In January 1970, a crowd of 300 gathered outside the George Washington University Clinic in Washington, D.C., to protest abortion. Some of the young men in attendance wore uniforms with red berets, rosaries, and patches emblazoned with the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Their leader, L. Brent Bozell, gave a speech before he and other members of the group marched across the street and entered the building, where they demanded the bodies of children aborted there, whom they intended to have baptized and buried. The rest remained outdoors, reciting the rosary. After a few minutes the protesters were removed from the clinic by police officers and arrested.
But their point had been made: What was going on inside that building was an outrage to God, a hideous crime that invited judgment upon America and her people. It was not something that could be tolerated by passersby or fretted about in private or made the subject of debates in public forums reserved for polite discussion. What they intended to convey was the moral urgency of their opposition to what was taking place. In that, if in nothing else, they succeeded.
I think of these faithful servants of the Church whenever I am tempted to make fun of the Democratic Socialists of America, i.e., frequently. There is something eminently mockable about this small cadre of young professionals — a working-class party with no base of support among the, you know, actual working-class — whose platform seems to entirely consist of demanding free craft beer and asserting the right to have sex in their sleeping bags. Yet these unserious LARPers of the '60s New Left have succeeded in at least one thing: very publicly ruining the dinner of Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, under whose watch the children of immigrants were being kept from their parents under the terms of the Trump administration's so-called "zero tolerance" policy.
It has been a long time since those of us who believe that abortion is judicially sponsored murder rather than a harmless medical procedure have made their views known in anything like this fashion. This is not to say abortion opponents have accomplished nothing. In four decades they have made a good deal of progress at the level of individual states; in Kentucky, for example, it is virtually impossible to procure an abortion and there are many other states in which it is possible only in one or two large cities. This has required endless creativity — using zoning laws and hospital safety regulations against the abortionists, turning them down when they apply to rent buildings, waiting to pass certain bills until judicial conditions seemed favorable.
But they still have a long way to go. In the meantime, there is a nearly universal consensus among the ostensible leaders of the pro-life movement — the established social conservative organizations — that opponents of abortion should always behave civilly and refrain from anything that might be described as "harassment," even when dealing with public officials.
This is where I think that opponents of abortion benefit from the example of the DSA. Cornering Nielsen inside an expensive Washington restaurant, members of the party chanted "Shame!" and "Fascist pig!" for more than 10 minutes. They gave speeches in which they detailed the conditions under which the detained children were living. They did not seem concerned with whether what they were saying was civil or courteous. They seemed to recognize the gravity of what they were condemning, and they wanted to make sure that Nielsen did too. It is unclear exactly why but at some point the secretary left the restaurant, seemingly because she did not want to listen to them any longer. I think it would be fair to say, however, that she got the message.
My first thought on seeing the video of this incident was: Why don't opponents of abortion do things like this? If they believe that someone is not merely complicit in but actually responsible for an unspeakable evil and this person is just sitting there, are quaint notions about civility and politeness really more important than the lives of children? Why should they settle with once-a-year marches or with mumbled prayers at a distance mandated by some bureaucrat? Why not find Cecile Richards, the former CEO of Planned Parenthood and public face of the abortion industry in this country, and recite statistics to her about — for example — the eugenicist views of Margaret Singer and her city's appalling racial disparity in abortion rates? Would they be wrong to gate-crash a fundraiser for Tim Kaine, a professed communicant member of a body that teaches that abortion is a grave sin against the Fifth Commandment, and remind him that his views are both wrong in themselves and a cause of scandal among the faithful?
As it happens, the aim of the DSA's restaurant protest was realized on Wednesday when President Trump signed an executive order bringing the administration's policy to an end. Doubtless it would be giving too much credit to this small group to say that they are directly responsible for the White House's about-face here. But it would also be wrong to deny that Nielsen, regardless of whether she felt ashamed of her involvement, was at least momentarily inconvenienced and forced, if only briefly, to consider the enormity of what she was overseeing.
But there is another dimension which, at the risk of sounding flippant about something so grave as infanticide, I would like to suggest is even more important here than futile calculations about cost and risk and the possibility of success. What really matters about protests like that of Tuesday evening is that they happen at all, in precisely the manner in which they do. It is not enough to sit in armchairs reminding one another of the truths about which we are all in agreement. If injustice is going to be denounced it should be denounced in the presence of those who are responsible for it.
Reprimanding the wicked, without hesitation or prevarication or regard for social niceties or procedural norms, is a good thing in itself. Which is why, even though I disagree with them about many other things, not least of them abortion, I cannot help but offer my no-doubt unwanted congratulations to the DSA.
They told the truth and shamed the devil, which would be a valuable thing even if their enemies were still putting children in cages.