(OSV News) — Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia, was among the thousands of pro-life Americans participating in the 51st annual March for Life Jan. 19 despite freezing temperatures and a steady snowfall.
The chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-life Activities took some time before the march got underway to speak with OSV News about the continued importance of the March for Life a year and a half out from the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health which overturned Roe v. Wade and sent abortion policy back to the states.
Bishop Burbidge also reflected on the election losses the pro-life movement has seen since then and the messages it should focus on changing hearts and minds. He encouraged Catholic voters to keep the life issue at the “center” of their voting this presidential election year.
This interview is edited for length and content.
OSV News: Why was this second post-Roe, post-Dobbs March for Life important?
Bishop Burbidge: It’s so important for us to be here, I can summarize in one sentence, because there is much more work to be done.
We know that Dobbs was a victory, but not a decisive one because now that this issue of abortion is back to the states, we have to bring our advocacy, our witness and prayer so that the laws that are enshrined are those that are going to protect the child in the womb.
We’ve had some difficult losses in states that unfortunately have enshrined abortion policies, and so there has to be a sense of urgency now. The [overturning of] Roe v. Wade was a victory and we celebrate it, but the road is going to be long and so gathering together thousands of people from around our country on a snowy day is a way to energize this movement and to realize that we are in this together. And the Lord is leading us and guiding us in the right path.
OSV News: What are your thoughts on the pro-life movement’s message, coming back from those losses?
Bishop Burbidge: We as followers of Jesus and his Gospel of life must bring this truth even to the darkest places, especially to the darkest places. We are entering into a phase where there are some states where we may have victory. There are some states where the war is just beginning to wage and there are some states we have lost.
We can’t just go where the message is accepted. We must go to those places where it’s necessary to bring the truth in love to others, to persuade, to inspire. The only way we are going to do that, I always say, is making sure that our messaging is carried out and is always uncompromisingly true and unfailingly charitable. That’s the way we’re going to change hearts.
OSV News: In this presidential election year, how should Catholics view the abortion issue as they weigh the candidates and the issues?
Bishop Burbidge: As Catholics, our preeminent priority, as the bishops of the United States have said, is the right to life protecting the most vulnerable: the unborn and we — rooted in our faith, knowing that all of life is from God and sacred — must defend it.
As we enter into an election year, we have to pay very close attention to what the candidates are saying about this issue and unfortunately, there are candidates even of our own faith, who are running on platforms that are aggressively against life, without any limits.
The messaging of people who do not embrace what we follow tries to portray those who are for life as being radical, but the reality is when you look at what they’re willing to run on, there’s no limits. Until the very last moment, a child being in the womb will fail to be protected.
If you don’t get the issue of life right from the beginning, then it’s going to fall apart in other ways so I just hope and pray that our voters, the faithful, know that this issue is at the center and to vote the only way that we can as followers of Christ: to vote for life.
OSV News: What are some things the average Catholic could do to build a culture of life in this climate that is polarized on the issue?
Bishop Burbidge: What we see today (at the March for Life): witnessing. I thought maybe the evil one said, “I figured a way we can keep these faithful witnesses away from the March today, we’ll put some snow and ice in their way.” But guess what? That didn’t stop us because we are steadfast in our witnessing.
So, not to be afraid, be courageous. I know it’s not easy in the workplace, it’s not easy in schools, it’s not easy sometimes within our own families to be steadfast in what is true or one’s beliefs. Be courageous, but at the same time always be respectful.
We have to be respectful of those who disagree with us, maybe vehemently disagree with us, those who oppose us. We always must take the high road even if we’re being attacked.
We must be loving and respectful, and in a very practical way — we cannot underestimate its value or importance — we have to pray. We have to pray for the protection of life. We have to offer our rosaries. We have to offer our penances, our sacrifices for this cause. There’s no more powerful way to build a culture of life than through our prayer.
OSV News: What do you think of the theme of this March for Life “With every woman, for every child?”
Bishop Burbidge: I love the theme for this year’s March for Life. When I heard it, I was ecstatic. You know why? It’s because it describes who we are and what we do, and it’s always been that way.
We are pro-life because we’re pro-woman. To be pro-life you have to be pro-woman, you have to be pro-father, you have to be pro-baby, you have to be pro-family. We are, we always have been. That’s why if you look through the history of our church, the work that Catholic Charities has done in providing counseling and the work of providing food and material needs, housing — whatever is needed to welcome the life — we’ve always been there because we’re pro-woman, we’re pro-life, we’re pro-child.