My Deepest, Darkest Secret: How the March for Life Made Me Pro-Choice
By Holly Calvasina
Holly is the community partnerships assistant at CHOICES. She loves reproductive rights advocacy, dogs, books, nonprofit work, and overly complicated literary analysis.
I’m about to share one of my darkest, most embarrassing secrets, and I’m kind of freaking out about it.
Okay. Here goes…. *deep breath*
I once participated in the March for Life in Washington D.C, which is one of the largest anti-choice demonstrations in our country.
It was 2002 and I was 13 years old. Being a sheltered, shy kid, I barely understood how sex worked, much less how to form a real opinion about abortion. Buuuut… All my friends were going and anyone who went on the March for Life trip from my Catholic school got an entire week off of school without any homework or make-up work. So yeah, I was definitely going to be there. Besides, abortion was just something I had kind of heard about and I was pretty sure it involved killing newborn babies. Obviously, that was something worth protesting.
The first few days were innocent fun. We went in small groups to tourist attractions around the city. We literally spent every waking moment hanging out with our friends and meeting other kids from Catholic schools around the country. We stayed up late giggling and sat through the various masses and religious services with glazed expressions. We never, ever talked about abortion.
The day of the march was when everything changed. We started the day by listening to a presentation explaining what abortion was and how the presenter thought Jesus felt about it. During the question and answer session, I raised my hand and asked “Wait, so it’s not actually killing babies?” I was given a conduct ticket and told not to ask disrespectful questions. I wasn’t trying to be disrespectful, but I had been raised by a family of nurses and doctors and, even if I didn’t know what an abortion was, I knew the difference between an embryo, a fetus, and a baby. My mom made sure of that. I learned that babies came from a sperm and an egg colliding years before I knew how the sperm usually got there in the first place. Things get weird when science and religion work together.
Anyway, after the talk we loaded up on the bus and went to the Capitol. I was given a sign that said “Students for Life” and, walking beside my best friends and wearing my cutest knit hat, I started marching. About ten minutes in, I saw a young woman on the sidelines holding a sign that said “It’s easy to be anti-abortion when you’re not the one who’s pregnant.” She was standing next to a woman with a sign that said “My body- My choice!”
That’s how I felt. Shame coursing from my head to my toes and back again. They were right. Abortion wasn’t about killing babies. It was about women making choices for themselves. Even though I was not having sex, or even kissing at that point, I couldn’t help but think What if it was me that was pregnant? I knew that I would want an abortion.
It seems weird that I had spent the past few days on an anti-abortion field trip and had never asked myself that question, but the “pro-life” movement isn’t really about making personal connections or being empathetic to women who choose to terminate unwanted pregnancies, is it?
I knew that what I was doing was wrong. I got another conduct ticket for holding my sign down at my side, but I didn’t care.
I don’t remember what happened next. I think we went to mass again, had dinner, went back to the gymnasium and curled up in our sleeping bags to giggle away our last night in DC. But I have never forgotten the way I felt in that moment. I can still see the young, sign-holding women’s faces. I can still feel the waves of shame and the stinging cold.
Now, in 2016, I’m 28 years old and a self-proclaimed die-hard feminist with hairy legs and an artistic representation of the female reproductive system tattooed on my chest. I work at a clinic that provides abortion care and devote my personal life to various passion projects around intersectional feminism (and also dogs and books).
The point is—pro-choice activism works. Being there works. Being loud works. Keep holding your signs and showing up for volunteer shifts and sharing pro-choice messages on Facebook. You never who’s watching. You never know whose life you might change. You never know who will remember your sign and your face for the rest of their life.