The Pro-Life Movement Weaponizes Kids. I Should Know—They Did It to Me.

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Culture & Conversation Human Rights

The Pro-Life Movement Weaponizes Kids. I Should Know—They Did It to Me.

Eve Ettinger

My evangelical upbringing taught me to despise abortion and attend March for Life as a way of "supporting" the civil rights movement. I know better now.

Participation in March for Life starts early as a rite of passage for those in the anti-choice community. As a child of Quiverfull parents, I remember attending local marches and vigils in middle school, with all my younger siblings in attendance with me. Other families brought toddlers in strollers, babies worn in slings. We carried the gruesome signs made with photos of aborted fetal tissue and stood outside the local Planned Parenthood.

It was a family affair because the issue at stake was, we were told, a human rights issue and all of us could have been in danger of abortion ourselves. I had to care, because it could have been me on that sign.

On the March for Life website, the first tagline that pops up reads: “Abortion is the most significant human rights abuse of our time. Will you take a stand?” This framing is vital to ensuring the longevity of the movement—it must be seen as a human rights or civil rights cause in order to secure buy-in from Christians who want to be active citizens and patriots and don’t know much about the actual history of human rights violations in the United States.

When I was a kid, my parents chose homeschooling curriculum that framed U.S. history as if Christians were the heroes: Slaughter of Indigenous people was spun as failed missionary efforts toward stubborn and ungrateful people; slavery was portrayed as benevolent but morally bankrupt; the founding fathers were upheld as paragons of moral excellence. This vision of history centers white people and Christians as the protagonists. Everyone else is essentially a side character.

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American history, when taught this way, plays into the anti-choice agenda. My sense of myself as a participant in “pro-life” vigils and the March for Life was that I was engaged in a civil rights movement, following in the footsteps of Christian activists like Martin Luther King Jr., William Wilberforce, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. This perspective was necessary to keep me and the other protesters believing that we were on the side of good, on the side of the vulnerable, on the side of God.

There’s a level of cultivated ignorance required for this belief. I had to be kept from understanding the history of racism, the history of capitalism disenfranchising the medically vulnerable, the history of sexual violence and patriarchal coercion of economically vulnerable people with uteruses. In order to believe that I was participating in a crusade for good, I had to not understand the actual history of Christian empire imposing itself on those it conquered.

Every month or so I’m learning just another way that our history is riddled with abuses of power and legalized brutality.

The March for Life deliberately mimics the optics of the 1963 March on Washington, following a similar route, centering prayer and religious leaders as speakers. This is not unusual for protests held in Washington, D.C., but as a child, I didn’t know that. All I knew is that the images of the 1963 march felt similar to the images of the Marches for Life because that’s what I was shown in my textbooks as a parallel cause.

As the 2022 March for Life draws near, I think about how this approach to teaching history also parallels the current debates around history education in public schools—critical race theory, or CRT, is actually a term for a certain method of legal historical interpretation, but as a buzzword today it’s shorthand for something like “being taught that white people have oppressed people of the global majority over centuries.” Realizing the discrepancies between my childhood’s whitewashed history education and the real history of the United States is a process of deconstruction and active corrective education that has taken years and is far from over. Every month or so I’m learning just another way that our history is riddled with abuses of power and legalized brutality.

If the CRT panic is successful in censoring history pedagogy, there’s going to be a whole generation of kids who have to re-educate themselves like I’ve had to do. And since the same conservatives who organize the March for Life are also pushing the CRT panic, it seems like that’s part of a strategy to resurrect the Moral Majority, which originally coalesced around the conservative reaction to Roe v. Wade.

If the kids think that they’re part of a crusade for good because they don’t know what they don’t know, it’ll be easy to manipulate them into anti-choice activism—just like I was.