WASHINGTON — As the bus approached the offload point for the March for Life, Elizabeth Horn felt a strong conviction arise in her heart to say something to her fellow parishioners about why they had made the journey across several states from Zanesville, Ohio, to the nation’s capital.

“We’re not just marching for the end of abortion, but we’re actually marching for the right to life, the right to life in Christ, and for our youth to actually encounter the Lord,” said the 20-year-old Catholic nursing student, as recounted to the Register. Horn said she wanted people to know the power of their intercessory prayer and that they were also giving witness to a world where many people are dead inside and need to experience “living in the fullness of Christ.”

The March for Life saw tens of thousands of marchers like Horn descend on Washington from across the country on Jan. 24 to commemorate the 47th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion and has cost the country about 61 million lives. But marchers also came away invigorated by seeing history made, with the attendance for the first time of a U.S. president, and feminist history reclaimed by the pro-life movement.

“We’re here for a very simple reason: to defend the right of every child, born and unborn, to fulfill their God-given potential,” President Donald Trump declared from the podium at the march rally after Lee Greenwood’s iconic song God Bless the USA had concluded. After thanking marchers for their 47 years of faithful witness, Trump told the audience, “Today, as president of the United States, I am truly proud to stand with you.”

The president spoke eloquently about how “together, we must protect, cherish and defend the dignity and sanctity of every human life” and how “one life changes the world.”

The president also referred to his pro-life record in the White House, from the expanded Mexico City Policy to the new pro-life rules on Title X taxpayer funding, as well as the number of judges he has appointed, including two Supreme Court justices.

The president also contrasted his White House résumé with the Democratic Party leadership’s “extreme positions” on abortion, both in Congress and in states like New York and Virginia. The president also made clear that he would be enforcing federal laws on religious liberty and free speech, particularly in regards to universities that ban pro-life speech on their campuses.

“You stand for life each and every day. You provide housing, education, jobs and medical care to the women that you serve. You find loving families for children in need of a forever home. You host baby showers for expecting moms,” he said. “You make — you just make it your life’s mission to help spread God’s grace.”

Bipartisan Participation

The president may have been the biggest political figure present, but he was joined by politicians from both Republican and Democratic Parties. Democrats who spoke included Donna Bel Edwards, the first lady of Louisiana, and Louisiana state Sen. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, the author of a bill requiring abortionists to have admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles of their practice that faces a challenge at the U.S. Supreme Court.

“In Louisiana, it doesn’t matter if you’re Democrat or Republican, black or white — we fight for life,” Jackson said, explaining why the Bayou State is the “No. 1 pro-life state in the nation.”

“When people ask me why I’m a black, female Democrat fighting for life, I tell them ‘because I’m a Christian first,’” she said. “And then I tell them that Proverbs says God hates the shedding of innocent blood, and there’s no blood more innocent than an unborn child.”

She added, “We fight …”

“For life!” the crowd shouted in reply.

Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life, told the Register that the march has invited every sitting U.S. president an opportunity to speak at the March for Life. March for Life founder Nellie Gray even invited President Barack Obama, Mancini said — but it came as a surprise that President Trump made the decision to come in person.

At the same time, Mancini said the March for Life aims to foster unity in the pro-life movement and is inclusive in how it cuts across party, religious and cultural lines.

“We were there because of the human-rights abuse of today, abortion,” she said.

 

Reclaiming Feminism

The March for Life this year had the theme “Pro-Life Is Pro-Woman” and made a concerted effort to both highlight the pro-woman nature of the movement and also reclaim the pro-life roots of the American feminist movement contained in the fight for women’s suffrage, which culminated in the adoption of the 19th Amendment in 1920.

Sue Ellen Browder, Catholic author of Sex and the Catholic Feminist, former Cosmopolitan writer and frequent contributor to the Register, spoke at both the March for Life Conference the day before the March for Life and at the Pro-Life Summit held on the following Saturday.

Browder told the Register that she was deeply impressed that the message of reclaiming feminism for the pro-life movement had taken hold since she last spoke to activists at the march in 2016.

“When I was there last time, I felt I was leading the pack, and, now, I feel like I’m following it,” she said. Browder said she was impressed at how the discussions focused on “the empowerment of women” in addition to the killing of the baby in the womb. Browder said there is much more emphasis today on how to help women who find themselves in situations where they are contemplating abortion.

“Everyone knows we’re headed to a post-Roe America,” Browder said. She said the grassroots pro-life voice will be vital when the issue gets “thrown back to the states.”

“The intensity of the young people was palpable,” she said of the crowd gathered this year. “There was a fire there that only comes when you’re 18, 19 and 20.”

Mancini said the march is preparing for a post-Roe world with its regional and state march program.

“We’ll be there in some capacity to help work with the states,” she said.

Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa, founder of New Wave Feminists, told the Register that the pro-life movement is pro-woman at its core. However, she believed Trump’s presence at the march could be costly to the movement in the long run.

“If we lose the culture by tying ourselves to a man — ironically, when the theme is ‘Pro-Life Is Pro-Woman’ — who has been known for very misogynistic and questionable behavior throughout his life, it kind of makes us look like hypocrites,” she said, though Herndon-De La Rosa stressed the March for Life organizers have been consistent in their invitation to sitting presidents of all political stripes and have tried to diversify the political presence at the main rally. However, she said many people were failing to look at the president critically or understand how others see his behavior.

Herndon-De La Rosa said transforming the culture is key to the pro-life movement’s effectiveness. She said the main event would benefit from having post-abortive women speak, and the presence of more women of color, so they could share how to address structural issues that are leading women to feel that they need abortion in the first place.

“We can create that world now that supports women so well that abortion is unthinkable because they have everything they need to choose life for their child,” she said.

 

Abortion Survivor Speaks

The March for Life also made history with two abortion survivors speaking from the podium, providing a rare opportunity for pro-life marchers to see the faces of the people they are fighting for. Melissa Ohden spoke about how she was a victim of a saline abortion 42 years ago — just five years after Roe v. Wade. She was followed by Claire Culwell, who survived an abortion while her twin did not.

“When you look at my face, you see my twin. And when you look at my life, you see the almighty hand of God,” Culwell told marchers.

Culwell told the Register that the vast number of people that came to “literally march for my life and my twin’s life was very encouraging and inspiring.”

“People want to stand up for truth,” she said. “People want to support and empower women.”

Culwell hopes marchers will take her message back to their communities, share the pro-life message, and “do something to support ministries that are making it possible for women to continue their lives, continue their careers and also be able to experience the gift of motherhood.”

Elizabeth Horn said she’s ready to share that pro-life message and pro-woman witness more than ever, particularly after transferring to Ohio State University later this year, a Big Ten campus where she will encounter other students who need to see a pro-life message in action.

“My testimony alone can speak so many volumes to their hearts because they see someone for whom it’s real,” she said. “So they can see: ‘There’s a person I respect that’s a woman, a feminist, who believes in the Lord. And I believe that it’s real, and the pro-life movement is needed.’”

Peter Jesserer Smith is a Register staff reporter.