President Biden, Speak to the March for Life | Opinion

Dear Mr. President,

Your inaugural address expounded eloquently on "that most elusive of things in a democracy: unity." In a nation exhausted by polarization and battered for nearly a year by a pandemic, these stirring words were welcome. Small wonder that your speech won praise both at home and around the world.

I am writing to ask that you put that promise of unity into action with a gesture that could reassure one group of people you singled out: Americans who did not vote for you. Mr. President, you have a splendid opportunity to transcend partisanship, exactly as you promised at the inauguration. You can do what no Democratic president has done before you: share a message of solidarity with the March for Life on January 29.

That might strike you as a bold ask. On the one hand, you have reminded the nation throughout your public life that you are a man of faith—specifically, the faith of the Catholic Church. You have said you personally oppose abortion. On the other hand, you have emphasized that your personal opposition does not translate into policy. This demurral has grown increasingly forceful over time. During your presidential campaign, you disavowed your longstanding support for the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits using federal funds to pay for abortions.

So be it, at least for now. You are not being asked to budge one iota from your political pledges. You are being asked, instead, to make good on a different commitment—the moral commitment to civility and good faith you made in your address. There is no need to talk politics in your message to the March. Just affirm in public that pro-lifers are decent people who act from honorable convictions—the same convictions you claim as a private citizen.

Such a gesture would be a boon to the country for three reasons.

First, that magnanimous act could reassure fellow citizens demoralized by your election. As you noted, "many Americans view the future with some fear and trepidation." That is true. Pro-lifers in particular fear that your presidency will visit disaster on their efforts to safeguard unborn life. Now is the moment to extend an olive branch. The timing would be exquisite. COVID-19 has lately reminded us all of the need to protect some of our most vulnerable citizens: the elderly. It is now clearer than ever that protecting life is just as imperative for the vulnerable beings at the opposite end of the age spectrum.

Second, you are now the most visible Catholic head of state in the world. Speaking to the March could clear up new and rising confusion about the Church's teaching on abortion—and much else. In your inaugural speech you quoted Saint Augustine, whom you noted is "a saint of my church." Like other Catholic thinkers in an unbroken line stretching back two millennia, that saint condemned abortion at any stage of development. This is bedrock teaching. Your political alliances may make you reluctant to dwell on it. But if you are to avoid leading fellow Catholics, and others, into profound error, you must acknowledge that teaching in public. The March offers a perfect opportunity for clarification.

Joe Biden
U.S. President-elect Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden attend services at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle with Congressional leaders prior the 59th Presidential Inauguration ceremony on January 20, 2021 in Washington, DC. Chip Somodevilla/Getty

After all, as even the architect of the "personally opposed" position, Mario Cuomo, admitted in his famous 1984 speech at Notre Dame: "I think that the whole community, regardless of its religious beliefs, should agree on the importance of protecting life—including life in the womb, which is at the very least potentially human and should not be extinguished casually." The former governor of New York professed that view—but refused to act upon it, refused to join his fellow pro-lifers. Mr. President, you are a different leader in a very different moment. If unity is your goal, then speak in public to those with whom you may disagree about politics, but with whom you do agree about the sanctity of life.

Third, addressing the March could advance another goal you suggested in your address: ameliorating the divisions over social class that plague these United States.

Every year, Americans from all over the country gather on the Mall to witness to the civil rights of the unborn. Though they will do so virtually this time around, the cast remains the same. They represent all ages, but especially the young.

These pro-life marchers do not look like the sleek, camera-ready cast of better-offs—like, say, the people at your inauguration. They don't wear Burberry or Patagonia jackets. Most bring their own food and water for the trip. They sleep in vehicles and on floors. They sacrifice financially and otherwise to bear their annual witness on the Mall. And they stand together in freezing January for a cause that does not personally benefit any one of them.

Mr. President, your liberal and progressive allies mock these people. They harass them from the sidelines, and vehemently so. Many pro-lifers have only known contempt from the Left. Couldn't you acknowledge before the world that your political allies are mistaken, and affirm those who defend the defenseless? Wouldn't that be an outstanding example of your call to "start afresh" and to "listen to one another?" Mr. President, show those pro-life kids and their fellow marchers that you,at least, don't think they're "deplorables."

To quote from your inaugural speech once more, "We must end this uncivil war.... We can do this if we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts." Kindly open your own soul to affirming that pro-life Americans are no less American than their pro-choice counterparts. Just a few words about our shared convictions could go a long way toward redeeming your promise to "fight as hard for those who did not support me as for those who did." Mr. President, you have a unique chance to show that you mean what you said about that fresh start, beginning on January 29.

Sincerely yours,

A fellow American Catholic

Mary Eberstadt is a senior fellow at the Faith and Reason Institute and author most recently of Primal Screams: How the Sexual Revolution Created Identity Politics.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.