I debated with myself on whether to call this article the celebration of our moral superiority, the commodification of our moral superiority, or the gentrification of our moral superiority. Pick one.
On October 10 Orthodoxy in Dialogue published my “Abortion, Contraception, and Christian Faith.” In a world where the tragic reality of abortion has always existed and will never go away, it argues—reluctantly, for I am the father of five and grandfather of two whom I would not wish unborn—it argues for the moral imperative of keeping abortion legal, accessible, and performed by properly trained and licensed medical professionals.
The premise of the article was meant to be simple, easily understood by all: when we cannot save two lives, we have a moral obligation to save one. If abortion stops a beating heart, back alley abortion stops two beating hearts. Ensuring the accessibility of legal abortion signals to a woman that the sanctity of life includes the absolute sanctity of her life, regardless of what decision she makes with respect to her pregnancy: we want our wife, mother, sister, daughter to come home from the clinic alive. Is this so hard to understand?
(NOTE: Canon 2 of St. Basil the Great shows no less concern for the life of the woman having an abortion than it does for the unborn child: “For in most cases the women die in the course of such operations.” St. Basil’s care for women’s lives goes completely unaddressed in the movement to deny women access to legal, professional abortion.)
I did not question, but affirmed, the Church’s teaching on the creation of a new human person at the moment of conception. (See, I didn’t even resort to the meaningless human-life-begins-at-conception trope—for what is “human life” if not the life of an individual human person?—but affirmed that a human person begins at conception.)
The article quickly shot to the top of the charts, and remains Orthodoxy in Dialogue’s fifth most read article out of 105 to date. A week later it was picked up by Milwaukee Independent. In Orthodoxy in Dialogue’s Facebook group it remains one of our two most discussed articles since we went to press in August. According to WordPress analytics it was shared almost 60% more times than our most popular article. In addition to public discussions in our Facebook group and on other people’s timelines, it generated the highest volume of private correspondence with the editors.
Publicly and privately, every woman without exception thanked me for the article. We are talking about Orthodox women deeply immersed in the life of the Church: women theologians, wives of theologians, wives of priests, church school teachers, weekly receivers of Holy Communion who will never have a public profile in the Church beyond doing the dishes after the parish lunch Sunday after Sunday—and mothers, almost every one of them. They understood, all of them, that nowhere did my article “condone” abortion.
The men, with very few exceptions, defaulted to moral outrage. When I asked hypothetically which pro-life father among them, faced with a pregnant 16-year old daughter determined to have an abortion, would refuse to drive her to a distant clinic in order to prevent her going to a nearby back alley charlatan, not a one of them could answer the question.
That a father can even consider letting his daughter die because he disagrees with her decision boggles the mind.
On January 10 the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) announced that its primate, Metropolitan Tikhon, at the request of Archbishop Demetrios, primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (GOA) and ex officio chairman of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America, would deliver the opening prayer at Washington DC’s 45th annual March for Life. The announcement goes on to inform the site’s readers of this year’s theme — “Love Saves Lives” — as well as where to find information on the Rose Dinner and the March for Life in general.
Dinner tickets are $100 per person for early birds, $115 for procrastinators. Tables of ten can be reserved for $150 per person, which ensures “preferred seating” over people who don’t have nine friends. At $250 per person, diners at tables of ten get the navel-gazing pleasure of admiring their names in the event program and on-screen during the dinner.
Then there’s the expo, where vendors can hope to recover many times over the $750 fee for a booth to sell their teeshirts, ball caps, and other doodads.
Finally, you can donate to the Education & Defense Fund. Aside from “year-round pro-life education and legislative work,” no details are provided on how donations are spent. Googling “march for life education and defense fund” does not take you to a more detailed, more transparent, more informative page on the March for Life website, but to two outside sites named GuideStar and Idealist. The mission statement on the two sites is similar:
The mission of the March for Life is to provide pro-life Americans with a place to testify to the beauty of life and the dignity of each human person. Both in January, on the anniversary of legalized abortion in the U.S., and throughout the year we bring together pro-life leaders and groups to organize, fraternize and strategize around a common message, and to communicate that message to the government, the media, and the nation in a way that is beautiful, youthful, and life-affirming.
Under “Our Programs” GuideStar lists…the march, conference, and expo. That’s it. Nowhere did I find anything about “year-round pro-life education and legislative work.”
At this point it’s less clear to me than ever before how women and their pre- and post-birth children benefit from any of this in a measurable, demonstrable way. But one thing has become astonishingly clear: hotels, the airlines, travel agencies, restaurants, convention centres, caterers, teeshirt and ball cap manufacturers, vendors and exhibitors, cab companies, etc. etc. must love Washington’s March for Life.
- There have been dramatic declines in US abortion rates
- These declines are due to decreased numbers of unintended pregnancies (no mention of the effectiveness of March for Life)
- Decreases in unintended pregnancies are due to improved contraceptive use (no mention of the effectiveness of abstinence teaching)
- Most significant of all, abortion is increasingly concentrated among poor women. You know, the kinds of women most likely to be thrown under the bus with their children by the “pro-life” party and its “pro-life” president.
What on earth is the pro-life movement fighting? Why on earth are we marching? How many babies have 45 years of marching saved? (Probably none.)
How many babies would be saved if we focused our “education and legislative work” on universal access to contraception?
How many babies would have been saved if 45 years of money spent on hotels, airfare, restaurants, convention centres, caterers, teeshirts, ball caps, and cab rides had been diverted to poor women who can’t afford contraception—or worse, who can’t afford a child that they want to keep with all their heart? March for Life boasts that hundreds of thousands of people show up each year. That’s an awful lot of money stolen from poor women who want to avoid pregnancy, or who want to have their baby, but can’t afford either option.
Indeed, indeed, a voice is heard in Ramah, Rachel weeping for her children who are no more, and she refuses to be consoled…because we could have done so much for her and her children in the last 45 years, but we settled for an annual photo op and fancy dinner instead.
In Guttmacher Institute’s September 2017 report entitled “Induced Abortion Worldwide: Global Incidence and Trends” we learn that the abortion rate in Eastern Europe—you know, where most Orthodox live—is higher than the global average and more than double that of the US, Western Europe, and Northern Europe. “The West” has the lowest abortion rates in the world…and yet we march and march and march, and spend and spend and spend (on all the wrong things), and delude ourselves into thinking we’re actually doing something useful.
When the Son of man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. Before Him will be gathered all the nations.
Then the King will say to them:
I was a pregnant woman living in poverty: hungry, thirsty, in need, alone. What did you do for me? What did you do for the child that I was knitting together in my womb?
And they will say to Him:
We marched. We bought teeshirts and ball caps. We attended the Rose Dinner. We got ourselves on TV wearing our klobuks and riassas and panagias. That wasn’t enough?
“Love saves lives” indeed. We can do so much better. We must do better.
Giacomo Sanfilippo is the father of five and grandfather of two, a PhD student in Theological Studies at Trinity College in the University of Toronto, and an editor at Orthodoxy in Dialogue.