Despite forecasts of more than 2 feet of snow and driving winds for the Mid-Atlantic region, Friday's March for Life, the annual peaceful protest of the 1973 Roe v. Wade U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down the nation’s anti-abortion laws, is still on, organizers say. And while many participants have not changed their plans, others have opted to cancel their trips to the nation's capital in the name of safety.
On Jan. 19, the Catholic Youth Apostolate of the Archdiocese of St. Louis issued a statement declaring that 3,000 youth, chaperones and other pro-lifers would be making a "Generation Life" pilgrimage to Washington, D.C., to participate in the March for Life regardless of concerns about the weather. However, the following day the archdiocese reversed itself, declaring that after “prayerful consideration of numerous factors” the trip was canceled due to weather. The archdiocese added that “several local events are already being discussed to provide the St. Louis area with opportunities to pray for and visibly defend the inviolable right of all human beings which is the right to life.”
Other dioceses have followed suit and canceled participation in the march, including the Archdiocese of Boston; the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana; and the Diocese of Saginaw, among others, in Michigan. The Diocese of Raleigh, North Carolina, tweeted Jan. 21 that due to extreme weather, the bishops of North Carolina would not be attending the event, and other dioceses, including the Diocese of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and Brooklyn, New York, saw some buses being canceled, either by the organizations or by the bus companies themselves.
In the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia, Michael School, executive director of Richmond’s Center for Marriage, Family and Life, announced that all parish, school and campus ministry-sponsored trips to the March for Life have been canceled due to the expected blizzard. This includes trips sponsored by outside organizations, such as the Knights of Columbus. Anyone belonging to one of these groups was welcome to attend on their own, but not as part of any diocesan-sponsored group.
Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo of Richmond noted that it was a difficult decision to make, but encouraged all parishioners “to continue praying unceasingly for an end to abortion." The Diocese of Richmond itself expected to receive up to a foot of snow also closed its pastoral center on Friday and canceled all weekend activities planned at the center Jan. 23-24.
Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life Education and Defense Fund, said that Jan. 21 was the warmest it has been for the week, and added that the weather reports indicated that the blizzard was expected to strike Friday evening after the march. All equipment for the March for Life rally was in place as of Jan. 21, but between the costs of snow removal and the fact that the equipment must be taken down immediately after the rally, the March for Life will incur tens of thousands of dollars of additional expense.
Mancini noted that despite the challenges, tens of thousands of pro-lifers had already arrived as of Thursday and would march regardless of weather.
"We respect the decision of those who are staying home because of the weather," she said. "However, many are here and are determined to march, whatever comes our way tomorrow.”
A blizzard warning goes into effect beginning at 3 p.m. Friday. The March for Life event kicks off with a musical opening and rally beginning at 11:45 a.m., followed by a 1 p.m. march. When the march concludes at 3 p.m., participants are invited to gather in front of the U.S. Supreme Court building to hear testimonies of people affected by abortion, a program known as Silent No More.
Mancini noted that some previous years had similarly ugly forecasts, but only once, in 1985, did the forecast come to pass. Additionally, she noted, as the heavy snow is likely not to begin until Friday afternoon or evening, which would be after the march ends, participants are encouraged to consider getting a hotel room for the night and waiting for the weather to improve. Weather forecasters are predicting that the snow will end Sunday morning, with double-digit accumulation likely.
The march already has made adjustments for the cold weather, Mancini said, including switching stages as function of the original hydraulic-powered stage they planned on using won’t work when the temperature drops below freezing, as it is this week. Mancini’s own plans for the march include wearing multiple layers of clothing and bringing warming packs for hands and feet.
Father Frank Pavone, director of Priests for Life, began attending the March for Life in 1976, when he was a high school student. He’s attended nearly every one since and has seen the full range of weather.
“We’ve been through blizzards before, but we’re willing to trudge through the snow to give witness to life,” he said.
Janet Morana, executive director of Priests for Life and coordinator of the Silent No More testimonies, noted that the harsh weather will no doubt reduce attendance at this year’s march, as some bus companies hired to bring in pro-lifers have announced that they are suspending service due to weather. However, she believes attendance will still be strong because of the dedication of those involved in the movement.
“We’re never going to give up until every baby, woman and man is saved from abortion,” she said. Echoing Father Pavone, she added, “We’re not here to fight abortion, we’re here to end it.”
For Morana, this week is her 26th march. She’s seen harsh weather before; in 1994, a severe snow and ice storm shut down the capital. A Mass planned ahead of the March for Life in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception was canceled that year, she recalled, “but everyone showed up anyway. Cardinal John O’Connor greeted us, joking, ‘Welcome to the canceled Mass.’”
Over the decades, Morana has seen the March for Life grow and has also noted its increasing dominance by young people.
“They really are the pro-life generation,” she said.
Abby McIntyre, 18, will be among the young people marching Friday. She is a full-time “pro-life missionary” with Stand True Pro-Life Outreach in Troy, Ohio. She began marching two years ago in “miserably cold” March for Life weather.
“We were all miserable being outside, but being there shows how passionate we are for life,” she said. “Our attitude is ‘bring it on, we’ll stick it out.’”
As a pro-life missionary, McIntyre’s duties include praying at an abortion clinic in Dayton, Ohio, and counseling women against abortion. She said, “We want to educate people to be on the pro-life side so that having an abortion will be unthinkable.”
Bryan Kemper, president of Stand True Pro-Life Outreach and organizer of the youth rally, predicts that most pro-lifers will “bring their snow boots” and show up at the march regardless of weather.
“Several thousand babies die in abortion clinics every day in the country, so we must be out there,” he said. “We must bring an end to abortion.”
Last year’s march drew hundreds of thousands of people, and Father Pavone again hopes for strong numbers. And, as the mainstream media often gives scant or inaccurate coverage of the March for Life, Father Pavone encouraged those unable to attend to follow events and read commentary online.
“We’ve made tremendous progress since Roe v. Wade, both in terms of legislation and changing public opinion,” he said. “We have every reason to be hopeful for the future.”
Mancini agreed. “The March for Life has made a tremendous impact, converting many to our cause and motivating people to get involved,” she said. While the weather might deter some from coming this year, “we have a good base of pro-lifers who are very motivated. I don’t think they’ll be afraid of a storm.”
Jim Graves writes from California.