and create opportunities for the Supreme Court to chip away at Roe. She called it a “stealth strategy” and an “under-the-radar” way to go on the offensive.

Yoest and other speakers argued that the movement’s continued success will depend on putting a more loving, compassionate, woman-focused face on the movement, directly challenging pro-choice advocates who ground their legal arguments in women’s dignity. Yoest described abortion as “fundamentally anti-woman” and abortion advocates as “the true misogynists in our society.”

Rodriguez, as he often does in conservative settings, tried to convince the audience not to “drink the Kool-Aid” about changing demographics being bad news for the anti-abortion movement. Rodriguez said pro-life Hispanics can provide a “spiritual firewall” for the movement.

In reality, progressive-voting Latinos created a firewall for President Obama, which may be why Rodriguez complained that “our voting pattern runs counter to what we preach about on Sunday” and declared, “If we are pro-life on Sunday, if we preach pro-life on Sunday, we cannot support a candidate that advocates abortion on Tuesday.” Rodriguez spoke directly to Latinos, saying it’s fine to march for immigration reform -- “as long as it’s not amnesty or illegal immigration; we need to stop that” -- but “we must be above all things pro-life.”

The most surprising and interesting remarks of the day came from Christian author Ron Sider, a pacifist and anti-hunger advocate who challenged a movement that calls itself pro-life to be more engaged in fighting global poverty, challenging subsidies to the tobacco industry, protecting the environment, fighting racism, and opposing capital punishment. He said white evangelicals would have more success at getting Black Christians into the anti-abortion movement if white Christians became supportive for Black Lives Matter.

Rodriguez also said the future of the movement had to be multiethnic, declaring that “the day of white, angry, pro-life advocates as a collective movement, that day is officially over.” He said that abortion providers target African American and Latino women, which he called “unbridled and unfettered racism.” Rodriguez said he is working with Bernice King, daughter of MLK, to launch later this year the National Christian Leadership Conference, “an organization for the purpose of advancing a culture of life, and we will be specifically targeting the Latino and African American communities.”

A few notes from afternoon breakout sessions:

  • Casey Mattox, an attorney for the Alliance Defense Fund, talked about the anti-abortion movement’s legal and legislative successes at chipping away at the protection that Roe provided for women, and at current cases involving Texas’s restrictive law and states that have moved to bar Planned Parenthood from participating in Medicaid.
  • Roland Warren, president and CEO of CareNet, a network of pregnancy centers, talked about how they reach “abortion-minded people” online through keyword advertising and try to dissuade them by phone calls and email. He said pregnancy centers cannot provide enough support to women who choose to give birth, and called on churches to create specific ministries to provide long-term support.
  • A panel on global issues featured Rodriguez, the Heritage Foundation’s Jennifer Marshall, and Travis Wussow, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission’s Director of International Justice and Religious Liberty. Marshall said the character of our culture affects the ability of the U.S. to lead on the world stage, either casting a shadow or shedding light. She insisted that anti-abortion advocates cannot overlook the entanglement of federal dollars in programs that promote abortion abroad. It makes a huge difference at the United Nations, she said, whether there’s a pro-life or pro-choice administration in the U.S. Asked whether she sees a link between abortion issues and the Obama administration’s promotion of gay rights as part of U.S. foreign policy, Marshall said that the State Department advances both, adding that “the idea of created reality, we are created in the image of God male and female, those Genesis 1 and 2 truths, all of them are being challenged right now. So there is an ontology, biblical anthropology, that is going to be very, very critical for churches to teach and to form young people."