Young Marchers Brave Cold to Stand for Life

An estimated crowd of 200,000 gathered for the annual March for Life, despite record-low temperatures.

Benedictine College students carry the March for Life banner at the head of the Jan. 22 march in Washington.
Benedictine College students carry the March for Life banner at the head of the Jan. 22 march in Washington. (photo: Addie Mena/CNA)

WASHINGTON — Despite a blanket of snow across Northeastern states and record-breaking low temperatures in the nation’s capital on Jan. 22, Constitution Avenue and First Street were ablaze with a sea of heads as an estimated crowd of 200,000 attended the 41st annual March for Life.

The undaunted marchers protested the legalization of abortion, as they have done every year since the 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade.

“We march because 56 million Americans never had a chance to experience snow,” said the March for Life organization the day before the event through its Twitter account, referring to the estimated number of abortions since abortion was made legal nationwide.

Patrick Kelly, the March for Life chairman, summed up the marchers’ attitude at the noon rally on the National Mall: “We may be freezing, but we’re freezing for the best cause in the world.”

This year’s march included a number of innovations, including its focus on the theme of adoption. A young woman named Molly Anne Dutton told her own moving personal story: Her biological mother chose life for her after a rapist attacked her.

Even though her mother’s husband threatened to divorce her unless she aborted unborn Molly Anne, her mother instead carried her to term and arranged for her adoption through a Christian agency.

In October, after campaigning on a theme promoting adoption, Molly Anne was voted Auburn University’s 100th homecoming queen, The Christian Post reported.

Catholic musician Matt Maher sang for the crowd. Speakers at the rally included Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Ill., Rep. Chris Smith, D-N.J., and James Dobson of the evangelical Focus on the Family.

“There is an unalienable right to life, and that right extends to the unborn,” Cantor told the crowd.


Youthful Vitality

Under the winter caps of the marchers were mostly brown, black and blond heads — not white or gray ones. The frigid temperatures kept many of the older marchers at home this year, lowering the already young median age of those attending to somewhere in the early-20s range.

Students from Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., led the march crowd through the streets of Washington. On the day of the march, the college announced the inauguration of a new Youth for Life summer program to train high-school students to become leaders of pro-life cultural transformation.

Robert, 15, from the northern Virginia area, is already working towards that goal. He was at the march with his dad. They’ve been coming for 10 years, and, like many of the young people at the march, he looks forward to a day when Roe v. Wade will end.

“I believe there is hope that it will be overturned. At the same time, it’s a difficult thing to bring up and get through to people, that [abortion’s] not a right thing to do,” said the teenager.

Young members of Students for Life of America (SFLA) traveled from across the country for the march.

Lo Martinez of Colorado came “to stand up for women and men and the preborn” and raise awareness of the pro-life cause among high school and college students. Casey Tesauro of California came with post-abortive women in mind, hoping to bring comfort to those hurt by “the lies or myths they believed about abortion.”

Beth O’Malley, SFLA’s national college program coordinator, emphasized the importance of helping women who are at risk for an abortion. She aims "to be a witness" to college women who are pregnant, "letting them know that you can do it all — you can have a baby and be taking classes and in school — and Students for Life is more than willing to help make that happen."


Braving Winter Storm

The journey to D.C. was rough, with flights delayed and canceled in the wake of Winter Storm Janus. Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, who was scheduled to celebrate the closing Mass of the 35th National Prayer Vigil for Life, held at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, was unable to attend, and his homily was read by the shrine’s rector, Msgr. Walter Rossi.

Eager students from Thomas More College in New Hampshire and Christendom College in Front Royal, Va., found their bus trips canceled. A handful of bold Thomas More students hopped into a car to brave the storm — only to find themselves stranded in Pennsylvania. The Christendom students were luckier: About 50 made it to the march via private transportation.

Even those with smoother rides made sacrifices. Mac Hill came up with 16 friends from the University of Florida, accompanied by 25 others from the University of Miami, leaving behind a state “in the 60s and sunny.” But Hill had no regrets about his efforts for the cause.

“I don’t want to speak for everybody, but, for me, personally, [I’m here] because I believe that all life is sacred and has dignity and believe that those of us who have the ability should stand up for the dignity of those who can’t defend themselves,” said Hill.


An Eclectic Crowd

While the young and the Catholic predominated, the rally was eclectic. Jesuits flew a flag. The University of Notre Dame was there. So was The Catholic University of America. As were Anglicans for Life and the Orthodox for Life.

The steps of the Canadian Embassy were sprinkled with cheering neighbors. And the march was peaceful, as usual. One policeman, hibernating in his car on a busy corner, stole a catnap as pro-life activists strolled by. The guards in front of the Supreme Court, though less relaxed, had nothing to do but watch.

The March for Life buzzed with priests, brothers and nuns, including the Sisters of Life. Mother Agnes Mary Donovan, their superior general, emphasized the march’s importance for America: “We’re here because we want to really witness the fact that the nation is not at peace with the course that it’s taken and to witness to another view about the sacredness and the mystery of the human person.”

Members of the National Association of Pro-Life Nurses were there, as they have been for the past 10 to 20 years. One member, Jocelyn, described their mission: “to influence other practitioners of medicine and encourage them to see prenatal life as a real human being.”

Abortion-rights activists treat the pro-life cause as a dying one. But the youth, the enthusiasm and the ecumenism of the march belie such descriptions. The march’s founder, Nellie Gray, died in 2012, but the march lives on. Maybe it’s running partly on her prayers; Pope Francis’ tweet of solidarity provided spiritual support, too.


The Strength of Life

Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley highlighted the euphemisms employed by abortion-rights activists with his homily at the National Prayer Vigil for Life’s opening Mass on Jan. 21. He reminded his fellow clergy attending — 550 seminarians, 60 deacons, 300 priests, 33 bishops and three other cardinals — as well as the 10,000-member congregation, of Hans Christian Andersen’s famous story The Emperor’s New Clothes.

“The king’s new clothes today are called ‘reproductive rights,’ ‘termination of pregnancy,’ ‘choice’ and many other euphemisms that deny the reality of abortion. … The voice of the Church is like the child, who declares before the world that the new clothes are a lie,” said the cardinal.

Archbishop Chaput put the same truth in other words in his homily for Wednesday morning. “[T]he word of God and the works of God do not pass away. … The truth about the dignity of the human person is burned into our hearts by the fire of God’s love. …

“Our job is to slay the sin of abortion and to win back the women and men who are captive to the culture of violence it creates. In the long run, right makes might — not the other way around.

“In the long run, life is stronger than death. … [Jesus is] the Lord of history. And sooner or later, despite the weaknesses of his friends and the strengths of his enemies, his will will be done — whether the Pharisees and Herodians of our day approve of it or not.”

As he also said, “God’s love always wins.”

Sophia Mason is a graduate student at The Catholic University of America.

She blogs at  The Girl Who Was Saturday and lives in Arlington, Virginia.