Gallagher: A Moving Message


Thirty-six years ago today, the Supreme Court issued its decision in the case of Roe v. Wade, discovering an emanation from the penumbras of the Fourteenth Amendment that guaranteed the right to legal abortion.

Every year since then, anti-abortion protesters have marked the anniversary of that decision by flocking to Washington for the National March for Life, filling the Mall and its surroundings with placards and banners and the sounds of speeches and slogans. They come from every part of the country and every walk of life. Women and men, Democrats and Republicans, plumbers, priests, politicians and professors march side by side. They come in numbers: the march is too loosely organized to take an exact count, but today, a couple hundred thousand marchers (including myself and a few carloads of students from Yale) are expected to show up in Washington, with more taking part in local marches around the country. It is one the largest grassroots movement in America.

The marchers are in Washington today not to advocate any obscure moral theory or arcane religious doctrine, but to defend the principle that innocent human life is not to be destroyed, that it has a dignity that does not have to be earned and that no one is so inconvenient as to deserve destruction. It is commanded in the Bible, cherished by philosophers of the Enlightenment, enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and confirmed in the conscience of all but the most deranged. It ranks among the first principles of ethics and justice.

On this principle, the marchers against abortion advance a straightforward argument. At the moment of conception, what is conceived is a living human organism, and like every other human being, has an undeniable claim to human rights — among these the one to life. To declare the unborn child a nonperson is to play a dehumanizing game of definitions, to end its life is to kill a human being and to allow such killing is an intolerable injustice.

Such is the argument against abortion that the marchers bring with them to Washington today. There are other arguments to be made against Roe v. Wade; plenty of legal scholars, even those in favor of abortion rights, agree that the decision was not well thought out. But at the march today, few people will look to constitutional law. They make their case on an appeal to humanity. Their argument is simple and clear; to deny it takes some cleverness.

But defenders of abortion rights are not short on cleverness. Some argue that abortion, while a serious moral issue, is a personal matter, and no one has any right to condemn another’s decision. Others argue that an unborn child is too undeveloped, too unintelligent a human organism to merit human rights. And then there are those who consider the financial and emotional burdens of parenthood.

Most of the marchers in Washington today are aware of these arguments — and completely unmoved by them.

For those of us marching today, and to like-minded people everywhere, the social or personal benefits of abortion are completely irrelevant. The millions upon millions of abortions performed over the past 36 years are a human tragedy, an enormity before which all other concerns pale in importance. The marchers are not prepared to accept that a matter of life and death should be a matter of choice; if the pressures of modern society make abortion inevitable, they are ready to change society.

For them, abortion is primarily neither a women’s issue nor a religious issue but an issue of countless human lives cut short with the complicity of the law. And they will not accept that. They challenge our society to welcome even the smallest, the least significant and the least convenient.

And year after year, on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, they return to the capital with their banners and slogans. There is, of course, scant chance that Roe v. Wade will be overturned any time soon, but they march not only to influence political opinion, but also as a matter of principle. Those pouring into Washington today on trains and on buses, in church vans and in cars, are people who love their country — and who, precisely because they love their country, are appalled that its law denies the most basic protection to the unborn.

Even to those who disagree with its objects, the March for Life must appear a powerful symbol: citizens raising their voices in protest, with nothing to gain but the knowledge of having stood up for a good cause. In the great tradition of the moral gadflies responsible for most of the social change in history, they demand to be heard, especially by those who would rather not hear from them. They have no qualms about making the rest of us uncomfortable; when it comes down to it, we all ought to feel a little uncomfortable about abortion.

Kevin Gallagher is a junior in Pierson College.


  • Hieronymus

    Brave article. Good luck, Kevin!

  • Tore

    The author is obviously ignorant of the true nature of this yearly protest. The issues aside, it is arguably the most hateful and disastrous event in DC every year. Ask anyone who works anywhere near the Mall and they’ll tell you how awful it is – no one within a 4 block radius can get any work done because the mob is blasting hateful rhetoric and (sometimes amusingly misinterpreted) music at high volume. All of the local Catholic schools give the day off to students who want to go to the party so they can fill the Mall with bodies, since otherwise it would be a thin crowd. Aside from the hostile environment it creates for anyone working there (particularly young females) it is also the messiest day of the year, as the attendees leave heaps of garbage and horrid posters all over the place for the city and its inhabitants to clean up. Like the movement itself, the yearly mobbing of the Mall is anything but noble or dignified – it’s a masturbation festival for those who without the capacity for self-examination.

  • yalemom

    Bravo Mr. Gallagher!! Thank you for speaking out for those whose voices have been MURDERED! Good luck with the March and may your efforts one day save the lives of many.

  • Yale 08

    Well written.

    Stand for justice.


    Tore…you sound bitter and angry. I do agree that the prolifers should mind their manners and not leave such a mess. But the argument of defending life should always be the bigger picture.

  • Y11

    Well said

  • B@T

    I appreciate this column’s directness. Down with abortion.

  • Branford ’10

    Kevin, you have the right to do what you want with your body, women deserve the same. To claim that it’s not a religious issue, or an issue of women’s rights, is simply disingenuous. The idea that life begins at conception is not a definitive fact, but a subjective belief. I would never impose my spiritual beliefs upon others or campaign for them to be written into law, and I deserve the same level of decency and respect from others.

  • Br ’10

    “At the moment of conception, what is conceived is a living human organism, and like every other human being, has an undeniable claim to human rights”

    Approximately 50% of fertilized eggs will fail to be implanted in the uterine lining and will thus naturally abort. If someone really believes that life begins at conception they should be outraged and heartbroken about this terrifying fact. But maybe the pro-life position is about something else, like controlling women’s bodies and advancing the belief that a woman’s purpose in life is to be a mother.

