On average I travel to the Netherlands twice a year for presentations in high schools, colleges, and churches. Pro-life apologetics are in high demand, it turns out. Young people overwhelmingly change their mind after learning the truth about abortion and are eager to engage with those around them after hearing the human rights argument. I always go home hopeful yet wishing we could reach more people. You’ll understand my excitement when I was asked to speak at the annual March for Life in The Hague on Saturday, December 8th.
Upon arrival at the speakers tent, I was warmly greeted by Kees and Anne Mieke van Helden. Together they lead Schreeuw om Leven (Cry for Life), a growing pro-life organization with the goal to “apply the truth and love of God on all aspects of life.” Cry for Life organizes the March, has a bi-monthly magazine, and does presentations, educational public outreach, and prayer vigils outside of abortion clinics. One department of the organization, Er is Hulp (There is Help), provides counselling during pregnancy or after an abortion, and has sponsor programs and buddies who support women and their children until long after birth.
The forecast for the day of the March wasn’t promising—cold, wind, and rain all day—but it was dry at the start of the program. “Beautiful,” I commented to Kees, nodding at the skies. “An answer to prayer,” he replied.
Just after 12 noon, Kees and Anne Mieke were introduced to the crowd. Despite the weather forecast, approximately 12,000 people had come from all over The Netherlands. (Attendance has grown drastically in recent years—when I attend the March in 2014 there were some 2,000 people.) Kees had just welcomed everyone to the 26th Silent March for Life when he was interrupted by chants of “Baas in eigen buik!” It’s the well-known slogan of the Dutch pro-abortion movement which literally means to be “boss in one’s own womb,” referring to the argument that a woman’s right to bodily autonomy justifies abortion.
Five women with signs and masks stormed the stage and chanted until they were removed by security and several of them arrested. Kees scratched his planned speech and spoke powerfully in response: “If we think in our society that abortion is a right, where then is the right of the pre-born child?”
“When you’re speaking of the body of the woman,” he continued, “the hands are hers, the head is hers, the womb is hers, but what is growing inside is another body and that body has no rights according to the ladies who just stood here. That’s why we’re here: to be the voice of the 30,000 children who were not allowed to be born this year. That’s 115 each business day. Four classrooms full each day. A whole elementary school each week. These ladies have a voice because their mothers chose to have them. Abortion denies a child the right to even have a voice. And it is not the child who is the problem but the circumstances.”
Concluding his part, Kees read John chapter 8 and reminded the crowd that condemning abortion doesn’t mean judgment toward those who’ve had one. “Whoever is without sin may throw the first stone, Jesus said.” After all, “we stand on the same side of God’s grace.”
Next up was politician Carla Dik-Faber, Member of Parliament for the ChristenUnie (Christian Union), which is currently part of a coalition to help form a majority government. Carla spoke of the practical reasons that lead to abortion and the fund for teenage mothers that her party has initiated.
“Professional help is beautiful, of course, but maybe even more important is an arm around your shoulder. Someone who says to you: you’re not alone. If we know that one in seven pregnancies end in abortion, then it can’t be any different than that all of us know someone who has had an abortion. We know that abortion also happens in the church. The question is how we, Christians, churches, deal with that.”
Probably the most powerful part was the testimony of Joanne, a young woman who despite difficult circumstances chose life for her child. Gert, the father of the baby, struggled with addiction but didn’t want an abortion either. Joanne’s family, whom she lived with and depended on, didn’t agree. They made an abortion appointment for her and, feeling deeply depressed and overpowered, she went.
“I wasn’t allowed to hear the little heart or see the ultrasound,” she shared. “The sound was off and the screen was turned away. While I asked for a picture, I never got one. The abortionist assumed that it was an unwanted pregnancy. When I told him this wasn’t the case, I could see that he was startled, but he continued his daily routine.”
Despite telling him multiple times that she didn’t want the abortion, there was no response. She was prepped for the procedure and offered no help or alternatives. “Think of palm trees and white beaches,” the anesthesiologist recommended before Joanne faded out for 20 minutes.
“With brutal violence my child was demolished out of me . . . There was no aftercare. Then came slowly the realization and accusation against me, out of the darkness and in my head, for what I had done.”
Joanne then told of the hope and forgiveness she and her boyfriend found in Christ, how they married, and now have another child. In the speakers tent, Gert snuggled little Levi.
There was more in store. Politician Kees van der Staaij began his speech asking if we’d noticed that when the words “Break through the darkness with Thy light, as a beam of the sun, straight through the grayness of the clouds” were sung earlier, the clouds had parted and a shaft of sunlight broken through the skies.
Kees has been in Dutch Parliament since 1998, is currently the longest-sitting MP, and party leader of the SGP (Political Reformed Party), a small but vocal and respected Christian party which especially draws attention to life issues. He addressed the personal and cultural pressure to support abortion, and the assertion that being pro-life is a thing of the past.
“But your presence shows it’s not a done deal. The battle continues! If you pay attention, there’s an increasing number of young people who hesitate about whether abortion is right. Not darkness, not lies, not death, but life has the future!”
Some may have wondered how he could be so sure when opposition seems to be on the rise. It was as if Kees could read their minds. “You’re right when you say: I see more opposition in the last while. Look at the women who came onto the podium…But doesn’t the growing opposition have something to do with that that bulwark of bodily autonomy is wavering? That cracks are starting to appear in the walls? Even the protestors are a gift to show us that the battle goes on so let us continue encouraged…And that is why I say: Onward, march!”
Next it was my turn. I’d been asked to teach CCBR’s human rights argument so attendees could go home equipped to make a difference in their own surroundings. A video of this short speech (with English subtitles) can be watched here.
After a closing prayer, the Silent March began: a route of 5 kilometres through the city of The Hague. The police did an excellent job ensuring everything went smoothly. People watched from behind their windows and while waiting on bikes, in traffic, city buses, and trams. I later heard from my parents and several of my siblings of friends and family members they walked with whom I never saw because the crowd was so big. We passed by the Palace of Justice (or Court House) and a church which had been defaced with the slogan “Baas in eigen buik” in black graffiti. Directly above it was the name of the church: Christus Triomfator. “Boss above boss,” someone commented behind me.
Kees and Anne Mieke led the March with a young lady with Down Syndrome. When tired, she excitedly rode along in the police van for the rest of the way. We were almost back at the start when the last participants were just beginning the route. What a day it had been.
Several days later I stood by an elementary school where my sister, in truly Dutch fashion, was picking up her son by bike at the end of the day. One of the moms turned to me: “You spoke at the March on Saturday, didn’t you?” I smiled and nodded. “That really gave us something to take home,” she said, “and now it’s our turn to pass it on.” I couldn’t wish for anything better.