As one of the nation’s largest anti-choice groups launched its three-day conference in Herndon, Virginia, Thursday, a very different conversation was underway on the national stage.
Across the country, peaceful protests erupted over the police killings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota.
As Rewire’s Imani Gandy has documented, the anti-choice movement has long attempted to appropriate the language of racial justice and the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag as part of a wider effort to shame Black women and cast abortion as “Black genocide.”
But at the National Right to Life Convention, the overriding response to last week’s police killings was silence. Among the only contributions to the national dialogue taking place over racial justice was a card circulated in the exhibit hall by a group called the Radiance Foundation that read “All lives matter In & Out of the womb.”
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Rewire asked convention director Jacki Ragan whether she thought the issue should have been raised explicitly at the conference.
“We are very single issue,” Ragan said. “We are here because of a threat to human life. We believe the unborn child is a human being from the moment of fertilization. We believe the disabled should have the same rights, [the] elderly should have the same rights, so we’re very single issue. So, no, I don’t really think it would be appropriate to address what had happened other than through prayer at the conference.”
At a prayer breakfast on Friday morning, after conference-goers awoke to the news five police officers had been killed by a gunman in Dallas, Rev. Dennis Kleinmann of St. Veronica Catholic Church in Chantilly, Virginia, prayed for guidance “to make this a better world, a world free of war and violence of every kind, including attacks on those who protect us.”
Ernest Ohlhoff, National Right to Life Committee outreach director, addressed the violence more directly.
“I don’t know if any of you heard the news this morning, but unfortunately we had another catastrophe in our country,” he said. “Five police officers in Dallas were killed in a shooting and [at least] six wounded, and I would ask you to pray for them and their families.”
No prayers were offered for Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, or their families.