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An Interview with Jeanne Monahan-Mancini, President of the March for Life

Jeanne Monahan-Mancini

March for Life Education and Defense Fund

Susan E. Wills - published on 01/20/15

In which Jeanne reveals details of the Rally and Rose Dinner and her hopes for 2015

Jeanne Monahan-Mancini — the last part of her name being an addition joyfully celebrated less than two months ago — President of the March for Life Education and Defense Fund, continues to prove that she is the perfect choice to have replaced March for Life founder, Nellie Gray, who passed away in August 2012. Jeanne earned a Bachelor’s degree in psychology from James Madison University and a Master’s degree from the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family (Washington, DC). Prior to becoming President of March for Life, Jeanne worked in the Office of the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services on global and domestic health issues and, subsequently, for Family Research Council on topics related to human dignity, abortion, women’s health and end-of-life issues. In the midst of media appearances and last-minute preparations related to the various March for Life events, she carved out time for a telephone interview with Susan Wills on January 16.

Could you tell readers about the theme chosen for the 2015 March for Life events — “Every Life is a Gift”? Do you mean to draw attention to a particular subgroup of people, such as unborn children who are likely to be aborted? What do you hope to convey through this theme?

We see the theme as a springboard for educating the pro-life movement at large — because the March is the only time and place where all pro-life groups come together in unity each year. We’re hoping to draw attention to the value of all human lives and, in particular, the lives of unborn children with a poor prenatal diagnosis (PPD). We hope also to reach their parents and families, to remind them that their unborn child is a priceless gift both despite and because of the challenges they may face caring for a child with a genetic anomaly or even with a condition that’s incompatible with life. Children diagnosed in utero with a PPD are the most vulnerable of unborn children: 85 percent of these children with, for example, Down syndrome, Trisomy 13 and 18, or Spina Bifida are aborted, usually at the urging of physicians. This is a year-long educational effort, of course. Last October, we held a Congressional briefing with a panel of experts including Mark Bradford of the Jerome LeJeune Foundation, Heather Trammel of the Down Syndrome Society of Northern Virginia and Dana Hecht, Family Relations Director of Jill’s House, a fun place for kids with intellectual disabilities to go so their families can have a short break from care.  

Will we be hearing from these folks at the Rally before the March or have you lined up other experts to speak for children with disabilities?

We are very lucky to have two speakers to talk about loving alternatives to aborting children with disabilities.One is Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie, a diagnostic radiologist from Miami and member of the Advisory Board of the Catholic Association. She became a pro-life activist — especially on behalf of adopting children with disabilities — when she and her husband adopted an infant from China, after they’d already been blessed with four kids. Rep. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers (R-WA), one of four Members of Congress invited to address the Rally, is also the mother of a child with Down syndrome. The full roster of speakers is posted on our website.

Do you have an idea of how many marchers are expected this year? Does the March for Life keep track, for example, of lots where charter buses can park?

Hundreds of thousands is the conservative rough estimate I use. We have no way of knowing beforehand, and the Park Service no longer provides crowd estimates. But your question brings up an interesting point. People often have the impression that the March for Life Education and Defense Fund orchestrates the March, that we somehow organize the whole thing. But the truth is that the March is a work of God and is “organized” by pro-life Americans who want their voices heard. Families, Catholic parishes and groups from other faith traditions, high schools, pro-life campus groups and individuals make all their own arrangements to come to Washington and show Congress and the world that the pro-life movement is huge and strong and will continue to advocate for the lives of unborn children and all human beings. Our role is very modest
— just to help make their visit educational and memorable, and for the Rally and March to run smoothly and safely. We handle the permits and first aid station and logistics thanks to about 200 volunteers, mainly from the Knights of Columbus.

Over the many years that you’ve attended the March for Life, and now from your perspective at the podium, have you seen changes in the demographics of the crowd?

One of the most inspiring aspects of the March is that every generation and race and ethnicity in America is represented in the marchers. You’ll see babies in arms and in strollers, kids from infants to college-aged, elderly women and men who haven’t missed a March in four decades, people in wheelchairs. It’s sad, of course, that we still have to march. We all look forward to the day when abortion is no longer legal or wanted, but it’s heartening to see that people will not give up defending the lives of unborn children and their mothers and fathers, who can suffer so deeply after abortion. The most obvious change in the makeup of marchers began occurring in the mid-90s. Every year, it seems that more and more young people are coming to Washington to stand up for life. They are proud to call themselves the “Generation Life" and promise to finish our mission to overturn Roe v. Wade. One of the Rally speakers is a perfect example of that determination. Julia Johnson, now a high school senior from North Dakota, organized nine busloads of friends and fellow students to come all the way from North Dakota for the March.

Have you introduced any innovations this year? I haven’t heard anything about the annual essay contest.

The annual essay contest has gone the way of the typewriter. Generation Life is adept at social media so instead of an essay, we sponsored “Every selfie has a story,” inviting marchers to tweet selfies to #WhyWeMarch that explain why they’re going to march for life. Entries range from artistic to hilarious. There’s a gallery with some of the #WhyWeMarch photos on our site.  

Speaking of tweets, have you heard anything from the Vatican about Pope Francis tweeting a message to the March for Life again this year?

Not yet, but we’re hoping to receive a message on the morning of the March, just in time to read it at the Rally.

What’s in store for the Rose Dinner following the March?

I’m glad you asked. Supreme Knight Carl Anderson of the Knights of Columbus will be the keynote speaker at the Rose Dinner. He and the Knights have a big reason to celebrate: they’ve just donated the 500th ultrasound machine to a pregnancy resource center. Ultrasounds save lives, but they are beyond the budget of most pregnancy resource centers. Thanks to the personal contributions and fundraising by the Knights, 500 of these machines are now saving lives across America.

Looking through the March for Life website, I was surprised by all the year-round work and events you’re now engaged in. Can you tell our readers a little bit about that?

Thanks to our small but top-notch staff of four full-time employees and one part-timer, we’re now able to be a voice for the January 22 pro-life marchers year round through social media, education and especially through advocacy on Capitol Hill. Tom McClusky, formerly of the Family Research Council, heads up our legislative affairs. We’re able to present to Members of Congress the views of the pro-life community on legislation, report on legislative and Supreme Court developments through social media and, importantly, present briefings to Members of Congress and Congressional staff. Last June, for example, we held a briefing on the Hill on women’s issues, helping pro-life Members and staff respond effectively to the “war on women” rhetoric. And in October, we held a briefing on the widespread practice of aborting children with a PPD and the interventions that are now possible to improve the lives of these children.

One last question before I let you go, Jeanne. What are your plans for the day after the March?

My husband, David, and I were able to go on a brief honeymoon after our wedding in late November, but with all the activities preparing for the March for Life events since then, we haven’t had much time to settle into married life and organize our home together. So that will move to the top of my agenda, at least for a long weekend.    

Susan Wills
is a senior writer for Aleteia’s English-language edition.

AbortionDown SyndromeMarch for LifeParenting
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