WASHINGTON — The annual March for Life, which turned out a larger number of people than its usual tens of thousands, did not command the media attention that Barack Obama’s inauguration as president had two days earlier.
But, then again, it never gets much more than a mention on the nightly news, even though it is the largest annual protest in the nation’s capital. The New York Times story on the march was missing.
Nevertheless, pro-life marchers were out in force — making their voices heard or quietly praying for the conversion of pro-abortion legislators and leaders such as President Obama.
It was the 36th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, and the thousands of marchers who gathered on the Mall in Washington wanted to send a message to the president: Care equally for mothers and children and restore legal recognition of personhood to unborn Americans.
Estimates of attendance at this year’s march are uncertain, but guesses have ranged from 200,000 to 300,000. Students for Life reported a sold-out conference and estimated that this year’s march marked “the nation’s largest gathering of pro-life students.” American Life League’s conference was also at capacity, with 500 attendees, according to American Life League spokeswoman Katie Walker.
The march route this year was shortened, stretching along Constitution Avenue from 7th Street rather than the traditional starting place at 14th. Yet at every turn, the route seemed packed with people. Many attendees reported scarcely being able to move, even in front of the Supreme Court on Capitol Hill, where the crowd normally thins.
Marchers also stuck around much longer than in recent years. Normally, the strongest waves have diffused by 3 p.m., but this year, when police reopened the streets at 5 p.m., marchers still packed the sidewalks on both sides of First Street. Directly in front of the Supreme Court, two young women and a Franciscan Friar of the Renewal stood, engaged in discussion with the three pro-abortion counter-protesters who were present.
As usual, Catholics made their presence known as one of the most strongly represented groups at the march. Yet, the marchers were diverse, with representation from many faiths and cultures. Speakers at the rally included a Protestant pastor and a number of congressional representatives, including Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan. All received warm greetings from the crowds.
On the whole, marchers struck a positive and charitable note in their opposition to the new administration. Emily Girard, a young woman from Arizona who volunteers at a home for women in crisis pregnancies, summed up the tone of the march’s discourse in her remarks.
“I pray for President Obama’s conversion,” she said. “I honestly want to see him in heaven some day. God can do all things, and I hope he will do this.”
Through an unprecedented number of satellite events (see sidebar) and through a variety of personal actions, participants in the march also brought another, less political message to Washington: a call for widespread social and cultural change to make abortion “unthinkable.”
At the traditional rally before the march, members of Congress called on Obama to withdraw his support from policies that support abortion, calling the treatment of unborn humans the “new civil rights movement” and drawing parallels between abortion and slavery. Religious leaders who spoke, including Cardinal Justin Rigali, chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, and the members of his committee, called on all those present to play their part in renewing the culture.
Luke Robinson, a Protestant pastor who spoke at the rally, explained the place of the pro-life movement in the struggle for “freedom and justice for the oppressed and for the helpless.” He congratulated Obama on his election but spoke of the irony of Obama’s support for abortion in view of the fact that 34% of abortions are performed on African-American women. He called on the president, and all present, to embrace protection for the unborn as a fulfillment of the “dream” of Martin Luther King Jr.
Robinson said: “We are here to deal with some unfinished business as it relates to the dream: We need change now more than ever. . . . Please, Mr. President, be the agent of change. Commute the sentence of the over 1,400 African-American children and 3,000 children from every ethnic background who die every day in this country.” Toward the end of his talk, Robinson had marchers chanting his refrain with him: “We need change now!”
In keeping with the march’s theme of “Equal Care With No Exceptions,” Nellie Gray, president of the March for Life organization, challenged Obama to “speak with post-abortive mothers and fathers in order to understand the real effects of abortion.”
To provide this perspective, the Silent No More Awareness movement gathered hundreds of men and women who had been involved in abortions in the past. To a crowd of listeners, they testified to their experiences of pain and of healing. Many women recalled changing their minds in the waiting room, but still being forced to go through with the abortion, sometimes by family or by the child’s father, sometimes by clinic staff. A common theme for men was that of uncertainty: having wanted what was best for the child’s mother, but not having been aware of the pain an abortion would cause her.
While such events focused on healing from the past, others pointed toward hope for the future. Heartbeat International organized Babies Go to Congress, an event where former crisis-pregnancy center clients brought their children with them on a visit to congressional representatives. The clients, along with center staff and directors, met with representatives and their staff from both sides of the aisle to voice their opinion that crisis-pregnancy centers are good for America.
“The empowerment we saw these women experience was just incredible,” said Virginia Cline, director of public relations and policy for Heartbeat International. “Many had formerly been clients of Planned Parenthood, and they all contrasted the cold, impersonal atmosphere of that experience with the warmth and welcoming they experienced from the Heartbeat staff. Three of the women have even signed up to become crisis-pregnancy center volunteers themselves.”
“Of women who were rescued in 20 different districts, we were able to meet with eight representatives, some of whom were pro-choice, and eight more sent staff members,” Cline said. “Our goal wasn’t to enact any legislation or make any legal changes. It was to communicate to these representatives what great work is taking place in their districts, and to let these women tell representatives in their own words how they’ve been helped. I think we achieved that goal.”
‘Yes We Can’
A degree of urgency seemed to move the multitudes at the march, who held signs calling for “Personhood Now.” Many referred to catchwords of Obama’s campaign, especially “hope” and “change” and “Yes We Can,” the old rallying cry of farmworker organizer Cesar Chavez, to which pro-lifers added “Terminate Abortion.” Many more called on Obama to “thank [his] mama for being pro-life.”
The official March for Life organization invited President Obama to address the protesters at this year’s demonstration. He gave no response. That was in contrast to the previous eight years, when marchers always heard a statement or a phone call from President George W. Bush. The statement posted on their website calls on the president to “stop the intentional killing of an estimated 3,000 preborn boys and girls each day and the brutalizing of mind, heart and body of pregnant mothers.”
Katy Carl filed this story from
the March for Life in Washington.
Rallies, By the Numbers
The March for Life in Washington was just one pro-life event marking the 36th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, on or around the decision’s Jan. 22 anniversary. Others included:
In Anchorage, 100 people participated in a prayer service.
Little Rock: 6,000 attended a March for Life.
In San Francisco, 32,000 people participated in The West Coast Walk for Life. In Redding, volunteers planted 3,000 crosses, Lifesite reports.
In Denver, 400 people rallied at the state capital.
In St. Augustine, 1,000 gathered to hammer 4,000 crosses into the ground, reports Lifesite. In Jacksonville, 500 people rallied.
In Atlanta, 5,000 people rallied.
In Chicago, more than 100 people met for Mass and a march.
In Lexington,100 people gathered for the third annual Vigil for Life, reports Lifesite.
In Augusta, 300 protesters formed a ring around the state capitol.
In Ann Arbor, 500 people attended a pro-life summit. In Lansing, 200-300 rallied at the state capital. 57 events were held in the state; at least 12 buses were sent to the march in D.C.
In Billings, 200 rallied, reports Lifesite.
In Raleigh, a rally drew 1,000.
In Cleveland, 200 attended the city’s first March for Life.
In Portland, 7,000 gathered for a rally.
In Nashville, 1,200 people attended the Rally for Life.
In Dallas, 5,000 rallied, according to The Dallas Morning News. In Austin, 2,500 people rallied for life.
Numbers provided by rally
organizers, except where noted.