Feb 14, 2023
“Choose life” is a phrase many of us hear in our Catholic and pro-life circles. I have a sweatshirt from Students for Life of America, where I previously worked, with those two simple words written across the front. For many people, “choose life” is a clear and explicit opposition of abortion and the killing of innocent human life, which is one of the main foci of the pro-life movement. While this focused interpretation on the phrase is quite impactful, recently I have begun to understand in a greater context what it really means to “choose life.”
This past January marked the 50th anniversary of the passing of the infamous Supreme Court case, Roe v. Wade, whose decision made abortion legal across the United States in 1973. It also marked the fiftieth March for Life, the first to take place since the overturning of Roe last summer of 2022. Needless to say, long before it was held, the 2023 March for Life was indeed set to be one for the books. But even though I am strongly pro-life and have been going to the march for the past seven years, this year I had no plans to go. I had always attended either with my family, with a group of friends from high school, or with my Students for Life club when I was in college. This is my first year post-graduation, and with most of my close friends still in colleges states away, I was more or less on my own. Those friends would be going with their own groups, if at all. Of course, I believe in the march, and of course I understood the importance of this one specifically – as a pro-life movement we need to show that the work doesn’t stop now but in fact has only begun since Roe is gone. But if there is one thing I hate now after years of having no other choice, it’s being alone. I couldn’t bear the idea of going by myself and facing that ultimate nightmare of being alone in a crowd of tens of thousands of people, unable to find identity within a school, an order, a club, or even a family.
But the strangest thing happened the Sunday before the march: a recent acquaintance, whose family grew up in the same parish as mine in Geneseo, NY, approached me after Mass that we both happened to be at home for that weekend. He asked me if I was planning on making the seven-hour overnight trek to D.C. that coming Thursday. He had never been before and found a parish nearby that was taking a bus of people, but wasn’t sure about doing it himself, so he asked if I wanted to join. It was strange what little it took to change my mind: one person reaching out, extending a very simple invitation. But it made all the difference to me; yes, I would love to join him on the pilgrimage.
The march itself was much like others I have been to: the feeling in the air was electric, there were messages of hope for the future of the pro-life movement, inspirational speeches were made, and all of this in the setting of the streets of downtown Washington, D.C., filled with thousands upon thousands of people - many college-aged, many in high school, many with families, many in their religious habits and clerics - all with their own stories, and all present for the specific purpose of defending life.
Yet it wasn’t these trademarks that moved me the most this year. Upon my return home, the retelling and pondering of my experience was less centered on the march itself and its sensational features; even the fired-up counter-protesters failed to impress. Instead, my thoughts continuously lingered near the phrase “choose life.” What does it mean? I have prayed outside of abortion clinics, uttering the prayer that a mother going in may choose life for her baby; I have worn my sweatshirt in the grocery store and have written papers defending my pro-life stance. But when I observe my life and those around me, I am convinced that choosing life is an even bigger concept than closing abortion clinics and making persuasive arguments. Bigger, but also closer to home.
And it is.
To choose life, one must be willing to reach outside of oneself and extend his or her life to another. To do anything otherwise - to keep to oneself, to refuse to share life or acknowledge the value of another’s through even the simplest acts - is to choose death. The Good Samaritan chose life long before he even lifted the broken man onto his mule to take him for help: it was the moment when he stepped outside of himself long enough just to see the suffering man before him as a person no different from himself, in need of a friend. We live in a culture of death, and not only because innocent lives in the womb are allowed to be destroyed by their own mothers, but because we so often fail to choose life in our everyday lives, not seeing the walking bodies we encounter as real people, like ourselves, in need of life and love and friendship. Indeed, the fight to end abortion is a grave one, but we must be careful not to allow it to distract us from fighting for life in each moment and for those people who are sitting next to us, working across from us, living beside us.
When I worked for Students for Life, one of the nation’s largest pro-life organizations, I was frequently asked what I found most difficult about discussing the evils of abortion with students, particularly those who were pro-choice. What was and continues to be most difficult is trying to convince a college student that a pre-born human that hardly looks like a human at all is a precious life worth loving and protecting, when the fully-grown adult student doesn’t see his or her own life as such. Young people, fraught with uncertainty, fear, loneliness, and anxiety, are incapable of seeing the value of their own lives. Why? Life has never been extended to them in any real way, so they are lost as to how to choose life themselves.
How do we combat this reality? It doesn’t take much to remind others of the value of their life. It takes little more than a simple invitation, an extended hand, the choice to be a friend to another person. Choosing life was my friend very randomly asking me to go with him to the march, and me agreeing; it was one of my best friend’s younger brothers, who also ended up joining the bus at the last minute, offering to give me a ride back to my car at 2:30am after we returned from D.C. because my plans unexpectedly fell through. Choosing life is seeing others in their loneliness or despair and extending your hand out to touch them, reminding them that they are alive, that they have a life, and choosing to share your life with them when they are unable to see the value of their own.