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A Spark Turns Into a Flame: My Experience of the March for Life Rally

March for Life

Staff Writer Govhar Dadashova retells her experience stumbling into the March for Life in Washington, D.C. and calls for the pro-life camp to show compassion, empathy, and understanding.

Last month, I went to the annual March for Life in Washington D.C. and saw first-hand one of the largest anti-abortion protests in the country. It was bewildering and surreal, to say the least. Over the past four weeks, I have been reconciling my complex feelings about the march with my desire to be a good journalist and report from a neutral standpoint. To quote the wise words of Mr Darcy, and really Jane Austen, in vain have I struggled.

I have always valued hearing out both sides of the debate in difficult conversations. Politics has become too divisive, derogatory, and downright inflammatory. We have become fantastic at tearing people apart yet awful at hearing them out. This continues to be true in more ways than one. To clarify, I firmly believe in approaching politics with mutual respect and empathy for others. Yet there comes a time when even the most ardent supporters of neutrality and fairness have to recognize that certain issues are too personal to be fully detached from our lived experiences.

Abortion is one of them. It is not solely shaped by election promises, legislative bills, or cutesy photo-ops outside of the Supreme Court. Abortion is defined by the lived experiences of women and the hard choices they have to make. As much as politicians wish to simplify the issue, it is too complex and difficult. We all approach abortion with our own biases and perspectives. Speaking about it can feel like holding a match, knowing it might trigger a spark. We should not tolerate hate or abuse, but we also cannot avoid difficult conversations – especially with our loved ones.

The personal is political, but that does not make it black and white. There is a spectrum of opinions on abortion that have been ignored because this debate has been fuelled by partisanship. Why are we so terrified of expressing how we truly feel? Why do we feel the need to weaponize the experiences of women? These are just two of the questions that have crossed my mind in the past month. I might not be able to offer a conclusive answer to either of them, but perhaps I can share some of my thoughts on the March for Life rally.

My dad had been helping me move into the dorm for my study abroad semester. The city was freezing cold and blanketed in snow, as we made our way to the Smithsonian National History Museum for a break from unpacking. As we admired how beautiful the city looked, I noticed groups of people standing on the left-hand side. It must have been a green space or square in normal weather, but it was completely covered in snow. I saw a few signs were held close to their chests and above their heads, but without my glasses on, failed to make out what they said.

Making my way towards them, I noticed a few on the ground. The slogan ‘Make more babies’ immediately stole my attention. The sign was so innocently placed on the ground that it took me a moment to realize the immensity of what I read. I could have never imagined that I would be studying abroad in DC, let alone attending the March for Life rally with my dad, but the world clearly works in mysterious ways.

The theme for this year’s rally was ‘With Every Woman, For Every Child’ which explained why so many young children rallied with their families. I might not agree with the beliefs of the marchers, but I had to hand it to them. The theme helped bring together people from all walks of life, both young and old, for a cause bigger than themselves. It would have been a heart-warming display of political participation had I agreed with them. Instead, I was surprised to see how happy and joyful everyone looked.

An elderly man smiled from ear to ear and held a ‘Real men support life’ sign that stopped me in my tracks. He reminded me of my own grandparents, but his message shook me to my core. I wondered what constituted a real man and whether unreal men were cowardly and weak because they allowed women to make their own choices.

When I left the rally, a million questions fluttered inside of my head. Why had the elderly man come here today? Was he a long-time anti-abortion activist or was it a more recent development? Did his family come with him or was he by himself? Perhaps I could have asked him in a different universe, one where I planned to come to the rally rather than stumble into it. Unfortunately, my attention was drawn towards a massive stage where a man stood, alternating between giving a speech and singing hymn music.

There was a definite thrill in experiencing the rally in real-time. Not merely reading about it on the news or being in the same city but seeing it with your own eyes. However, I soon realized that being on the ground meant losing a sense of detachment. It was much harder for me to disentangle the personal from the political. Unlike a news article, I could not click away and return to my normal life when things got too difficult or emotional.

Moreover, there was a painful sort of irony in the fact that a protest which made others feel so elated and empowered made me feel so horrible. For the marchers, the reversal of Roe v. Wade signalled freedom, redemption, and perhaps a sense of religious vindication. In contrast, the reversal of Roe v. Wade signalled to me that women and their rights took a massive step backwards. Millions of Americans could no longer get an abortion, or at the very least, faced harsher restrictions when doing so.

Imagine if this happened in England: how would we feel if we no longer had control over our reproductive health? The March for Life rally made me realize that abortion has been treated like a strategic pawn in the chess game of politics. Women and their lived experiences have been reduced into statistics and slogans, in order to persuade voters to choose one party over another. This not only dismisses the hard choices they have to make, but it treats abortion like a one-size-fits-all Brandy Melville shirt.

Like any complex decision, it depends on the person, their circumstances, and what they believe is best for themselves. Women must choose for themselves. They should have the right to change their minds and the right to have different feelings towards abortion throughout their lives. Ultimately, it is not demanding to ask politicians to treat women with respect and compassion. Difficult conversations might trigger a spark or a flame, but we should not throw away the matchbox just yet.

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