Pro-Life Leaders Reflect on the Years Ahead for the Movement at a ‘Back to Basics’ Virtual March for Life 2021

Speaking to the Register following their participation in this year’s scaled-back event, they discussed their reasons for optimism despite the recent pro-life political setbacks at the federal level.

Although the 2021 March for Life was smaller in scale due to the pandemic, it still had the ever-present message: ‘Pro-Life for the Whole Life.’
Although the 2021 March for Life was smaller in scale due to the pandemic, it still had the ever-present message: ‘Pro-Life for the Whole Life.’ (photo: Lauretta Brown)

WASHINGTON — The 48th-annual March for Life on Friday looked very different than all its previous years, when pro-lifers would descend on the National Mall in the hundreds of thousands to advocate for an end to abortion. 

This year, the Supreme Court building was surrounded by fencing and a heavy police presence while the marchers wore masks. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and recent unrest in the nation’s capital, the pro-life movement was represented Friday by a small group of pro-life leaders who laid roses behind the Supreme Court building in honor of the millions of unborn children who have lost their lives since the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion. 

Several of the pro-life leaders spoke with the Register about the unique nature of the march this year and areas of hope for the movement despite a new administration that is hostile on this issue.

Jeanne Mancini, the president of the March for Life, told the Register that the march “looked very different this year, and it’s sad. We hope next year we can be back all together in person with our young people, who really are the best ambassadors for life, and yet we are at a cultural crossroads here.” She reflected that, “like so many things this year, it looked different, but we returned to the basics; and I think that’s how the march was: It was very somber, very simple — pro-life leaders marching. We carried roses; we were prayerful.”

Mancini also noted the opposition to the pro-life cause already coming from the Biden administration, including the recent rescinding of the expanded Mexico City Policy that barred taxpayer funds from going to abortion overseas. She noted that “77% of Americans are not favorable towards rescinding that.” 

She also anticipated a struggle ahead “to preserve the Hyde Amendment,” which bars taxpayer funds from going to abortions domestically. “That’s going to be our biggest fight,” she said of ensuring the amendment remains in spending bills. Nearly 200 pro-life members of Congress recently wrote a letter saying they would back Hyde, while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has signaled that she will attempt to remove it.

Despite the obstacles ahead, Mancini is optimistic. She said that “for those who weren’t able to be here in person today, there’s something that you can do, something that you can do every day, not just today, to build a culture of life; and I just beg you, please, to just do that — we need that.”


Pro-Life Movement’s Strengths and Strategy

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, noted the setbacks accompanying this year’s March for Life and told the Register, “I would acknowledge the discord all across the country, the discord in this city, the difficulty, the disappointment that is there; and nothing anyone can say can take away from that bad feeling — except for the fact that God is not overwhelmed, so we cannot be overwhelmed.” 

She said that at this time the movement’s “biggest strength” is “in the courts that we worked so hard to get to the place that they are, and it’s in the states and their legislatures that are very strongly pro-life in this nation. It could be really tempting to think ‘bad news seems to be everywhere’; but it’s really not. This is not the usual transition between a pro-abortion and pro-life president, where they’re overturning or setting up new executive orders — just back and forth and back and forth and never making gains. We made tremendous strides in this last administration, and now is the time to come and leverage those.”

The addition of Justices Amy Coney Barrett, Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court during the Trump administration resulted in a 6-3 conservative tilt, leading many pro-lifers to hope for and work toward the overturning of Roe v. Wade by passing pro-life laws in the states that likely will make their way to the Supreme Court. 

Dannenfelser said that strategy is key to the next couple of years and emphasized the need “to get our priorities, what needs to happen first, without question.” Among these, she believes, are protecting “the filibuster, keeping that intact in the Senate; election integrity has to be attended to; winning back the House, the Senate, the presidency; making sure that we dismantle Roe through the states.” She also saw a need to ensure that “we’re doing a great job of undergirding the ministries in every state and helping them cohere so we have a vision for what pro-life America looks like.” 

Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., told the Register that while the Biden administration has already reversed some of the Trump administration’s important pro-life policies, like the expanded Mexico City Policy, it’s important to remember that “we’ve been here before,” and “we saw without a doubt some setbacks during Clinton’s first two years when he had the House and the Senate and Obama’s [first term]. We’ve already had some setbacks; but by the grace of God, we’ll come back.” He added that “we’re already thinking about the midterm elections.”

Brown-MarchforLife 2021 2
A small contingent of pro-life leaders marched to the Supreme Court building to lay roses in honor of the millions of unborn children who have lost their lives since 1973 and proclaim that ‘Human rights begin in the womb.’


Changing Hearts and Minds 

Smith believes “this movement is stronger than ever” and said that, despite the present obstacles, “we will resist and we will fight very, very hard; and we’ll do it out of love. I’ve been in the movement for 48 years. This is the most selfless movement of people committed to nonviolence I have ever seen, and we will continue, and we will win hearts and minds.”

Lauren Merz of Live Action also reflected that the key to the next few years will be changing hearts and minds, saying education on the science of the issue will be crucial in that effort. “Science is really on our side, and we could really gather around and see the humanity of the preborn child,” she told the Register. “We have a video coming out soon talking about fetal development from conception to right up until birth, so there are so many basic pieces of what it means to be human that we can all rally behind. We can have the conversation about abortion; if we can all unify around the fact that this is a human being from the very moment of fertilization, then we can start to have all these other conversations. But I think that really is going to be a great starting point for us as a movement.”

She said she had “mixed feelings” about the altered nature of the March for Life this year, saying that “it’s kind of sad. I wish we had way more people. The city feels very different this year, but also that awesome glimmer of hope that people still showed up … that was really encouraging; that people are just ready to get out there and speak up and stand up on behalf of the preborn — so the future is bright.”

“Now is a time, more than ever, to be just so resolute,” Merz said. “We cannot be discouraged by the next four years that are ahead of us. We have so much hope; there’s so much amazing movement happening from the ground up around our country. At Live Action, we are able to reach millions of people every single day, and we’re converting people who say that they’re pro-choice into pro-lifers every single day. … There are amazing organizations all represented here today who are able to just stand on behalf of the 60 million children who died through abortion, but then also representing all the people who wish that they could be here today for the March for Life. And we look forward to hopefully being able to have the biggest March for Life ever next year.”