Before he was Dr. Seuss, he was Theodore Geisel, penning cartoons to support America in the struggle against fascism in World War II. But Geisel’s work went beyond mere patriotism. At a time when Japanese-Americans were demonized, stripped of their freedom, and marched off to internment camps, Geisel depicted them, in popular cartoon strips, as less than human.
But in 1953, something changed. The illustrator took a trip to Japan and met survivors of the two atomic bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. He felt deep remorse over his previous work and when he returned to the United States, apologized in a way that only he could. He wrote a children’s book dedicated to Japanese people, a classic we love called, Horton Hears a Who with a simple but poignant line:
“A person’s a person, no matter how small.”
Dr. Seuss’s words are on my mind this week as I get ready to join thousands of people from across the country, from all walks of life, both young and old, on the National Mall for the 46th annual March for Life. I am marching to say to those in power that the most vulnerable among us, in the earliest stages of life, are not merely clumps of cells, but persons, no matter how small.
The pro-life movement is an enduring, if often misunderstood movement in American life. Much of the criticism is unfair. The caricature doesn’t square with the compassionate, sacrificial, loving pro-life activists I’ve met in my travels around the country. Most of the same people holding signs this Friday will go back and invest in care for young women and their babies, will adopt and foster children, and will invest their money in causes ranging from poverty alleviation to combatting human trafficking to disaster relief.
Still, we should hear those who wonder if our pro-life vision is too narrow. To be truly pro-life, we should recognize the personhood not only of the unborn, but of the mother who finds herself unexpectedly pregnant. We should see the face of God in refugees, immigrants, and elderly populations. We should be the first in line to fight for racial justice and economic policies that recognize the dignity of the poor. And we should not let our pro-life convictions weld us to partisan commitments that keep us from championing the dignity of other vulnerable populations.
Even as we disagree on the most prudent methods to alleviate suffering, we should be united in pursuit of the same goals. And we should resist a politics that reduces ideological opponents to avatars to be crushed. As a Christian, I’m compelled by the Bible’s rich vision for human dignity and am motivated to use my voice and my influence to speak up wherever human dignity is being assaulted.
And yet as much as the pro-life vision needs to be more than advocacy for the unborn, it can never be less. So this is why I still march.
I march because where pro-choice politicians see a disposable fetus, I see a person.
I march because where Planned Parenthood sees potential profits, I see a person.
I march because where society sees an obstacle to success, I see a person.
I march because justice starts where life begins. If, as Moses writes in Genesis, each human being bears the imprint of the Almighty, then each human being, even human beings in the womb, deserve to be protected in law and welcomed into life. If as David writes in the Psalms, every conception is “intricately woven” by God, then babies are persons. And instinctively we know this.
We know it because when we see that beating heart on the ultrasound, we hear and see the mystery of life. We know it because we ask our best surgeons to perform miraculous surgeries on premature babies. We know it because every mother anticipates with natural, nurturing wonder the day a new life emerges from her body.
Of course, the argument goes, laws alone won’t stop abortion. And this is true. We should work for a day when abortion is unthinkable and joins other national injustices in the dustbin of history. But we know that laws do reflect and shape our national conscience; they serve as an imperfect mirror on our own morality, a good measure of what we consider good and what we consider evil.
So we march, not in vain, but in hope that some day the most vulnerable among us will one day find open arms instead of open forceps.
We march because we know there is a person there. We march, not out of anger or vindictiveness, but as a both a national lament and, ironically, a celebration. We lament that a nation as prosperous and proud as America, with vast riches and seemingly unlimited possibilities, is still content to let unwanted babies be discarded on the altar of convenience. We celebrate the value of human life, from the womb to the tomb. We lament because this cause for justice so divides and polarizes us and blinds each side to stunning inequalities and maddening assaults on dignity. We celebrate because even in the most difficult circumstances, we find rays of hope, the potential of new life from the shadows of struggle. We lament and celebrate because the words of Dr. Seuss ring in our ears:
A person is a person, no matter how small.