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Catholic college students continue marching for life

Christendom College students lead March for Life 2022

Julie Wells, Christendom College

John Burger - published on 01/15/23

Bus trips from as far away as Bismarck, North Dakota, planned for annual commemoration in DC, even after Roe v. Wade falls.

“Hey hey, ho ho. Roe v. Wade has got to go.” 

That was a chant regularly heard in the streets of Washington, DC, in recent years as the March for Life made its way from the National Mall to the steps of the Supreme Court. 

Well, Roe v. Wade is gone. Mission accomplished, for the thousands of people who would travel to the nation’s capital to commemorate the anniversary of the court ruling that led to the death of millions of unborn children since 1973. 

But the March for Life goes on, even though the high court struck down Roe last June, half a year short of the ruling’s 50th anniversary. 

The annual march, which will take place this Friday, January 20, is taking on a new life and a new purpose. 

And, in spite of higher gas prices this year, people will still travel to DC, including hundreds of students from Catholic colleges from near and far. 

Like North Dakota. As in years past, the University of Mary in Bismarckplans to send five busloads of students to the March for Life – a 30-hour road trip in each direction

“For the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, students both on the trip and those who stay in Bismarck will be marching joyfully and gratefully as we celebrate its overturning,” said Marianne Hofer, an alumna who works in the university’s ministry office and coordinates the trip to DC. Another contingent of students will participate in the North Dakota State March for Life. “Both groups will be marching at the same time in DC and at the state capitol after they celebrate Mass together in gratitude.”

Where to go?

When the Supreme Court ruled on June 24 the U.S. Constitution does not confer a right to abortion, it returned the question of abortion’s legality to the competence of the people, either through direct votes in plebiscites or through their elected representatives in state government. Thus, as this year’s Roe anniversary approached, some people asked whether it still makes sense to go to Washington, when time, money, and energy might be better spent lobbying and praying at state capitols.

That question had particular resonance for students in Kansas, where voters in August turned down a proposed amendment that would guarantee that the state’s constitution does not guarantee a right to abortion.

“The greatest question students are asking now is ‘Where should we go? Should we go to the national march or the state march?’” Joe Hogan, president of Ravens Respect Life at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, said in a December interview. “Every pro-life individual should be asking that question right now. Obviously, both are necessary.”

While Hogan and his colleagues recognize the need to work on the state level, they decided it was still important to organize a trip to DC – both to mark the 50th anniversary of Roe and celebrate its demise, but also because the fight is far from over at the federal level.

“There’s a threat from the federal government right now of Roe coming back to bite us,” Hogan said. “In the Senate, they’re trying to overturn the filibuster and codify Roe. So as a testament against that effort, we’re going to the national march this year with the intention of speaking to the Senate instead of marching to the Supreme Court.”

Indeed, the official March for Life route will terminate, for the first time, not at the Court but at the Capitol. 

Hogan said that last year the university had six buses, transporting about 350 students from Kansas to DC on a 24-hour drive. This year, because of increased costs, the numbers will be lower but still significant – four buses ferrying a little more than 200 students. 

He said the trip, which includes two to three days in the nation’s capital, also serves as a “launch pad for a lot of the pro-life work we do at our school. It inspires us to be even more active on campus.”

That includes “prayer pilgrimages” to Planned Parenthood in Kansas City, where anywhere from five to 40 students pray and sidewalk counsel every other week; educational opportunities about the pro-life mission during Respect Life Week in October; apologetics sessions where the club trains its members to dialogue with people about abortion “in a persuasive and loving way;” participation in 40 Days for Life; fundraising for local pregnancy resource centers, and knocking on doors for Susan B. Anthony List candidates for public office.

Ripple effects

A bit closer to DC than the University of Mary and Benedictine College is Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, which says it is sending some 440 students to the March for Life – no smaller than it has been in recent years. 

“Our presence at the March for Life this year is more important than ever,” said Hollieann Geike, president of Franciscan University’s Students for Life club. “The overturning of Roe was just the start of the fight for life, not the end.”

Geike, a sophomore social work major, told Aleteia that many students recognize that there is still a lot to be done not only for the pre-born but for all life on the spectrum from conception to natural death. Although abortion is being decided state-by-state, she said, it is still a national issue in the sense that a pre-born life in her native Washington State “has the same value as a pre-born life in Ohio, yet they do not have the same rights.”

“In addition, I believe that once abortion is abolished and we can create a culture of life in our country, so many positives will come with it,” Geike added. “I think gun violence will go down, suicide rates, sex trafficking, etc. — all because people acknowledge other people’s lives matter and are more willing to help people who need it and help them get the mental health care they need.”

East and West

Like many Catholic college students making the trip, those from Steubenville are immersed in prayer throughout the journey. They will gather for a March for Life Holy Hour on campus at 10:30 p.m. on Thursday, January 19, and just before midnight, board eight buses, arriving in time for the 8:00 a.m. closing Mass of the National Prayer Vigil for Life at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

While there, they are likely to meet students from Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia, which has one of the shortest trips, but might have the largest representation. Christendom has sent students to the March since its founding in 1977 and cancels classes on the day of the March so the entire college community can attend.

This year, the college expects to send about 550 students to the march, said a spokesman, Zachary Smith.

While in past years, Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, California, has sent students to the March for Life on the opposite side of the country, there are no plans for such a college-wide trip this year, in part due to higher costs. But some 250 TAC students are expected to make the six-hour bus trip to San Francisco for the Walk for Life West Coast on Saturday, January 21. The students are usually the ones who hold the banner and lead the march.

“It’s the first one since Roe’s been overturned. It’s thrilling,” said trip coordinator Maria Brittain. “We’re winning, at least. The nation is taking a turn towards the better … starting to realize that it is a baby in the womb.”

Brittain and co-coordinator William Deering acknowledge that California is an “abortion sanctuary state,” with the state legislature expanding abortion rights after the Dobbs decision and offering to pay for transportation to the state for women to obtain abortions if their own states ban the procedure. But they’re hopeful that the joy, love, and hope exuded by Walk for Life participants will be infectious.

“Even if [the Walk for Life] is not going to change the state, it’s going to move people,” Brittain said. “Certain people are going to see this and start thinking about it. That’s what we want. We want people to start asking questions – people who aren’t pro-life or who are pro-choice or are on the fence.”

Many of those interviewed echoed a theme that is in the air this year – that the goal is not just to make abortion illegal but unthinkable. 

“We’re not going to win until nobody wants [abortion] anymore,” said Brittain.

The University of Mary’s Marianne Hofer added, “While we are so grateful that Roe was overturned, there is still so much work to be done. We want to continue to witness on the national level to how this upcoming generation remains deeply and joyfully committed to the pro-life cause.” 

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