Denver’s March for Life rally at the state Capitol Thursday was as much a witness to an awkward family reunion of marriages of political convenience as a gathering to protest the 36th anniversary of the landmark Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision.
Following the overwhelming defeat of Amendment 48 — the ground-breaking “personhood” initiative to confer constitutional rights on fertilized human eggs last Election Day — this year’s annual march assembly underscored the sense of how lost the local antiabortion movement seems to have become after years of shocking vitriol, clinic violence and internecine fighting that has turned off much of the public.
The protest ran the gamut from the usual fiery antiabortion invocation declaring President Barack Obama a baby killer to a professorial lecture on 18th-century slavery abolition politics and soft Christian music interludes in between. The crowd of 275 people alternately hoisted gory homemade signs and extended gently swaying hands in the air to the cadence of prayers.
The schisms within the antiabortion community — from those invoking violent imagery to prayerful opposition and the politically powerful — were well-represented at the march.
A gaggle of Cub Scouts proudly bearing merit badges were joined in the crowd with pious Franciscan sisters in full black habit and gray veils, retirees, a bus load of high school students and families of all ages.
Republican state Sen. Dave Schultheis of Colorado Springs sang along to an electric piano accompaniment of “Everyone has a Right to Life,” while Berthoud’s new senator, Kevin Lundberg, and House Republican Caucus Chair Amy Stephens looked on. GOP rising star state Sen. Scott Refroe was greeted enthusiastically by the crowd after an odd shout-out by the master of ceremonies, Colorado Right to Life’s president Joe Riccobono, who failed to recognize the other lawmakers standing in front of the crowd.
At the same time, the Operation Rescue “truth truck,” a rolling advertisement plastered with antiabortion slogans and gruesome images of dismembered fetuses, circled the block around the Statehouse.
Yet even the March for Life itself seems torn between its own conflicting personas of rabble-rousing advocates with a penchant for picking fights with Focus in the Family and serving as the local political muscle for the personhood initiative.
The event program featuring a photoshopped image of a scalpel resting on top of a slave shackle.
It appears the antiabortion movement is having a middle-age crisis, if not an existential one.
The rally’s keynote speaker, author Eric Metaxas, implored the crowd, during a nearly 30-minute recitation on British abolitionist William Wilberforce from his biography-turned-movie “Amazing Grace,” to be real Christians and turn away from the temptation of criticizing their opponents. Metaxas’ long speech was delivered in such a quiet and unassuming manner portions of the crowd began to get restless, since they were likely expecting the rip-roaring barn burners of past rallies — or at least the fervor of Pastor Kevin Swanson’s preceding invocation — than a Christian advocacy history lesson.
Following the speech, Metaxas told me, “It’s always lonely being on the right side of history because in the beginning you always sound crazy.” To him, the fight to imbue slaves with unalienable rights 200 years ago is a perfect analog to the quest for personhood status of fertilized eggs, a political action first attempted in Colorado and catching fire with religious conservatives nationwide.
The soft-spoken contributing writer and narrator of the popular children’s morality video series, “Veggie Tales,” Metaxas uses the same value touchstones expressed by animated tomatoes and cucumbers to TV tots in talking about how movement Christians need to talk with more love and humility. While all the same acknowledging how “radical” the personhood concept is to some folks — especially for those who voted against Amendment 48, which was defeated in a 73-27 drubbing in statewide polls and by a similar margin in ultra-conservative Colorado Springs.
It’s tough to not to question the futility of this headier argument that fetuses, like black slaves a century before them, enjoy only “three-fifths of personhood” when a family with young children standing near the West steps of the Capitol held a hand-lettered “Obama 卐 Nation” poster board sign replete with Nazi symbolism and pasted dot-matrix printouts from some grisly antiabortion photo stockpile.
While Metaxas decried to me the “specter of a few nuts” that give the antiabortion movement a bad name, a man decked head-to-toe in camouflage with a free “I survived Roe vs. Wade” rally T-shirt draped over his shoulders stood nearby carrying a sign — “Abortion is the New Holocaust.”
There goes the “truth truck” again.