“It is my profound honor to be the first president in history to attend the March for Life…” With those words and a heartfelt speech, President Trump addressed 100,000 Americans assembled on the Washington Mall, within earshot of the Supreme Court. Message: Ending a child’s life is morally wrong and does not warrant constitutional protection.
Working my way through the overflow crowd, layered realizations washed over me. This 47th annual March for Life was different – and in significant ways.
As President Trump noted, he was the first president to address the assemblage in person. That said, Ronald Reagan spoke from the Oval Office in 1985, 1986, 1987, and 1988, each time on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the 1974 decision “discovering” a “right to abortion.”
Reagan’s words were earnest, honest, and moving. His essential conviction, as he prodded new thinking, was: Only God knows when human life begins. If we get it wrong, the stakes are grave. We must err on the side of protecting life, rather than risking a mortal error.
Reagan asked, after citing evidence of pain felt in the womb: “Doesn’t the unborn child have a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? Are we to forget the entire moral mission of our nation throughout history?” America was founded on the proposition that morality matters, that all life is sacred; “this is the wellspring of our Constitution.” Reagan said life could not be randomly bounded, for “if we take life for granted anywhere, we take it for granted everywhere.” How simple, straight-forward, and true.
More washed over me. President Trump is not just the first to address this March. He is the first to begin in one place and end in another. He is the first to have gone from unmoved to understanding – to have ignored moral implications, and then recognized them. Just as Reagan migrated from Democrat to Republican vicar, Trump experienced an epiphany on abortion. To the cynical, he is political – but when a shaft of light appears, it is hard to look away.
Third, it washed over me that President Trump is the first president since Roe with an ability – if reelected – to appoint justices who could change the arc of history. Within reach is a chance to alter tens of millions of unborn lives, to reshape the Court and re-anchor the nation morally.
Other waves washed over me. The crowd was overwhelmingly young. That suggests a tectonic shift in thinking, auguring in favor of a temperament change in future leaders.
Notable too was the ebb and flow of this enormous crowd. No one was embattled, throwing things, breaking windows, or shouting wildly. Here marched tens of thousands of people, every race, age, economic and social demographic, no doubt differing in innumerable ways, all peaceable, all exercising that quintessentially American right – free speech.
Beneath the surface was something else. It showed in people’s faces, acts of patience, unprovoked bits of kindness. It showed in how the crowd moved within itself, evolved away from the mall, dispersing without agitation or ignobility. The massive assemblage, bound by a moral cause, had something new: Hope.
Fitting then that President Trump recognized the year as worthy of his presence, worth time – despite modern Washington’s ruckus. The last wave that washed over me was unexpected, wistful, perhaps just wishful. It was an odd wave, perhaps reflecting my own hopes.
The President was bold, as he is wont to be. He attended “to defend the right of every child, born and unborn, to fulfill their God-given potential.” He honored “strong women, amazing faith leaders, and brave students who carry on the legacy of pioneers before us who fought to raise the conscience of our nation.” He observed an “eternal truth” that “every child is a precious and sacred gift from God.”
Father of five, grandfather of ten, he said: “when we see the image of a baby in the womb, we glimpse the majesty of God’s creation.” Could it ever be otherwise? Can cynics and detractors argue the point? Isn’t that gently beating heart a miracle? God’s miracle? Can a baby be explained any other way? I think not.
The President mentioned religious liberty, preserving freedom of speech on campuses, and speaking for those who cannot. “We are the voice of the voiceless.” He contrasted that with those who – in New York and Virginia – cheered legislation legalizing infanticide.
The last wave rocked me gently. The President offered a truism. “We cannot know what our citizens yet unborn will achieve, the dreams they will imagine, the masterpieces they will create, the discoveries they will make… but we know this: every life brings love into this world, every child brings joy to a family, every person is worth protecting.” Resolutely, “we will defend this truth.”
In a curious, comforting way, one wondered if he was not – from a distance – speaking to those whose lives will be changed forever, who will experience life if that conviction comes to pass. If words are cheap, actions are not. This March for Life was heartfelt and historic. May the future deliver the sort of change, reflect the hope, of which the President spoke.