Pro-Life Leaders See First Post-Roe March for Life as Beginning New Era of Education and Advocacy

The 2023 gathering shifted focus to state laws, empowering women, and continued outreach on the federal level.

The pro-life contingent continues to be strong post-Roe, as the March for Life 2023 attests.
The pro-life contingent continues to be strong post-Roe, as the March for Life 2023 attests. (photo: Lauretta Brown / National Catholic Register)

WASHINGTON — Tens of thousands of marchers strode past the U.S. Capitol on Friday as a public witness that the pro-life movement is continuing the fight against legal abortion at the federal and state level after the overturning of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision in June. 

Their focus was forward-looking: Some of the marchers carried messages that read, “I demand protection at conception” and “Make abortion unthinkable.” And pro-life leaders stressed that while the gathering marked a celebration of Roe’s demise last June, it was also the beginning of the path forward for the pro-life movement as abortion advocates push to codify Roe at the federal level and battles over state abortion laws continue. 

Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life, told the Register that Roe being overturned was an “incredibly momentous occasion” that meant celebration and a thank-you to “all the marchers over the years,” but it also raised the question, “What are the next steps?” 

The next steps are to continue the fight at the federal level, she continued, but “also our states.” For the March for Life, that means the expansion of their state March for Life initiative that began a few years ago. This year, there will be state marches for life in 10 states, and they plan to reach all 50 states in five to seven years. 

Mancini said that another element of the path forward for the pro-life movement is to “strengthen the safety net for women when they are facing an unexpected pregnancy.” 

Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch is the woman who asked the Supreme Court to overturn Roe in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health. She told the Register that she sees Dobbs as “a God-chosen case.” When she and her team got the case, “we knew we had to look at it from the perspective of empowering women and promoting life. We had to embrace that, and as we did, and we began to write our brief, we knew the hard question had to be posed: Overturn Roe v. Wade.” 

She said they simply asked the Supreme Court to “give it back to the states, give it back to the people where it belongs, so we asked the justices for that. They heard it; they answered.” 

 

A Call to Action

Fitch said the Dobbs decision “has given us those choices now to start implementing in our respective states.” For Mississippi, that means looking to make quality childcare affordable and discussing workplace options to ensure young women have flexibility for their families. She also mentioned the importance of child-support enforcement and called for reform of the adoption and foster-care system, saying, “We’ve got to empower those children to be placed in loving families as quickly as possible.” 

She saw the Dobbs decision as a “call to action” for the pro-life movement, saying pro-lifers should ask themselves, “How do we help with our pregnancy-resource centers” to provide women and children with what they need? 

Supreme Knight Patrick Kelly of the Knights of Columbus told the Register that this March for Life is different, in that Roe has been overturned. At the same time, he added, “Everyone here realizes that the great struggle for life isn’t over and that we still have a lot of work to do.” 

Echoing Fitch’s message, he said that the “day-to-day hard work of the pro-life movement occurs at pregnancy-resource centers and maternity homes in the states,” in order to accompany vulnerable moms and provide them with the resources to choose life. He said the work of the Knights of Columbus in “putting in ultrasounds into these pregnancy centers” is key and “has saved countless thousands of lives.” And he cited the Knights’ new initiative Aid and Support After Pregnancy (ASAP), formed in the wake of the Dobbs decision, as a means to intensify their efforts to partner with pregnancy-resource centers.

Gina Tomes, director of the Bethlehem House Maternity Home in Omaha, Nebraska, spoke at the March for Life. She told the Register that the home helps women “who want to choose life, but are facing a multitude of barriers, barriers such as homelessness, extensive criminal history, addiction, really abuse of every kind.” 

“Our focus is really about the mom,” she said. “Post-Roe, there’s confusion, there’s panic, there’s misinformation; and what we’re doing is just providing the truth. We’re providing an honest plan, and then when moms choose that, and if they want that, we are here and we are ready.” She said the maternity home has seen an “intense increase” in women reaching out after the Dobbs decision, and their waitlist has expanded from seven women to 40. 

She encouraged pro-lifers to “look into their states, maternity homes and to roll their sleeves up,” whether “it’s a gift of time or talent or treasure, but to really empower maternity homes, because we have created an effective solution for these women.” 

 

Holding Politicians Accountable

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, told the Register that this post-Roe March for Life is the “beginning of a whole new pro-life movement.” She noted that many in the crowd were young people, and their youthful enthusiasm, coupled with the “decades of wisdom and experience” behind the movement, means “we’re perfectly situated to take on this next chapter.” 

She sees the work of SBA Pro-Life America in holding elected officials accountable on the life issue as crucial in the work of the movement. She noted the upcoming 2024 presidential race, calling it a “top priority” to make sure that each Republican primary candidate is “as ambitious for life on the federal level as possible.” 

Regarding the role of Congress, Dannenfelser praised the new pro-life majority in the House for communicating strongly “what the pro-life position is about” and “how that contrasts with the other side,” with their recent passage of a measure to protect infants born alive after a failed abortion. And she criticized Rep. Nancy Mace, R-S.C., who did vote in favor of that measure but afterward told Vanity Fair that they were “misguided” and said there would be “political complications” for Republicans adopting a strong pro-life stance. 

“People like Nancy Mace are completely wrong,” Dannenfelser said. “Every plank in the Republican platform is a result of establishing the right to life.” Over time, though, she believes lawmakers like Mace “will come to see that communicating beautifully and strongly and well will always win over the ostrich strategy, which is pretending like this issue doesn’t exist.”

 

Educating the Young

Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, told the Register that there were “complex feelings” at the post-Roe march because while there is “this celebration moment that phase one of the pro-life mission has been accomplished, there’s also this sadness about the 63 million that we were not able to save.” She said that the day was also full of hope and “a lot of conversation” about the movement’s next strategy. 

Students for Life has been focused on demanding protection at the moment of conception, laws to protect children with heartbeats, and “demanding that legislators act to protect women from dangerous chemical abortion pills.” She said that the Biden administration’s recent move to permit abortion pills in pharmacies “perfectly demonstrates” that “this is still a federal, state and a community issue and that there is a lot that needs to be done.” 

Hawkins believes educating the young on the abortion issue is key and highlighted a recent poll of 18- to 34-year-olds by the Demetree Institute for Pro-Life Advancement with YouGov that found that Gen Z and Gen Y, “the most liberal voting bloc, the least churchgoing voting bloc” went from 52% supporting codifying Roe and 22% opposing its codification down to 37% supporting codifying and 47% opposing after those surveyed were told that codifying Roe meant allowing abortion through all nine months of pregnancy.  

She said that she would encourage pro-lifers to get active in their communities and parishes and ask themselves what they’re doing to “support pregnant and parenting students” and what state laws they’re advocating for “to protect women and children” from abortion.

 

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.