This is not the time to stop marching. Though Roe has been overturned, abortion on demand is still the law in many states, and in recent votes even so-called pro-life states have expressed surprising support for pro-abortion legislation and some confusion over bills limiting the practice. So on we go—the 50th annual March for Life will take place on January 20 in our nation’s capital.
The goal of the national march has never been simply the end of Roe, as awesome a development as that has been. The goal, as March for Life president Jeanne Mancini often says, “is to make abortion unthinkable.” That momentous task requires the ever-vigilant work of legions of prolifers, caring for women and unborn babies at their most vulnerable moments and seeking in daily encounters to change the hearts and minds of fellow citizens.
Toward this goal, the March for Life remains a focal point of national attention, a morale booster, a rallying point, and a strategic source for prolifers worldwide. In fact, this year’s golden anniversary march may be the most pivotal one yet. As we move to advance the cause in a post-Roe environment, we must show, by turning out in large numbers, that the largest, longest-running civil rights movement in history won’t rest until the God-given right to life is restored to unborn children.
Since the Dobbs decision was handed down last June 24 (the birthday of the march’s late founder Nellie Gray), march organizers have made a number of well-founded decisions. First was to insist that the Washington march must go on, while at the same time announcing that the drive to hold state-level marches would be ramped up. The dual national/state strategy indicates that, far from packing up post-Roe, prolifers plan to expand their efforts and become more active in communities where they live.
Another change is both symbolic and practical. Since Roe and abortion on demand are no longer the “law of the land,” the focus has moved from the Supreme Court to Congress. So beginning this year, the march will end at the Capitol instead of the Court. True, with Republicans taking over the House and Democrats holding the Senate, the chance of “codifying Roe” in federal law is slim, as is the possibility of passing a nationwide abortion ban. But thousands of marchers assembling peacefully outside the Capitol will serve as a reminder to both sides of the aisle that the abortion issue has not gone away with Roe.
March organizers were also quick to recognize that post-Roe, the work of pro-life pregnancy centers and other services to mothers and their babies would be more essential than ever. Many women with unplanned pregnancies face difficult choices amid familial, financial, and societal pressures. Pro-life centers must be there to lead them in the way of life. There are already some 3,000 centers in America, most of them running on shoestring budgets and volunteer assistance. But many more are needed—in states where abortion remains available on demand as well as in those that will impose strict limits on it. Significantly, the Knights of Columbus immediately announced that its new ASAP program (Aid and Support After Pregnancy) would increase donations that K of C councils make to pregnancy centers.
The violence directed at these centers since the overruling of Roe is not simply an attempt to intimidate or shut down pro-life work. To my mind, the violence exposes the level of rage and hatred that supporters of abortion harbor toward the unborn in particular and innocent life in general. Their immediate response to Dobbs was to extend the range of violence from unborn babies to include those who defend them and serve their mothers. It’s a pattern I experienced long ago in my time as a sidewalk counselor outside New York City’s busiest abortion clinics, where I was the target of physical and verbal harassment. The rage and hatred were on full display when a rabid group blocked the doors of a midtown church after Operation Rescue had barred the entrance to an abortionist’s office. “You block our clinics, we’ll block your churches,” the group chanted in that 1992 encounter, causing Father Benedict Groeschel to observe at a subsequent pro-life rally that the clinic is their church and abortion their sacrament.
In the just struggle for life, we need to remember that we are up against more than flesh and blood. We are engaged in a great battle, as St. Paul wrote, against “the spiritual forces of wickedness” (Ephesians 6:12). As in all spiritual battles, we engage with prayer, fasting, and sacrifice, not only to prevail, but for the conversion of our opponents and their ultimate salvation. Jesus instructs us to pray for our enemies and those who persecute us. On the cross, he forgave his executioners and all who called for his death. That must be the model for the pro-life movement.
The theme for this year’s Washington march is “Next Steps: Marching in a Post-Roe America.” Let us rejoice that we have come to this historic point in the movement for life, and redouble our efforts for the well-being of the mothers and their children—and for the conversion of those who would do them harm.