When the Supreme Court ruled June 24 that there is no constitutional right to abortion, the historic decision came a day before what would have been the 98th birthday of Nellie Gray, founder of the March for Life.
The march — which Gray, a Texas-born government lawyer, founded in 1974 to mark the first anniversary of the court’s Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion nationwide — is a fixture of Catholic pro-life activism and bus pilgrimages to the nation’s capital.
So the ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, and Gray’s mission accomplished, has led to speculation as to the future of the national march.
Will it continue?
Yes, said Jeanne Mancini, who became March for Life president in 2013, a year after Gray’s death.
But there’s a new emphasis on growing statewide marches, an effort that began a few years ago. Pennsylvania’s March for Life will take place in Harrisburg on September 19.
“We will still be having our federal legislative battles,” Mancini said on a June 29 webcast, “Life Beyond Roe,” sponsored by a consortium of pro-life groups. She is one of nearly a dozen speakers who will take the stage on the steps of state Capitol in Harrisburg prior to the march.
But “I would say the voices will have more impact at the state level” as state legislatures that have not already enacted abortion bans begin to debate legislation, she said. “So it’s like less is more.”
March for Life has held state marches in Connecticut, Virginia and California, with one in Pennsylvania next week and Ohio in October.
Next year, Mancini said the plans are to double the number, and over the next six years, to have marches in all 50 state capitals.
As for the Dobbs decision, “I can’t think of a better birthday gift for Nellie,” she added.
In a June 25 statement, Mancini promised, “We will continue to march until abortion is unthinkable.”
The Dobbs case was a challenge to a Mississippi law banning abortion after 15 weeks. With a 6-3 majority, the court upheld the law, but, the high court also voted 5-4 to overturn its 1973 Roe decision and 1992’s Casey v. Planned Parenthood ruling, which affirmed Roe.
The court’s reversal of Roe now puts abortion policy decisions in the hands of the states.
At least half of the states are banning or restricting abortions with this decision in place, and 13 states with trigger laws in place to ban abortions right away.
And the fight at the federal level is far from over, especially if President Joe Biden has any say.
President Biden called the court’s reversal of Roe “absolutely outrageous” and said the court has “taken away” people’s privacy rights. “We (the U.S.) have been a leader on privacy rights,” he said.
“I feel extremely strongly that I’m going to do everything in my power, which I legally can do in terms of executive orders, as well as push the Congress and the public,” Biden said.
In January 1974, the first March for Life was organized in Gray’s living room at her Capitol Hill home and drew about 10,000 participants.
In a 2010 interview with Catholic News Service, Gray said the impetus came from the Knights of Columbus. “I didn’t even know who they were, but they explained their stance against abortion and needed a place to meet to discuss plans for a march.”
Since Mancini took over, the march has grown from a relatively modest event that went from the West Front of the Capitol to the Supreme Court sidewalk to an immense rally on the National Mall with marchers from across the country, including members of Congress and the occasional show business celebrity.
The 2020 event is considered to be the largest one in the march’s history. With President Donald Trump as the main rally speaker, it drew more than 100,000 participants.
The smallest one came just a year later during the COVID-19 pandemic. Only an invited group of 80, joined by more than 100 others midway in their route, marched from the Museum of the Bible to the Supreme Court.
Pray, Rally and March in PA
Take a stand for life at 2022 Pennsylvania March for life, which will be September 19 in Harrisburg. The event includes morning Mass celebrated at St. Patrick Cathedral in Harrisburg at 9:30 a.m.; prayer and praise pre-rally at 10 a.m.; a rally at 11 a.m. at the Capitol steps; the March for Life at noon around the Capitol complex; testimonials from Silent No More at 1 p.m.; and Mass at 1:30 p.m. at the Cathedral.
Speakers include Ann McElhinney, author and director and producer of the movie “Gosnell, The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer;” Dr. Monique Ruberu, pro-life OBGYN and speaker; and Kathy Barnette, author, veteran, and spokeswoman for 1776 Action.
For information on the Pennsylvania March for Life – including the full list of speakers, parking, maps and busses – visit www.marchforlife.org/pennsylvania-march-for-life.
By Kurt Jensen, Catholic News Service