Editor's note: Click on the above image for a slideshow of now more added photos from the March for Life taken by LifeSiteNews journalists.
The 42nd annual March for Life kicked off Thursday with an hour-long rally on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., as hundreds of thousands of pro-life activists gathered beneath sunny skies and surprisingly warm temperatures to hear speeches from pro-life politicians and prominent movement leaders.
The rally opened with a benediction from Roman Catholic Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, KY, who was flanked by both Catholic and Orthodox clerics as he led the crowd in prayer and asked God’s blessing on the March.
After the benediction, March for Life Chairman Patrick Kelly took the podium to welcome the marchers, taking special notice of their overwhelming youth. “When I look out on this enormous crowd, I see a tide turning in America,” Kelly said. “The March for Life is getting bigger and younger every year.”
“History is on our side,” said Kelly, “because history is always on the side of those who fight for human dignity and human life.” He said that after four decades, the March for Life “has become the largest human rights march in the world.”
March for Life President Jeanne Monahan Mancini elicited happy cheers from the crowd as she took the stage and asked, “What do y’all think about this weather?” Thursday’s mild conditions stood in marked contrast to the weather during last year’s march, which took place in near-zero temperatures with biting winds, putting marchers at risk of frostbite and causing electronics to fail due to the extreme cold.
“I’m so grateful” for all the pilgrims who traveled from around the country and around the world to join the march, Mancini said. She explained that this year’s theme, “Every Life is a Gift,” refers especially to babies with prenatal diagnoses of potentially disabling conditions like Down syndrome who are aborted at a much higher rate than the general population.
“1.1 million babies per year, or one-fifth of babies in America are aborted every year. For babies with poor prenatal diagnosis, the abortion rate jumps to 85 percent,” Mancini said. “That’s just wrong, isn’t it?”
“The truth of the matter is that every life is a gift, regardless of if we have a disability or not … and let’s be honest – we all have disabilities,” she said. “Some of them are more obvious than others, but none of us are perfect.”
Echoing a theme that has been present at many events related to the march, Mancini highlighted the importance of social media, and urged the crowd to take out their cellphones and subscribe to the March for Life text service on the spot by texting GIVELIFE to 99000. “Social media is a huge part of getting the pro-life message out,” Mancini said. She asked the marchers to take photos throughout today’s events and “let the world know” about the March for Life and all the issues involved by posting them to social media with the hashtag #whywemarch.
“Speaking of social media,” Mancini added, “Apparently [Pope Francis] likes the March for Life!” She shared a tweet the Roman Catholic pontiff posted earlier in the day which read: “Every life is a gift. #MarchForLife,” and urged the crowd to reply to him with their thanks.
Mancini then introduced a number of politicians who took a quick break from debating a bill to bar taxpayer funds for abortion to show their appreciation for the pro-life marchers. Rep. Kathy McMorris-Rogers, R-WA, started things off. McMorris-Rogers heads the House Down syndrome caucus and is herself the proud mother of a seven-year-old son named Cole who has Down syndrome. “That extra chromosome has brought my family a whole bunch of joy,” McMorris-Rogers said. “Cole has reminded me anew of the value of every human life.”
“I’m proud to be a pro-life leader and a pro-life mom,” McMorris-Rogers said, to cheers. “Later on today in the House of Representatives, we will be passing the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act. We are holding the federal government accountable to protect your taxpayer dollars from funding abortion.” Any taxpayer subsidies for abortion providers, she added, are “a violation of the public trust.”
McMorris-Rogers promised that despite the GOP leadership’s eleventh-hour decision to refrain from voting on the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would ban most abortions after 20 weeks, she and her pro-life colleagues are committed to its passage, along with the passage of a healthcare conscience rights act. “The Unborn Child Protection Act is so important because it shifts the debate” over abortion, and makes sure that people know the pain that unborn children feel is “very real and very wrong,” said McMorris-Rogers.
Senator Tim Scott, R-SC, told McMorris-Rogers, “The Senate will stand shoulder to shoulder with the House as you move forward legislation that protects life.” Taking on the tone and volume of a Southern preacher, Scott told the crowd that it was his conversion to Christianity that first made him realize the value of all human life. He then shared the story of how, while he was a small business owner, one of his employees became unexpectedly pregnant. “I did what I thought would be the right thing and took her to a Crisis Pregnancy Center,” Scott said. He said the love and guidance she was shown there inspired her to forego the abortion she’d planned on and have her daughter.
Chris Smith, R-NJ, co-chairman of the House Pro-Life Caucus, told the crowd: “We have a compelling duty to protect the weakest and the most vulnerable from the violence of abortion.” He admonished those who recommend abortion for babies with defects or disabilities.
“A prenatal diagnosis of disability should mean empathy, concern for the child and love,” Smith said, “not a death sentence.”
He praised the crowd of mostly millennials for their enthusiasm and called them “the next Greatest Generation.” He told them that the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act would be voted on “within an hour or so.”
“That legislation is historic,” Smith said. “It will end our forced complicity, our funding of abortion.” He said President Barack Obama lied when he said his federal healthcare plan wouldn’t require taxpayer support for abortions. “We will not quit until we take abortion out of ObamaCare and make the Hyde Amendment permanent,” Smith pledged. He also vowed to do everything possible to ensure the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act is brought up in the House for a vote, lamenting that babies who die during late-term abortions endure “agony beyond our wildest belief.”
Dan Lipinski, D-IL, was distinctive as the only Democratic elected official to take the stage. “I’m from Chicago, I’m a Bears fan, I’m a Democrat, and I’m pro-life,” Lipinski said, to wild applause. Lipinski said that the defense of human life is an issue that people of all political and religious persuasions should be able to agree on. “Everyone needs to come together to protect life,” Lipinski said. “Women deserve better than abortion.”
