2017 saw what was likely the largest single-day demonstration in recorded American history. Organized in response to the election of Donald Trump to the presidency, the Women’s March sought to unite a broad group of movements. Its mission, at least in writing, is to end violence and promote civil rights, disability rights, environmental justice, immigrant rights, LGTBQIA rights, worker’s rights, and so-called reproductive justice. One needs to only listen to the speeches, look up the supporters, and ask who supplies many of the signs to notice that despite this wide visionary scope, there’s a narrow focus at the majority of these events. Want to guess? Bingo: it’s abortion.

On the March’s recent anniversary, I drove to a small, local event that was held “in celebration and fierce resistance with our sisters and allies across the world.” 20 pro-life women welcomed the marchers with signs that indicated respect for all human beings, both born and pre-born. The organizer told the 30-some people who showed up to march that “we acknowledge every woman from past to present who continues to fight for human rights…and for our voices to be heard.” Ironically, less than three minutes later, she instructed the marchers how to respond to the pro-life women present: “Do not acknowledge them!”

This is no different from the way the Women’s March first invited all defenders of human rights to join, yet when pro-life organizations such as Stanton Healthcare signed up, they were removed from the online supporters’ section. Those who showed up anyway were harassed and shouted down. The message is clear: Pro-life women aren’t welcome at the Women’s March. It’s a double standard, no doubt. But is anyone surprised?

The main message of this movement is that women’s rights are human rights and human rights are women’s rights, including safe, legal, affordable abortion. Through our activism, my colleagues and I have talked with countless people who, despite different positions on abortion, agree that all human beings have human rights. We share a common belief that human rights belong to each and every one of us equally. But if not all humans are women, how can women’s rights be the equivalent of human rights? 

The United Nations defines human rights as “those rights which are essential to live as human beings–basic standards without which people cannot survive and develop in dignity. Human rights are inherent to the human person, inalienable and universal.” By that definition, how can women’s rights be human rights, since they are not universal? And can anyone honestly claim that a right to abortion is a basic standard without which women cannot survive and develop in dignity? (Women do not need abortion to survive: more on that in upcoming blog posts in this series.)

This false premise is partly why I ask if anyone is surprised. To say that women’s rights are human rights not only ignores simple logic, it also evidently shows that the only rights that matter are the ones you march for. If not, where’s the condemnation of female gendercide, when female fetuses are aborted simply for being girls? What about women who regret their abortion or were coerced into one? What about women who are allies on every other issue that the protest claims to fight for, except abortion? 

Exclusion, however, is precisely in line with a worldview that boasts advocacy for human rights while denying the humanity of the youngest members of our species. Otherwise, how can one advocate for all women’s rights while fiercely opposing the right to life of women who aren’t born yet? How can you fight for the marginalized when the most marginalized in our culture are those whose “termination” you defend as a woman’s right? 

One of the themes of this year’s Women’s March was “to rise above everything that is in our way.” Around the world many women have great obstacles to overcome, and they deserve our support. The question, of course, is how we rise above. If we acknowledge the scientific truth that each of our lives begin at fertilization, then the pre-born, by definition, is not a thing that is in our way. Instead, he or she is a being, a human being, and we must treat him or her as such.

While I held my sign in Woodstock and watched men, women, and children cheer to chants for equality, my eyes wandered to my friend Hannah’s sign: Our liberation cannot be bought by the blood of our children. Yes, there’s work to be done. No doubt, there is inequality to address. Yet, how can we end violence while subjecting the tiny bodies of little children to an abortionist’s curette or suction machine? Another sign answered that question best. Love them both. 

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