‘A Pivotal Moment’: Catholic Pro-Life Leaders Discuss the Importance of Attending the First Post-Roe March for Life

The historic demonstration against legal abortion is more crucial than ever in America’s changed national landscape regarding abortion.

Pro-lifers march during the 49th annual March for Life, on Jan. 21, 2022, in Washington, DC.
Pro-lifers march during the 49th annual March for Life, on Jan. 21, 2022, in Washington, DC. (photo: Mandel Ngan / Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — One thing that will be noticeably missing from the 2023 March for Life on Friday will be the chants of “Hey hey, ho ho, Roe v. Wade has got to go.” 

The Supreme Court overturned the decision that marchers have faithfully protested against in all weather for 49 years. So why continue to march now that Roe has been overturned? 

In fact, pro-life Catholic leaders told the Register, the public pro-life witness at the march is more important than ever: Abortion remains legal in most states; there is renewed cultural hostility to the pro-life message; and pro-abortion politicians push for legislation that would re-establish Roe and bar state pro-life protections.

Supreme Knight Patrick Kelly of the Knights of Columbus, which helps organize the march every year, told the Register that “the end of Roe is a crucial milestone in the pro-life movement, but we cannot mistake it for the end of abortion.” 

He said that while the Dobbs decision that overturned Roe provided “a new opportunity to protect life at the state level,” pro-life work at the federal level is “essential” and pro-lifers must remain vigilant while “pro-abortion forces are determined to codify Roe in federal law.”

He said that while Congress is considering key pro-life protections, like the Born Alive Infant Protection Act recently passed by the House, they need “to hear and see pro-life Americans” and “the witness of the March for Life in Washington, D.C., is as important as ever.” 

Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-life Activities, told the Register that “unlike the previous marches, which focused so powerfully on ending Roe v. Wade, this March for Life truly will be a special time of thanksgiving for the great work God is already making manifest in this country.” 

The Arlington bishop said that amid the thanksgiving and celebration will also be the acknowledgement that “our work is only just beginning.” 

“It’s important that we continue to show up for the March for Life with a prayerful witness because legalized abortion is still a reality in our nation,” he said, “and there continues to be, as we see, a regular push for expansion of abortion at the federal level as well.” 

At this historic March for Life, he stressed, “We need the zeal, we need the prayerful witness of so many people who are so used to coming here more than ever.” 


Next Steps 

In order to reflect the victory in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health and also the “need to maintain a presence in Washington,” the March for Life will conclude this year between the U.S. Capitol and the Supreme Court rather than at the Supreme Court as in years past.

Sister Mary Grace is a member the Sisters of Life, an order dedicated to helping vulnerable pregnant women. She told the Register that while Roe is gone, “the movement to protect the sacredness of human life in our country is ongoing.” 

She sees Roe being overturned as “a pivotal moment in history” but also an opportunity to “really look at what we've been doing for the last 50 years” and ask “how can we serve women better?” 

“If anything, this is the year that we should be doubling our efforts now that we've overturned Roe v. Wade,” Sister Mary Grace said.

The theme of this year’s march, “Next Steps: Marching into a Post-Roe America,” is focused specifically on this objective. 

Kelly identified what he sees as crucial steps for the pro-life movement going forward. He said the movement needs to “sustain and increase our efforts in support of vulnerable women and children,” as well as “reiterate and proclaim to a whole new generation” that “life is beautiful and sacred; that being pro-life means being pro-woman and pro-child.”

Finally, he said elected officials “need to hear from pro-life Americans” now that the issue has returned to the states. In addition to the March for Life in Washington, D.C., he has called on Knights to support pro-life marches in their state capitals.

Bishop Burbidge similarly stressed that with the Dobbs decision, there is a new opportunity to protect the unborn at the state level. He said that means local strategies for dioceses and Catholic conferences working to understand “what is the landscape in that state, what are the opportunities to present our view?” 

Pro-life efforts at both the state and federal level remain important, he noted, but “activity on the state level in light of the current landscape is essential.” 


‘We Are Not Alone’

Sister Mary Grace told the Register that in the 30 years that the Sisters of Life have ministered to women, they have seen that “when a woman knows that she’s loved and someone reminds her of her own goodness then she’s actually capable of a lot more than what she first expected.” 

She said that in their ministry for women seeking healing after abortion, they’ve seen that “there is nothing too much for God's goodness and the reach of his mercy.” 

Sister Mary Grace said this is a time for the pro-life movement to embrace togetherness and healing after almost 50 years of Roe. “We need a national movement once a year that we can gather together and say no state is alone,” she said. “We're in this together.”

Kelly observed that “when young people come to the march, they realize — often for the first time — that they are not alone in their pro-life convictions.”

Sister Mary Grace recalled coming to the March for Life for the first time as an 18-year-old originally from Sydney, Australia, and realizing that “there's this entire movement that is gathering once a year to proclaim that life is good at every stage.” She said the experience “convicted my heart to know that I'm not alone,” and she wants every pro-lifer to know that “the sacredness of life is not just the view of few, it's the truth of the human person.” 

Bishop Burbidge recalled his first time at the March for Life attending as a young seminarian and “being in awe of seeing so many people, including young people, all joined together for a very specific reason.” He said at the march, “you get to the top of the hill, you look down, and you're just seeing so many people” and think “wow, we are not alone. We are in this together with the Lord leading.” 

He said another thing that strikes him about the March for Life every year is that “it’s peaceful because we have the truth and when you have the truth, you have every reason to be serene.”


Reaching Young People

In order to educate the next generation on the sacredness of human life in a culture that is hostile to the pro-life cause, Kelly said it was important “to meet young people where they are, and that means proclaiming the beauty of human life where young people spend their time — especially online and on social media.”

Kelly highlighted the new “Life Fest” event at Washington’s Entertainment and Sports Arena that the Knights of Columbus are hosting in conjunction with the Sisters of Life the morning of the March for Life. The goal of the event is “to inspire and educate a new generation to carry the pro-life movement into the future,” he said, highlighting the tremendous response they’ve had with the arena already booked “at capacity just days after the event was announced.”

Sister Mary Grace said she sees Life Fest as returning to “the heart” of the pro-life movement. The rally’s theme, “Because love is the answer,” is focused on caring for moms in need. “We have so much to offer this movement by proclaiming the way that love pays forward,” she said, “and that is by seeing every person in our life, whatever side of the fence they stand on, as good and sacred and valuable.” 

Bishop Burbidge also encouraged attendance at the national prayer vigil for life the evening before the March at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception beginning with 5pm Mass followed by adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.

It will be a wonderful opportunity, he said, “to gather together in Mary’s house, entrusting what we’re about to do the next day to her protection and care.”

Pro-life and abortion-rights activists protest during the 50th-annual March for Life rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on Jan. 20 in Washington.

Pro-Abortion Counter-Protesters at March for Life Were Few but Loud

Only about a dozen pro-abortion protesters stood in front of the U.S. Supreme Court and only a few others were scattered within the march and on the outskirts of the march; some of the counter-protesters did manage to cause disruptions, and a few had verbal clashes with pro-life activists.