The March for Life: What to expect this year

More than 100,000 pro-lifers from across the nation will travel to Washington, D.C., for the March for Life 2018 on Jan. 19, which coincides with the 45th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that struck down the nation’s anti-abortion laws. The day will begin with a lunchtime rally at the Washington Monument followed by a march down Constitution Avenue to the U.S. Supreme Court and Capitol buildings, and then conclude with meetings with elected officials. The annual event is a peaceful demonstration that seeks to change minds and hearts on the issue of abortion.

A large draw

“We drew 100,000 for the 2017 March and anticipate having at least as many, if not more, for 2018,” said Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life since 2012.

The March for Life began in 1974 at the instigation of pro-life advocate and Catholic convert Nellie Gray (1924-2012). She and her fellow organizers believed their efforts would be short-term, Mancini said, as they thought Roe would soon be overturned. But, “they were surprised when it wasn’t.”

The event has grown in size over the past 44 years to become the world’s largest pro-life demonstration, Mancini said, and has included an increasingly large contingent of young people.

“The majority of our participants are teenagers and young adults,” Mancini said. “Young people are attracted to social justice issues, and abortion is the most important social justice issue of our time. Youth see themselves as the pro-life generation.”

Among the young people going is Cassidy Roderick, a sophomore at Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio, which sends about 800 people annually to the March, more than half of whom are students. For Cassidy, who is president of the school’s Students for Life group, it will be her third march.

“Although the reason for the event is something tragic, the large numbers who participate are a beautiful witness to the dignity of human life and the need to stand up and protect it,” she said.

Katie Probst, a senior at Benedictine College in Kansas, will lead a group of 300 from Benedictine and will be attending her 10th march. For her, annual participation in the march reminds her that many young people like herself share her pro-life views.

“It reminds me I’m not alone and that this is a fight for my generation,” she said.

Ed Konieczka, who works in campus ministry at North Dakota’s University of Mary, will lead a group of 150 from his school to the march, which will be the fourth he has attended. He said his participation in the March “is a way I can lend my voice in the debate over the preeminent issue of our day.”

He said that the 60-hour round-trip bus ride to Washington is a hardship, “but it is a sacrifice of love we can make for those who can’t speak for themselves.”

In addition to Catholic schools, many Catholic clergy and religious are expected, as well as parish groups. Matt Hart will coordinate a group of about two dozen from St. John Paul II Parish in Southbridge, Massachusetts, where he coordinates the youth group. It will be his second march. He wants to go so that he can “show our young people that their faith is meant to be alive and lived. Catholics have a duty to stand up and defend the weakest and most vulnerable in society, the unborn.”

Mancini, who is Catholic, noted that while the march itself is nonsectarian, “Catholics have always been its backbone.”

For those unable to make the trip to Washington, there are a variety of pro-life events across the nation. See the website for listings. (See sidebar.)

The day’s events

Organizers ask participants to sign up online, download the March for Life 2018 app for quick access to March information and bring friends. Christian singer Plumb will kick off the rally with a performance at 11:30 a.m., followed by speakers and the March. Once the march concludes, participants are invited to remain on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court building and listen to Silent No More testimonies, stories of the adverse effects abortion has had on individual lives.

Vice President Mike Pence was the special guest of the 2017 March for Life, having taken the oath of office just the week before. His participation in the March was announced the night before, and a last minute announcement of similar magnitude is a possibility for the 2018 March for Life, Mancini said.

March organizers request that all participants remain peaceful, respectful and neat, and refrain from engaging any pro-abortion counter demonstrators they meet along the way. “We believe the best approach is not to be confrontational but peaceful,” Mancini said.

Pro-abortion protestors in previous years have caused a temporary halt of the march while police removed those in the marchers’ path, although such counter demonstrations have been on the decline, Mancini believes.

March conference

The day before the March, on Jan. 18, march participants are encouraged to take part in a March for Life Conference at the Renaissance Washington, D.C. Downtown Hotel. Kicking off the conference is pro-life advocate Stephanie Gray, who will make the keynote presentation.

“Stephanie is a phenomenal speaker, engaging and reasonable,” Mancini said. “She also embodies our theme, ‘Love Saves Lives.’”

A panel discussion will follow on the theme, which, Mancini believes, tells women in crisis pregnancy situations, “Choosing life is not always the easy thing to do, but it is the loving, empowering, self-sacrificial decision.” The conference concludes with a session providing marchers with tips on how to speak with elected officials. The cost is $30.

The March for Life website also features an online store, where participants can purchase T-shirts, sweatshirts, hats and other accessories. A portion of the proceeds benefits the March.

Transforming effect

While abortion is still legal 45 years after Roe, Mancini believes the March for Life has made significant progress through the years. She pointed to legislative successes and more widespread media coverage, as well as individual anecdotal stories she has heard while lobbying for life. One such story was about a young woman she’d met who had been pro-abortion and was converted to the pro-life position through a March for Life. She returned home and started a Students for Life group at her school.

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“The March has had a transforming effect on many people,” Mancini said. “However, it’s always been our ultimate goal to end abortion, and not to have a need for another March for Life.”

Jim Graves writes from California.