Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON — Americans “as a people are pro-life” because life and liberty “are intertwined and form the core of our national character,” House Speaker John Boehner told the crowd gathered on the National Mall Jan. 23 for the 39th annual March for Life.
“God who gave us life gave us liberty,” said the Ohio Republican, who is a Catholic. He added that his pro-life stand isn’t political, “it’s just who I am.”
He and the other members of Congress who spoke at the rally said they were proud they had passed the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act and the Protect Life Act and voted to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and defund Planned Parenthood.
But now, said U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., “we must work to change the Senate and reclaim the White House, which not only obstructs pro-life legislation but has for the past three years advanced abortion in so many ways.”
Smith, a Catholic who is chairman of the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, told the rallygoers that they were “an important part of the greatest human rights movement on earth — the selfless struggle by prayer, fasting and works to defend and protect all weak and vulnerable persons from the violence of abortion, infanticide and euthanasia.”
He also told the crowd he had a message for President Barack Obama: “The violent destruction of children in the womb, killing babies, is not an American value.”
More than an hour before the rally kicked off, thousands of pro-life marchers, the majority of them high school and college-age youths from across the country, began to fill in the space around the speakers’ platform under overcast skies.
The temperature hovered in the high 30s. Intermittent rain forced marchers to put on ponchos and assorted rain gear and pull out their umbrellas. The wet weather left the National Mall a soggy and muddy patch, which marchers slogged through after the rally as they headed to Constitution Avenue, past the Capitol and up to the Supreme Court.
As for the size of the crowd, a late afternoon email alert from the District of Columbia to commuters said protesters numbered from 15,000 to 20,000. But media reports said March for Life officials had a permit from the National Parks Service for 50,000 people, and for the last several years they have put the number at 200,000. As of midday Jan. 24, march officials could not be reached for their estimate of this year’s crowd.
The rally opened with the national anthem and the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by a joint Catholic-Orthodox prayer delivered by Metropolitan Jonah of All America and Canada. Religious leaders on the platform included Cardinal-designate Timothy M. Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities.
Many other Catholic bishops were in attendance but stood with the contingents from their dioceses.
Nellie Gray, now 86, kicked off the speeches. She is the founder and president of the March for Life Education & Defense Fund, the group that organizes the march.
She told the crowd that their consistency in showing up in such great numbers each year “shows we love our country and love our preborn children. We also love the abortionists we’re trying to educate.”
She called for Roe to be overturned “without any exception” and urged unity “on the life principles” she and her organization have espoused since the Roe decision.
Just as the Nuremberg trials after World War II “taught us genocide is a crime against humanity,” the federal government must understand that abortion is “a crime against humanity,” said Gray.
Other members of Congress who addressed the rally included Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, Republican Whip Kevin McCarthy and Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas.
“Taking life is morally wrong,” Cantor said. “Millions of Americans agree with us. We must stop the government assault on innocent life.”
In a message marking the Roe anniversary, Obama said he remained “committed to protecting a woman’s right to choose and this fundamental constitutional right. While this is a sensitive and often divisive issue — no matter what our views – we must stay united in our determination to prevent unintended pregnancies, support pregnant women and mothers, reduce the need for abortion, encourage healthy relationships and promote adoption.”
In his remarks, Smith accused the Obama administration of “not “even attempting to appear to be working to make abortion rare and offering support to women to choose life.”
On the way to the Supreme Court, thousands of young people who attended two youth rallies sponsored by the Washington Archdiocese joined the March for Life as it headed up Constitution. A couple dozen supporters of keeping abortion legal were on the sidewalk in front of the court, shouting at the pro-lifers, but their voices were easily drowned out by the chants of the pro-lifers.
Many marchers carried banners identifying their Catholic schools — grade schools, high schools, universities and colleges. But nonsectarian universities were represented, too; one of the most prominent was Harvard University’s student respect life group.
March for Life events cover a three-day period and include a convention and the annual Rose Dinner. There also is an annual pro-life essay contest, and this year’s winner was Becca Kennedy, an eighth-grader from Seton Catholic School in Farley, Iowa, in the Dubuque Archdiocese. She came to Washington with her mom and dad, Laura and Brian, who said it was refreshing and energizing to see so many people who support the pro-life cause.
Winning the contest confirmed “that what I was thinking is what other people are thinking, that I was in the right mindset,” Becca told CNS. Coming to the rally and march, she added, shows “the public how many people believe abortion is wrong.”