I attended the Rally for Life at the Texas Capitol with some of my friends from the University Catholic Center this past Saturday. I went hoping that this rally’s speakers would have more nuanced approaches than those who spoke at the same rally in 2010. I based that hope on my thoughts that this year the rally would happen out of the glare of national electoral politics and absent an intraparty primary fight.
At the event, the most effective speakers were former Planned Parenthood employees and those who had sought abortions, but were now campaigning against the practice. It is not uncommon for prominent women to take stances against abortion. Argentina’s president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, who has passed legislation legalizing gay marriage and gender self-identification, resists efforts to legalize abortion. She had a miscarriage in 1984. Even Naomi Wolf, a pro-choice feminist activist, encouraged her colleagues to acknowledge the realness of unborn life and the tension between autonomy and responsibility in her essay “Our Bodies, Our Souls, Rethinking Pro-Choice Rhetoric”:
“Say what you will, pregnancy confounds Western philosophy’s idea of the autonomous self: the pregnant woman is in fact both a person in her body and a vessel.”
Wolf dismisses claims that women who change from a pro-choice to a pro-life position are merely trying to garner attention and says that these women want pro-choice feminists like herself to think about what an abortion entails instead of merely dehumanizing the fetus. She goes so far as to affirm that “the pro-life slogan, ‘Abortion stops a beating heart,’ is incontrovertibly true.” That women who have gone through abortions take center stage in the pro-life movement will be essential for its credibility, especially in light of a national scene in which old white men with little knowledge of women’s reproductive health seem to dominate the Republican Party. At this year’s rally, the speakers reflected a notable effort to shift the focus to grassroots pregnancy assistance and to giving resources for mothers to have children. The further the movement goes in addressing women’s concerns, the harder it will be to paint those who oppose abortion as backwards ideologues that want to replace the doctor’s room with the back alley.
Unfortunately, much progress is needed. At the rally, even as I heard calls to action from Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood employee, I heard praise for “the true heroes” of the abortion movement, the legislators lined up next to the Capitol — the same ones that execute prisoners at the highest rate in the country. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst affirmed his belief in the “promise of every life,” but not, I suppose, in the ability of death row inmates to reform themselves, or the dignity of an inmate whose guilt is in question. He lauded Texas’ constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, as if my gay father’s inability to share state benefits with a partner had anything to do with the horrendous realities shown in those typically graphic photos of aborted fetuses. Perry talked about having companions as he “rides into battle” as if this national issue were somehow an Old Western movie with him as the star. The last speaker at the rally quipped, “The federal government believes we should protect our children by taking away our Second Amendment rights ... but we believe in saving babies!”
These partisan jabs hurt what could be an efficacious message. Lauding Texas as the “most pro-life state” in the U.S. while ignoring that it still leads the nation in executions is hypocritical. Heroic cowboy imagery of the lawmaker who saves the damsel in distress pursued by the Big Abortion Monster will do nothing to convince undecided women that abortion opponents don’t want to return them to the corset.
This year, the Rally for Life made some positive adjustments in tone that should help deliver a concise message, essential in today’s society: Abortion is a brutal reality that America must begin to face with honesty.
Knoll is a Latin American Studies senior from Dallas.