WASHINGTON — When hundreds of thousands of people descend upon the nation’s capital next week for the March for Life this year, they will be met with exciting changes aimed at young people and cultural renewal, said the event’s leader.
“I think it’s really a spiritual battle,” Jeanne Monahan, March for Life's president, told Catholic News Agency on Jan. 15. “This march does have a huge impact on actually saving lives.”
Forty years after the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalized abortion throughout America, the March for Life is looking forward to continuing this impact with Monahan, who took over as head of the organization last year.
“The rally will have a really different spirit this year,” said Monahan, explaining that it will be much shorter, only about an hour, compared to several hours in the past.
In addition, she said, the rally will have a very different feel than in previous years, which have featured upwards of 50 legislators and other speakers. Instead, Monahan noted, the rally this year will spotlight a handful of speakers “who are actually steeped in the issue,” and the speeches will “tap into all the cutting-edge pro-life issues,” both legal and cultural.
The March for Life will also incorporate new technology into this year’s event and those of the future, she continued. During the Jan. 25 rally on the National Mall, there will be “huge jumbotrons so that participants will be able to see what’s happening,” regardless of their proximity to the speakers.
The jumbotrons will also be utilized before the rally to play “interesting and engaging videos related to pro-life,” as well as to entertain those waiting for the march to begin.
The March for Life’s digital presence has also been updated, with a new website that was launched just two weeks before the event. Monahan described the site as having “gone from a relic to a very engaging and fun website.”
“We’re trying to do a good job of commemorating the unique 55 million lives that we’ve lost in the last four decades, but, at the same time, capturing the enthusiasm of the march and young people.”
Looking towards the future, Monahan also anticipates some long-term changes for the organization.
“We’re the March for Life Education and Defense Fund,” she said, explaining that the organization has focused on the defense aspect of holding the largest pro-life event in the country each year.
“So now what I see happening in the future is that we’ll grow our education piece … in the larger context of trying to build a culture of life,” she said.
Nellie Gray’s Legacy
While the organization is making changes and embracing the age of digital communications and social networking, Monahan stressed that “it’s really only by now standing on the wonderful foundation that Nellie Gray has built, that we can move forward and bring some new things to the march.”
Gray, the founder and former president of the March for Life, passed away in August 2012.
In particular, “one thing that I really admire and take from Nellie,” Monahan explained, “ is how she would pray for people and had a merciful heart towards people involved in the abortion industry.”
Recounting stories of Gray praying for the conversion of abortionists, she added that her predecessor “had a very merciful heart and very much knew that it was a spiritual battle.”
Monahan also responded to speculations of record crowds attending the march this year.
Earlier media reports have speculated that the attendance at the March for Life may outnumber that of the presidential inauguration on Jan. 21. However, while a greater percentage of the hotel rooms reserved for the march have sold out, Monahan confirmed, the inauguration committee had reserved more rooms overall than the March for Life and affiliated organizations had.
Still, March for Life organizers are expecting large crowds. Monahan said that the group’s hotels sold out about a month earlier than they normally do.
“We’re seeing all sorts of signs of increased enthusiasm and excitement,” she said, adding that there are “all sorts of indicators pointing towards a large crowd.”
Monahan estimates that about 80% of the crowd will be young people and that this young presence is a hopeful marker of the future of the pro-life movement and the effect it has on the culture. “I think that it just has a huge impact,” Monahan stated, “one that we can’t even begin to measure.”
This impact will not only be seen in Congress, she explained, “but also just the larger message that this says to the world and to Washington: that we are a pro-life people and that we respect life and want to protect life.”