Supreme Knight Carl Anderson, head of the Knights of Columbus, reminded the crowd that the unborn are not the only ones whose lives hang in the balance with the rise of the Culture of Death. “This year we face a lot of new threats,” Anderson said, citing in particular doctor-assisted suicide, which several states have taken moves toward legalizing. “We will stand up for those at the end of life just as we have for those at the beginning of life,” Anderson promised. As for abortion, Anderson said the momentum is on the side of protecting life. “According to the latest Knights of Columbus/Marist poll, 84 percent of Americans want significant restrictions on abortion,” Anderson said, “two-thirds of Americans say the nation’s abortion rate is too high, and a majority of Americans believe abortion is immoral.”
“No amount of propaganda can cover up or change the pain that women who have undergone abortions feel every day,” Anderson added. He concluded by announcing the Knights’ plan to provide ultrasound machines to Crisis Pregnancy Centers. “Almost every woman who sees her child in an ultrasound chooses life,” he said.
Mancini then introduced Kathleen Wilson, who operates Mary’s Shelter, a chain of maternity homes in Fredericksburg, Virginia, who was received with deafening cheers by the audience. “I’m proud to represent the nearly 400 maternity homes in this nation,” Wilson said. “We exist to help women in desperate need. Women who have low self esteem, who have lost hope.”
Wilson said that many women who seek help from maternity homes have boyfriends or family members who are trying to force them to abort. She shared the story of one woman, Angela, who became pregnant via a horrific rape. Her friends and family urged her to get rid of the baby via abortion, but she had the baby with the help of Mary’s Shelter, and her child has brought her “absolute joy.” Wilson said Angela often asks, “If not for Mary’s Shelter, what would I have done?” She said that many women who come to the shelter cry after the birth, not because they are sad about the baby, but because they are thinking about what might have been, and realizing that the people in their lives didn’t want their precious children to be born.
Dr. Gracie Christie, a radiologist who specializes in ultrasound, said her favorite part of the job is working with expectant parents. “I get to be there for that awesome moment when a mother and father see their baby for the first time,” Christie said. “Ultrasound opens a window into the womb to see that moment when we are very tiny, but very much human and very much alive.”
But Christie said that ultrasound also has a dark side: We can now see telltale signs of defects that lead parents to abort. “This is the world we are living in: Children are choices, commodities, and those that are deemed defective are eradicated before birth,” Christie said. She said that when she sees signs of Down syndrome on the ultrasound screen, she feels sick, because she knows that ninety percent of them will be killed by abortion. Of disabled children, Christie said: “They have a heart made for joy, a soul to cherish, and a right to simply exist.”
After Christie’s somber speech, the mood turned more lighthearted as the focus shifted to the march’s younger attendees. The crowd cheered as March for Life organizers announced the winners of the annual student contest, themed “Every Selfie has a Story.” They then introduced this year’s march leaders, the entire student body and faculty of Shanley High School in Fargo, ND. The entire school — 400 people in total, filled eight buses and drove 24 hours straight to carry the banner at the front of the march. Senior Julia Johnson said, “As a school, we are humbled and honored to have been selected to hold the banner for this year’s March for Life.”
“Our cause in defending life is a noble one,” Johnson told the crowd in a brief speech, showing poise and passion that belied her age. “We are living in a modern-day holocaust … that takes the lives of 3,000 babies each day, more than one million babies each year.”
Said Johnson, “It is our job to protect our brothers and sisters in the womb and their right to life. It is our obligation to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for value is not determined by size or age.”
“We are willing to fight for [life in the womb],” Johnson said. “We march to stop an injustice that has taken the lives of a third of our generation. This pro-life movement was not born out of hatred for our neighbors, but of love.”
Nancy Cruzer, Chicago regional director of Silent No More, shared an emotional story of being 5.5 months pregnant and informed that her baby had hydrocephalus, or “water on the brain.” Her doctor advised an abortion, and she complied.
“At the abortion clinic, no one asked how I was or explained what was happening,” Cruzer said. “I left the clinic with no body to bury, no grave, no funeral. … No one brought meals, sent cards, no one called, because I was too ashamed to tell anyone what I had done.”
For years, Cruzer thought she had put the abortion behind her, but she was plagued by horrible nightmares. Finally, she became a Christian and joined a Bible Study for post-abortive women. She found peace, and the nightmares stopped. She named her baby Melanie. “I deeply regret my abortion and that is why I am silent no more,” Cruzer said.
In keeping with the theme of “Every Life is a Gift,” Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, then took the stage to recount the story of her son Gunner’s diagnosis with cystic fibrosis.
“In the last 6 years, my life has changed dramatically by Gunner’s entry into the world,” Hawkins said. She and her husband now make significant financial sacrifices to provide his costly medications, and they had to leave family and friends behind to move closer to his special doctors, but Hawkins said, “It’s worth it.” Now, she is pregnant with her fourth child and first daughter, Gracie. While she prays that Gracie will be healthy, she says she knows that if she has cystic fibrosis, she will have a big brother to help her through it and a family who loves her unconditionally.
Hawkins said she knows from experience how hard it is to raise a disabled child, and how intense the pressure can be to have a perfect baby. “But abortion and IVF don’t make these babies more perfect,” said Hawkins, “they destroy them.”
Hawkins concluded her speech with a question: Do you believe we will end abortion in this generation? Thousands of young marchers screamed, “Yes!”
“It is time to act like it,” Hawkins said, and led the crowd in a chant: “We are the pro-life generation!”