Because of the youth, the March went on 

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — As I write, Washington is still digging out from the historic blizzard that slammed the city on Friday, Jan. 22. The storm was predicted well in advance, and on Friday morning Washington largely emptied as the snowflakes started to fall in the afternoon.

I use the term “largely” because, as official Washington emptied out, a crowd descended on the city for the annual “March for Life” to protest the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision and to show support for the unborn.

This year’s March was remarkable for several reasons. First, as always, the event was massively under-covered by the mainstream media. Political rallies in Iowa and New Hampshire that attract hundreds (or in the case of Trump, thousands) are given wide coverage, and cited as evidence of a “surge” in popularity for a given politician. Yet this year’s outdoor rally, which attracted tens of thousands (more than almost any political rally this season for any candidate) during a blizzard was described as “small” by the Washington Post.

This year’s March was also notable because the crowd was dominated by young people. High school and college groups from all over the country came to Washington to speak out on behalf of the unborn.

It occurs to me the that the under-coverage of the event and the youth of the crowd are related to the fact that adults are uncomfortable with the entire topic of abortion.

As a nation, polls show that we are conflicted. Majorities apparently recognize the humanity of the unborn, particularly beyond the earliest stages of pregnancy. But most, while supporting late-term restrictions, are reluctant to impose an outright ban on the procedure or to overturn Roe.

The contradiction is the source of our collective discomfort: We know that the fetus is a human life (because we have seen the ultrasounds of our own children or even the Facebook posts of ultrasounds from happy soon-to-be mothers), but we tolerate the taking of that life for what, on some level, we see as pragmatic “adult” reasons. Raising children, while a joy, can also be a financial and emotional struggle at times, and we sympathize with women who are “not in a position to be pregnant” because they are young, single, and without the support that we would like to see all mothers have.

As adults, we hesitate to judge because we look at our own imperfections, our own poor choices in life, or people we know who have found themselves facing an unwanted pregnancy and have sympathy. But there is still that other life in the equation, which also makes us uncomfortable, so we look away.

Most of us are not activists – whether we are pro-choice or pro-life, abortion is not something we want to spend a great deal of time thinking about. Or, in the case of the media, covering (outside of the political context where it can affect the political horse race or become part of the “war on women.”)

But young people are different. They are closer to their own childhood and remember their own vulnerability as young children. The notion that we can take human life that is a burden or inconvenient because that life is dependent on another for survival strikes many, only a few years removed from the physical and emotion dependence of their own early childhood, as cruel and sad.

Also, our youth are by nature optimistic. Regardless of the circumstances of their own birth, they know they are capable of great things in the future – and many have already succeeded beyond what adults might have guessed at the time they were born. The young are largely free from the cynicism of their elders, who seem more comfortable predicting whose life should be worth living based on the circumstance of their birth. And of course, the kids are right.

Two of our last three presidents were born into circumstances or family situations that, if their conception occurred today during a period of widespread availability and acceptance of abortion, would cause many to look away and tolerate the termination of the pregnancy.

In contrast to the issue of same-sex marriage, where levels of opposition are strongly correlated with age, younger people are increasingly pro-life, so the abortion issue is not going to vanish as the older pro-life advocates die off.

In the short term at least, society will have to live with the dissonance between our recognition that the unborn are human life, and our tolerance of the widespread taking of those lives.

But for the time being, many of our youth, represented by those marching on Washington through a historic blizzard, are our conscience, forcing us to think about the unborn, and letting us know that we can do better.

The march goes on.

Robert N. Driscoll is a native of the Boston area who currently practices law in Washington, D.C. The views expressed in this column are his own and not those of his firm. Nor are they the views of his wife, daughters, or greyhounds. Read his past columns here.