Protect Pro Lifers’ right to protest

Photo by Maria Philomena Nevada
Maria Philomena Nevada

National Life Chain Sunday is an event that is held across the U.S. on Oct. 1 by proponents of the “pro-life movement.” Participants pray and hold signs, some of them reading: “Life- the First Inalienable Right,” “Abortion Kills Children” and “Jesus Forgives and Heals,” amongst other sayings. In Omaha, participants will be standing along Dodge St., close to UNO’s Dodge Campus.

“Life Chain is a time for prayerful self-analysis, repentance and serious commitment to helping end abortion in our nation,” according to National Life Chain’s website. The events are church-centric, says the National Director of Life Chain Royce Dunn.
“However, I would add that people of all faiths, or indeed of no faith would be welcome to join,” Dunn says.

There will even be a UNO student organization joining the event –Mavericks Students for Life. President of Mavericks Students for Life Mary Briganti says, “There are people who come from churches and from high schools who are secular. It is a way for us to band together, to have a tangible presence, to show unity to fight for the unborn and their mothers against this injustice.”

However, Dunn is quick to assert that Life Chain is not a protest against Planned Parenthood, a common theme for anti-abortion demonstrations.
“We say the first mission is to minister to participants.” Despite recent efforts to defund Planned Parenthood, Dunn says that is not Life Chain’s purpose to be a picket against Planned Parenthood.

The lines between protest and demonstration blur in the “pro-life” movement. The graphic images of aborted fetuses common at anti-abortion demonstrations are not used at Life Chain, Dunn says emphatically. But Dunn defends the use of such images saying, “When a graphic picture is shown, it simply truthfully shows what happens in an abortion.” She compares the images to photos taken at Nazi death camps. For many in the “pro-life” movement, abortion is tantamount to a violation of human rights and, in essence, mass murder.

As disturbing as such a comparison may be, it is certainly philosophically questionable to begin assigning values to humans at different stages in human development. Tragedies have historically occurred when humans have been considered inferior or not human at all, whether that has been due to their religion, the color of their skin or sexuality – much less their developmental stage.

This is not an uncommon belief. One could say that the abortion issue persists, religious issues aside, because of a general unwillingness to consider the fetus as fully human. There is something that compels the pro-lifer to regard the unborn child as fully human, with potential and dreams, with a full life ahead of them. Perhaps it is not that pro-lifers have no compassion, but rather too much. Perhaps it is the same compassion and love of life that stirs up every civil rights movement. Protesters at Stonewall Inn and Selma garnered disapproval even as they moved for the oppressed and silenced.

Perhaps it is for the better that demonstrations and protests happen freely. This is not the first or the last time that people will feel compelled to stand up and speak out. We must protect that ability to do so, even as we disagree.