Today in Washington, tens of thousands of people will venture out into an historic blizzard on the National Mall, to march for the most fundamental right of them all — the right to life.
The most striking thing about the annual March For Life, aside from news media's reflex to ignore it, is that it is dominated by young people. As Nancy Keenan, formerly the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, once said upon seeing the marchers, "I just thought, my gosh, they are so young … There are so many of them, and they are so young."
Or, as one marcher put it, "Of course I'm against abortion — I'm a child."
It is an interesting phenomenon: Young people are significantly more liberal than their parents and grandparents on most cultural issues, from gay marriage to religious belief. But they are more likely to oppose abortion.
This is especially true for abortions performed in the second and third trimesters of pregnancy. Scientific advances have ensured that young people now grow up knowing that such abortions can be brutally painful for the baby and deeply traumatic for the mother.
Meanwhile, abortion rights advocates complain that young women have grown complacent about defending the right to abortion won for them in hard-fought battles by earlier generations. Abortion clashes with young people's idealism and compassion for the weak and marginalized.
Abortion is not a prominent part of this year's presidential campaign, which has been dominated by the economy, immigration, terrorism and foreign affairs. Yet the right to life will remain not just relevant but fundamental this year and beyond. It is, of course, the mother of all rights, for without it, no other right exists.
There will be congressional investigations into Planned Parenthood and debate over financing of abortion in Obamacare. The Supreme Court this year will hear its most consequential abortion case in nearly 25 years when it decides how far states may go to regulate the procedure.
First, Americans remain deeply divided over the issue. That's partly a product of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court's 1973 decision prohibiting restrictions on most abortions, whose anniversary we mark today.
Abortion-rights advocates claim that the public supports Roe. But to the limited extent that that's true, it's because most people don't know what it means.
In 2013, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life interviewed the public about its views and found that less than half of Americans under the age of 30 knew it addressed abortion. Other polls have shown that once respondents discover how expansive Roe is, and that without Roe states could pass their own laws legalizing the practice, people were significantly more likely to oppose it.
New fronts are constantly opening up in the battle to protect unborn life. A recent New York Times article explained that pro-lifers are getting involved in custody disputes over frozen embryos. While courts have generally favored the right of one party not to procreate, pro-lifers argue that such cases should be decided based on the best interests of the embryo, as in child-custody cases.
As we editorialized in May, this new front is the "predictable result of an assisted reproduction industry that some experts liken to the Wild West in terms of its regulatory environment, and to Frankenstein's monster in terms of its ethical ramifications. It highlights the necessity of revisiting the ethical and legal questions at the heart of a business that's based on the creation and commercialization of human beings."
It's no coincidence that the March for Life concludes in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. Abortion opponents will continue to march until society's most vulnerable members are granted the rights that the Constitution guarantees to all citizens.