WASHINGTON, D.C. — In the beginning, Nellie Gray imagined there would be a need for one march for life. It was a year after the Roe v Wade decision, and there was perhaps just enough outrage that people felt a legislative remedy could be attained.
“But then we realized that Congress wasn’t going to help, so we had a second,” Gray reflected.
And a third, and a fourth…
On Friday, January 25th, the 2013 March for Life marked the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, which struck down most abortion laws in the United States. It was the first March for Life without Gray, who died last August at the age of 88. But for those who knew her and worked with her, and for thousands of people who have been to the annual event in the past, her spirit was everywhere.
The story of her initial naiveté was revealed in a moving video tribute to the attorney-turned-activist, which was broadcast on large jumbotrons for the hundreds of thousands of pro-lifers gathered on the National Mall. Jeanne Monahan, the new leader of the march, and others extolled Gray’s dedication, perseverance and spunk, and a younger generation — which made up perhaps 90% of the rally and march—seemed by their enthusiasm more than ready and willing to take up her mantle.
Gabrielle Hoekstra, for example, attending the march for the first time, finds that more and more young people are becoming more pro-life — or at least are open to listening to pro-life ideas.
“It’s something I feel very passionate about,” said Hoekstra, a junior studying aeronautical science at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla. “When I was younger my parents were active in local crisis pregnancy centers. When you go to college you realize there are a lot of people out there who are prochoice, and it’s important to stand in your values and have the reasons to support them. Coming to places like this you can get together with other people who share your values and educate yourself more so you can defend your prolife position.”
She concluded, “I’m confident that in the next decade we’ll see a massive shift not just for the pro-life movement but other values that the current president opposes.”
The spirits of those standing in 20-something-degree weather under skies that promised a snowy day in the nation’s capital were boosted by a roster of speakers that included pro-life legislators, former presidential candidates, activists, medical professionals, women who have become public witnesses to the evil of abortion because they’ve suffered the consequences, rape victims, and those conceived in rape.
“Thank you for being here in this frigid weather, to give a sense of warmth in a city that is often too cold,” said former U.S. Senator and presidential hopeful Rick Santorum, who stood at the rostrum with his wife, Karen, and several of their seven children. “Thank you for providing warmth and a sense of God’s love, for all his children.”
Santorum reflected on the struggle he and his family experienced having a child who has Trisomy-18, a genetic disorder that leads to severe disabilities and a short life expectancy. Bella, the Santorum’s toddler, had to be hospitalized during a campaign for the Republican nomination in 2012, in which Santorum was showing early leads. The girl’s illness forced the Santorums to temporarily suspend their campaign.
The former Pennsylvania senator recalled that he and his wife had resisted counsel to abort the child, after they learned of her condition in utero. “Death is never better,” he said. “It may be easier for us. But Bella is better for us, and we are better because of her.”
He told the crowd that as he found tremendous support from Americans during the girl’s ordeal last year, the pro-life movement is “not a bunch of moralizers, it’s people who open their arms in front of abortion clinics and give voice to the voiceless.”
Congressman Christopher Smith of New Jersey, chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Pro-Life Caucus alluded to President Obama’s inauguration speech earlier in the week, in which the re-elected president said that “together, we resolve that a great nation must care for the vulnerable…that all are created equal…and our journey is not complete until all of our children…are cared for and cherished and always safe from harm.”
“We indeed, Mr. President, must care for the vulnerable—but that also includes unborn children and their mothers,” Smith commented. “All people are created equal. And our journey is not complete until all our children—including the child in the womb—are cared for and cherished and always safe from harm. Yet, President Obama systematically and aggressively promotes abortion at home and overseas.”
Other speakers included Congresswoman Diane Black of Tennessee; Sen. Rand Paul; Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, and Georgette Forney of Silent No More.
Cardinal Sean O’Malley, chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, offered a prayer to begin the march. He was joined by a number of Orthodox bishops, who separately sang a harmonious, traditional prayer for the soul of Nellie Gray.
Cardinal O’Malley elicited strong applause when he read a tweet from Pope Benedict XVI, addressed to marchers and expressing his solidarity with them.
Addressing marchers by video were John Boehner, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, and Congressman Dan Lipinski (D-Ill).
Two young people made particularly strong presentations. Ruben Verastegui, president of Northwest Vista College Students for Life, urged young people to “get out there and make change happen.” He counseled, “Sometimes it’s going to feel like you’re alone on campus as a pro-lifer. But take a look around you right now” to see that the pro-life movement is full of young people. “You are not alone.”
Another young speaker was Ryan Bomberger, who was conceived in rape but was saved from abortion by adoption. Because of that, he’s begun TooManyAborted.com to promote adoption. “We want to dedicate our lives to saving beautiful possibility,” he said. “Adoption unleashes purpose.”
The rally and march drew upwards of 500,000 people, and it took the average marcher two hours to walk from the National Mall, along Constitution Avenue to the Supreme Court building. People prayed and sang along the way or tried to start chants such as “Hey hey, ho ho, Roe v Wade has got to go.” Signs and banners advertised what parishes and schools groups came from or offered food for thought: “Kanye West is Pro-Life. Are You?” read one. “NICU Nurses for Life,” read another.
Also on hand were pro-life groups from France, Ireland and Italy. The March for Life in many ways is regarded the “mother march” of other pro-life demonstrations in other countries.
The Italian pro-life organization Voglio Vivere (I want to live), for example, held its first march for life in Rome last year, drawing some 10,000 participants. Michaelangelo Gutierrez, head of the group, said he’s come to the D.C. march every year for the past five years to join in solidarity. This May 13, Voglio Vivere will hold its second march.
Father Edward Connolly, pastor of St. Joseph parish and St. Vincent de Paul parish in Girardville, Pa., has been coming to the march for “at least 35 years.” He said it was his 75th birthday, and “a wonderful way to celebrate it.”
“I believe everyone who is pro-life will see God face to face,” he said.
Deacon George Sisson from Holy Family in Middletown, Md., noted that the march “has gotten bigger and younger” over the years. He had just graduated from law school in 1973 and recalls being “amazed that the Supreme Court in one decision would wipe out all of the protections for the unborn…. Talk about a radical, extremist decision!”
Kathy Hotze from St. Louis came because of the major anniversary of Roe. In 1973, she was about to give birth to her son, so she was not that attuned to the abortion debate. She became so a few years later, when she tried to convince a relative not to abort her own child.
She said of the march “It’s so wonderful. It’s growing by leaps and bounds, and the young people are taking over.”