A look at the 2013 March for Life in Washington, D.C.
Given the difficulty of maneuvering through the crowd that gathered on the National Mall in the Nation’s Capital for the rally, it is easy to believe that this March for Life may have had the most participants ever. Groups from parishes, youth groups, colleges, and high schools mingled with individuals, families, priests, religious, and members of the press. When the rally began a cheer went up and then quieted as the Pledge of Allegiance resounded from the marchers.
Jeanne Monahan – the new Director of the March for Life – reminded listeners that they were braving the cold for an important cause: the memory of the 55 million lives that have been lost in the 40 years since Roe vs. Wade. That number is equal to one sixth of the population of the United States (or, as another speaker phrased it, the entire population of England).
Speakers at the rally encouraged all those participating not to give up fighting tirelessly against abortion and the destruction it causes in the lives of babies, women and families. Speaker of the House John Boehner reminded listeners via video that “human life is not an economic or political commodity,” and both he and Representative Daniel Lipinski urged politicians to form a bi-partisan pro-life majority. Representative Chris Smith directly addressed President Obama saying, "Know this, Mr. President: the pro-life movement is not only on the side of compassion, justice, and inclusion; we are on the right side of responsible science and of history.”
Personal witnesses were given as well, including from Senator Rick Santorum who spoke of the love in his family for his daughter Bella who has a developmental disorder. Senator Rand Paul talked about the times as a physician when he encountered premature babies who weighed as little as one pound, small enough to hold in a single hand. Toward the end of the rally, post-abortive women took the stage, voicing regret over their abortions and emphasizing the preciousness of life.
The massive crowds – estimated at around 400,000 – then began to march from the National Mall along Constitution Avenue, ultimately arriving at the Supreme Court. Students from the University of Notre Dame led the march this year and were followed by crowds who sang, prayed, held signs, or silently commemorated the lives lost.
When asked why they attended the march, participants' circumstances varied, but their motivations were often similar. In the words of Kacie, a high school student from Pennsylvania, “I want to speak up for the voiceless and to help my brothers and sisters who have died or are dying right now.” Marchers spoke in sadness about babies who would never have the chance to live their lives and about mothers and fathers who suffered the scars of abortion.
However, the march has never simply been an event of mourning, but also an event full of hopefulness. As Monahan pointed out: “experience, science, and reason” all point to a pro-life position, which she boldly called “the new normal.” I saw this hope on the faces of families present with their children, families braving the cold to express their love of life and children, and college students and young adults who promote a culture that welcomes all life.
While the March for Life is not a religious event, an overwhelming Catholic presence was immediately evident from the parish banners on display, the rosaries prayed, and the countless priests in clerical garb and religious in habits. Tom Grenchik, Executive Director of the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities at United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, explains the role of the Catholic Church within the pro-life movement as one of encouragement, teaching, and prayer. He particularly noted this year that many bishops have become involved in the march. The bishops not only sought to teach their parishioners about the sanctity of life, but were also there participating in the march itself as well as in surrounding events. I saw this episcopal participation for myself as I noted the presence of Seán Cardinal O'Malley, Archbishop William Lori, Bishop Paul Loverde and Bishop Michael Cote, who together made up a sampling of the many bishops who took part in the march.
As the march wound its way toward the Supreme Court, snow began to fall and temperatures remained low, yet the energy of those marching seemed to increase with each step. The marchers were truly pilgrims, many of whom had traveled on buses all night or since the early hours of the morning and would soon fight snow and traffic on their way out of the city. Commentators continue to debate which side is “winning” the debate over abortion (what pro-lifers would call “the fight for life”). Looking at the sea of determined, hopeful faces, I recalled the simple, but poignant words of Representative Chris Smith earlier at the rally regarding the pro-life effort: “We will never quit.”