Denver’s March for Life rally at the state Capitol Thursday was as
much a witness to an awkward family reunion of marriages of political
convenience as a gathering to protest the 36th anniversary of the
landmark Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision.
Following the overwhelming defeat of Amendment 48 — the ground-breaking “personhood” initiative to confer constitutional rights on fertilized human eggs
last Election Day — this year’s annual march assembly underscored the
sense of how lost the local antiabortion movement seems to have become
after years of shocking vitriol, clinic violence and internecine
fighting that has turned off much of the public.
The protest ran the gamut from the usual fiery anti-abortion
invocation declaring President Barack Obama a baby killer to a
professorial lecture on 18th-century slavery abolition politics and
soft Christian music interludes in between. The crowd of 275 people
alternately hoisted gory homemade signs and extended gently swaying
hands in the air to the cadence of prayers.
The schisms within the anti-abortion community — from those invoking
violent imagery to prayerful opposition and the politically powerful —
were well-represented at the march.
Sex. Abortion. Parenthood. Power.
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A gaggle of Cub Scouts proudly bearing merit badges were joined in
the crowd with pious Franciscan sisters in full black habit and gray
veils, retirees, a bus load of high school students and families of all
Republican state Sen. Dave Schultheis of Colorado Springs sang along
to an electric piano accompaniment of “Everyone has a Right to Life,”
while Berthoud’s new senator, Kevin Lundberg,
looked on. GOP rising star state Sen. Scott Refroe was greeted
enthusiastically by the crowd after an odd shout-out by the master of
ceremonies, Colorado Right to Life’s president Joe Riccobono, who
failed to recognize the other lawmakers standing in front of the crowd.
At the same time, the Operation Rescue “truth truck,” a rolling
advertisement plastered with anti-abortion slogans and gruesome images
of dismembered fetuses, circled the block around the Statehouse.
Yet even the March for Life itself seems torn between its own
conflicting personas of rabble-rousing advocates with a penchant for picking fights with Focus in the Family and serving as the local political muscle for the personhood initiative.
The event program featuring a photoshopped image of a scalpel resting on top of a slave shackle.
It appears the anti-abortion movement is having a middle-age crisis, if not an existential one.
The rally’s keynote speaker, author Eric Metaxas,
implored the crowd, during a nearly 30-minute recitation on British
abolitionist William Wilberforce from his biography-turned-movie
“Amazing Grace,” to be real Christians and turn away from the
temptation of criticizing their opponents. Metaxas’ long speech was
delivered in such a quiet and unassuming manner portions of the crowd
began to get restless, since they were likely expecting the rip-roaring
barn burners of past rallies — or at least the fervor of Pastor Kevin
Swanson’s preceding invocation — than a Christian advocacy history
Following the speech, Metaxas told me, “It’s always lonely being on
the right side of history because in the beginning you always sound
crazy.” To him, the fight to imbue slaves with unalienable rights 200
years ago is a perfect analog to the quest for personhood status of
fertilized eggs, a political action first attempted in Colorado and catching fire with religious conservatives nationwide.
The soft-spoken contributing writer and narrator of the popular
children’s morality video series, “Veggie Tales,” Metaxas uses the same
value touchstones expressed by animated tomatoes and cucumbers to TV
tots in talking about how movement Christians need to talk with more
love and humility. While all the same acknowledging how “radical” the
personhood concept is to some folks — especially for those who voted
against Amendment 48, which was defeated in a 73-27 drubbing in statewide polls and by a similar margin in ultra-conservative Colorado Springs.
It’s tough not to question the futility of this headier argument
that fetuses, like black slaves a century before them, enjoy only
“three-fifths of personhood” when a family with young children standing
near the West steps of the Capitol held a hand-lettered “Obama 卐
Nation” poster board sign replete with Nazi symbolism and pasted
dot-matrix printouts from some grisly anti-abortion photo stockpile.
While Metaxas decried to me the “specter of a few nuts” that give
the anti-abortion movement a bad name, a man decked head-to-toe in
camouflage with a free “I survived Roe vs. Wade” rally T-shirt draped
over his shoulders stood nearby carrying a sign — “Abortion is the New
There goes the “truth truck” again.