Youth Lead March for Life 2012

Church leaders and politicians join young people at the Washington event calling for an overturn of Roe v. Wade. Speakers target HHS contraceptive mandate.

NOT DISCOURAGED BY RAIN. Thousands proceed up Constitution Avenue at the March for Life Jan. 23 in Washington.
NOT DISCOURAGED BY RAIN. Thousands proceed up Constitution Avenue at the March for Life Jan. 23 in Washington. (photo: Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images News)

WASHINGTON — The 2012 March for Life today drew tens of thousands of pro-life Americans to the National Mall, armed with umbrellas and a spirited commitment to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal throughout the United States.

An estimated 54 million unborn children have been killed since the ruling by the high court, and in recent years, the nation has become increasingly more pro-life, particularly among the young. In 2009, a Gallup poll marked the first year that a slight majority of the adult population opposed legal abortion in most cases, and judging by the sea of high school and college students at this year’s march, the young account for much of this steady shift.

Holding signs and wearing t-shirts with favorite sayings, youthful marchers asked bystanders to pray for a “culture of life” and reminded others “Adoption is an option.”

Students from Christendom College, a Catholic college in Front Royal, Va., which cancels classes on the day of the march every year so the entire school can attend, led the march up Constitution Avenue toward the Supreme Court building.

“Although the college places a primacy upon its education, the magnitude and gravity of this one issue is so great that we believe that a corporate public witness on the part of the college is necessary,” Timothy O’Donnell, president of Christendom College in Front Royal, Va., told the Register.

“[C]learly something is happening in our nation,” observed O’Donnell.  “Just as Lincoln said, a nation cannot ...continue to exist half slave and half free, nor can a nation continue to exist if it slaughters its own all children.  I think that the joyful optimism of our youth, the strength of the faith, and the inherent power of the truth of the pro-life argument will ultimately win the minds and hearts of our nation.”

Earlier in the day, Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, took note of the massive turnout for the march and events surrounding it.

“One can hardly be faulted for being tempted to the ‘sin against the Holy Spirit’ and just consider all as lost. Not us! Not for thousands who have stayed up all night in prayer in this, the home of a pregnant woman,” he said in a homily during the closing Mass of the National Prayer Vigil for Life at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. “Not for those of us who whisper, ‘Thanks be to God’ as we behold untold numbers of young people with passion for the culture of life; those of us old enough to recall 39 years ago, when sophisticated voices told us that the ‘pro-life movement’ was just a momentary fad that would soon crash upon the shores of a ‘brave new world.’

“We veterans who now smile as the pro-life cause is acknowledged as today’s premiere civil-rights movement still, in spite of editorial pages and chic tsk-tsk, the most pivotal, burning issue on the campaign trail,” the cardinal-designate told a packed congregation that included visiting parish and school groups.

The growing presence of the young at this annual march, he said, serves as a deep source of inspiration for Catholic and other pro-life leaders, after “two-score years of promoting a recovery of the culture of life gravely threatened by unlimited abortion.”

Two days after learning that the federal government would require Catholic institutions to provide abortifacients, among other contraceptives, in their private health-insurance plans, the USCCB president noted that “surrender” to anti-life forces was a temptation that must be resisted.

The night before at the shrine, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston, Texas, and chairman of the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities, attacked the HHS rule confirmed by Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Jan. 20, despite months of lobbying by Catholic institutions and pro-life groups across the nation.

“Never before in our U.S. history has the federal government forced citizens to directly purchase what violates our beliefs. At issue here … is the survival of a cornerstone constitutionally protected freedom that ensures respect for conscience and religious liberty,” said Cardinal DiNardo during his homily at the opening Mass for the vigil.

Four More Years?

But Church leaders and pro-life activists also called for a deeper conversion of heart and a transformation of cultural values that have led to the widespread cultural practice of aborting unborn children with birth defects.

“The real choice in accepting or rejecting a child with special needs is never between some imaginary perfection or imperfection.  None of us is perfect.  No child is perfect,” said Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia at the annual Cardinal O’Connor Conference on Life, organized before the march here in the nation’s capital. 

“The real choice in accepting or rejecting a child with special needs is between love and unlove; between courage and cowardice; between trust and fear.  That’s the choice we face when it happens in our personal experience.  And that’s the choice we face as a society in deciding which human lives we will treat as valuable,” said Archbishop Chaput.

Many pro-life college leaders reported that crisis pregnancy outreach and prayer vigils at abortion clinics are top priorities.  Victor Bermudez, the leader of a 400-strong group of students from Franciscan University at Steubenville, said his group has raised funds “through dances and coffee houses to support those struggling with unintended pregnancies.

As Register blogger Steve Greydanus noted today, “the March for Life is much more than a one-day event. It’s a multi-day rally that includes rallies, discussion panels, film screenings, Masses and a reception and dinner after the march. Many demonstrators make a point of stopping at Capitol Hill to see their representatives.”

While the Sisters of Life had set up an installation in the Blessed John Paul II Shrine, visited by many pro-life leaders after hundreds gathered for Mass there yesterday at the Grand Gallery of Mary, others used the opportunity to do some lobbying on Capitol Hill.

Against the backdrop of the controversial HHS final rule, some familiar speakers at the march called on pro-life activists to vote President Obama out of office.

Describing the 2012 presidential election as a “watershed” event, Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., predicted that “Mr. Obama’s abortion extremism will significantly worsen in a second term. Given four more years, Mr. Obama will further pack the courts — including and especially the U.S. Supreme Court — with litmus-tested pro-abortion judges perched to retain the infamous holdings of Roe.”

“Unhindered and unfettered by any concern over a future election, Mr. Obama will aggressively use the coercive power of the state to compel abortion conformity and complicity,” predicted Smith, co-chairman of the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus.

At the same time, Smith applauded the pro-life leadership of House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, noting that the “House has overwhelmingly approved H.R. 3 — the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act — the Protect Life Act and has voted to completely repeal Obamacare and defund Planned Parenthood. Now we must work to change the Senate and reclaim the White House.”

President Obama, In a statement that reaffirmed his commitment to defend the constitutionality of legal abortion, sought to frame access to abortion as necessary precondition for equal opportunity for the next generation of American women.

“[A]s we remember this historic anniversary, we must also continue our efforts to ensure that our daughters have the same rights, freedoms, and opportunities as our sons to fulfill their dreams.”

But while abortion activists celebrated the HHS final rule mandating contraception services for health plans, Planned Parenthood and its supporters are bracing for an intense political fight during the coming months at the national and state levels.

“Right now, there are 19 state governments that are solidly anti-choice, meaning that the legislatures and governors oppose abortion rights,” NARAL Pro-Choice America President Nancy Keenan told The Washington Post’s Sarah Kliff. “There are 44 mixed-choice states. Between all of them, there’s a lot of space for things to get even worse.”

Today, the National Right to Life Committee and the federation of 50 state right-to-life affiliates, announced political and legislative priorities for 2012 that also focused on the defeat of the president.

“Additionally, building upon recent success in five states, National Right to Life will urge Congress to adopt a ban on aborting pain-capable unborn children in the federal district and will push for enactment of this ban in several more states,” said Carol Tobias, president of National Right to Life in a statement released today, which noted that the D.C. Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act would be introduced today, in a bid to block the practice of two late-term abortion providers in the District of Columbia.

Register senior editor Joan Frawley Desmond writes from Chevy Chase, Maryland.