  • Ohplease

    Typical anti-choice drivel (although it was written better than most articles on the topic). Anti-choicers are some of the biggest hypocrites around – most of you don’t actually value all lives equally and most of you don’t actually care about lives post-birth. How many “pro-lifers” support the death penalty? How many “pro-lifers” support wars (where some innocent people will always die)? How many of you are actually involved in helping women put unwanted children up for adoption or counseling women who’ve been raped and find themselves pregnant and judged as terrible humans for not wanting their rapist’s offspring? How many of you help single teenage moms now stuck with kids they don’t know how to take care of? How many of you scream at people outside of Planned Parenthood or think birth control is sinful?

    And at #9 – I totally agree. If someone decided tomorrow that men should get vasectomies after fathering a few kids, you can bet there’d be an uproar. But making decisions about women’s bodies is A-OK in the minds of half the senate and the author of this article. And, ironically, most pro-lifers call themselves Republicans. I thought a big tenet of conservatism was state and individual rights (don’t you guys say you don’t want government involved in like anything?). Doesn’t seem to apply for this issue (or a lot of other ones). Let me say this loud and clear – LEAVE US ALONE.

  • Alum

    Why is that anti-choice people act as if though women WANT to get abortions? 99.9% of women who end up getting an abortion are not doing it for kicks. There are health risks associated with abortions and it’s obviously emotionally traumatic. I’m not sure I could do it. But at the same time, I would never deny another woman the right to choose it as an option.

    Also, people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. So many of you who are religious don’t practice what you preach. It’s part of what has gotten the GOP into trouble – they pass judgment on people but don’t live up to their own ridiculous standards.

  • ’11

    This editorial reminds me of The Clouds. I bet Kevin Gallagher will understand why.

  • TC ’11

    @ #8: if life does not definitely begin at conception, then when does it begin?

  • Gina Waldmeisterin

    Tore, even though you have so much to say about the March for Life as if you were there, I bet you were not. I was at the March, but I can relate to nothing of your description. The marchers did not shout angry things. For the most part they talked amongst themselves, sang, prayed. As far as the crowd being “thin” without the local Catholic school children: Most of the marchers were our (college) age.

    Branford ’10: The idea that life does not begin at conception is a subjective belief. Or can you prove definitively otherwise? ….Fertilized eggs abort naturally, that is a fact. Such is the ecology of the body.

    Ohplease, I understand what you are saying. But I know plenty of pro-life people against war. (I’ve participated in anti-war demonstrations myself. –And I’m not Republican and I never will be!) We ought not make generalizations though. And I haven’t met a pro-life person who is pro-vasectomy.

    Anti-abortion does not mean anti-women-who-have-abortions. I can tell you personally, that although the Catholic Church is against abortion (unless it would save either the mother’s or the child’s life, whereas no abortion would cause the mother and child to die), the Church above all offers the mercy and forgiveness of Christ. I know people who’ve left the Church, who’ve given up on hope. But there is hope.

  • Tore

    Actually, I was there for a couple of years when I was working for the Smithsonian Institution in one of the museums on the Mall after my undergrad. People actually have CDs of music specifically for that day that they play at high volume to try to block out the sound of the protest which is very distracting and effectively halts work for the day if you have the misfortune of being anywhere near the sides of the building. I was in fact harassed, pictures of dead babies and garbage were left everywhere and the vast majority were absolutely young school children, nice try though. (Liberalism and education correspond for a reason after all, particularly in places that dare to force students to be challenged more both socially and ethically than Yale.) Even satellite photos of the city the day after would reveal the date I have no doubt, that’s how bad the garbage is the next day. Defacement of museum exhibits is also notoriously high on this day every year.

    Per your other points, claiming that life begins at any given point should probably be left to biologists, no? I imagine that you don’t have anything to offer aside from a “subjective belief” either. Biologists do, due to an observational view of reality, tend to view them as undifferentiated cell masses that are likely to be naturally aborted anyway however, so I’m sure trusting them is out of the question.

    The point the other commenter was trying to make I believe was that Pro-Birthers tend to enjoy telling others what to do but don’t seem to be very active in adopting themselves, or promoting prenatal health or tending to the quality of life or natural longevity. And many pro-birthers are the first to say we shouldn’t pay taxes to imprison people – just kill them and be done with it. Funny how that works.

    Having an abortion seems to be a difficult decision to make to begin with, the last thing we need is people being damned for doing what they feel is best for the child, the system or the world at large.

  • ’11

    As a biology major, and a self styled scientist of sorts, i would say that ‘when life begins’ is a complicated question. You could interpret life as never really ending (or beginning on an individual level) so much as continuing in unbroken form from parent to child – life certainly doesn’t seem to be created de novo very often. Or you could interpret life as beginning when a zygote is formed, or when a fetus is viable. Or life could begin with gametes – in which case masturbation or menstruation could be considered murder! It’s a highly subjective question, and one that i think is perfectly accessible to non-scientists, as long as they have a good foundation in human development to work off of (i have a feeling that most people who pontificate on abortion don’t). But it’s important to recognize (and i included a silly example to this aim) that your interpretation of when life begins *is* subjective, and that’s a tenuous basis for legislation (i.e., anti-abortion legislation). So are religious beliefs. I’m sure even the most profoundly religious people can realize that their religious beliefs should not be the basis for laws that apply universally to people of many faiths, or no faith at all.

  • Yale 08

    There is no essential difference between a zygote and a baby. Only a few meals.

    That is why life begins at conception.

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