March for Life

March for Life

Marchers outside the Capitol
Location Washington, D.C.
Date Every year since January 22, 1974 (1974-01-22)
(anniversary of Roe v. Wade).
Website [3]

March for Life is an annual pro-life rally protesting abortion, held in Washington, D.C., on or around the anniversary of the United States Supreme Court's decision legalizing abortion in the case Roe v. Wade. The march is organized by the March for Life Education and Defense Fund. The overall goal of the march is to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision.[1] The 38th annual March for Life occurred on Monday, January 24, 2011 — instead of the usual January 22 — because Congress is not in session on weekends. The march typically draws around 250,000 attendees each year.[2]

The march has consistently drawn 250,000 people each year since 2003,[2] and estimates put the 2011 attendance at 400,000.[3]



The first March for Life was held on January 22, 1974, on the West Steps of the Capitol, with an estimated 20,000 supporters in attendance.[4]

During the 33rd annual March for Life in 2006, the nomination of Judge Samuel A. Alito to the Supreme Court caused a major positive shift, because of the expectation that Alito would "win Senate approval and join a majority in overturning Roe."[5]

Around the time of the 35th annual March for Life in 2008, a Guttmacher Institute report was released, which revealed that the number of abortions performed in the United States dropped to 1.2 million in 2005. This was the lowest level of abortions since 1976. Although this seemed like a victory, many march participants stressed that the figures were not a large enough decline. Many marchers said they would not stop protesting until abortions were illegal.[6]

During the 2009 March for Life, the threat of passage by the 111th Congress of the Freedom of Choice Act—a bill that would "codify Roe v. Wade" by declaring a fundamental right to abortion and lifting many restrictions on abortion—served as a key rallying point, because pro-lifers worried that the legislation would eliminate certain abortion restrictions like parental notification for minors and repeal the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act.[7]

From year to year, phrases on signs at the march have included “We Choose Life”, “End Abortion Now”, “Your Mom Chose Life”[7], “Give Life, Don’t Take It”, “Defend Life”[6], “Women Deserve Better Than Abortion”, “Michigan Loves Our Pro-Life President”, “Respect Life, Diocese of Pittsburgh”[8], “Abortion Kills”[9], “Stop Unborn Child Abuse”, and “Equal Rights for Unborn Women”.[10] Others compared abortions to “Hitler's Holocaust”.[5] Many sing and chant phrases such as “Pro-choice, that's a lie, babies never choose to die!”[8]


The March for Life proceedings begin around noon.[7] They typically consist of a rally at the National Mall near Fourth Street. It is followed by a march which travels down Constitution Avenue NW, turns right at First Street and then ends on the steps of the Supreme Court of the United States, where another rally is held. Many protesters start the day by delivering roses and lobbying members of Congress.[10]


Protesters (2009)

Since 2003, the March for Life has consistently brought in around 250,000 attendees every year.[2][11][12]

Approximately 5,000 participated in the 14th annual march in 1987, despite a snowstorm.[10] Many teenagers and college students attend the march each year, typically traveling with church/youth groups. Washington Post columnist Robert McCartney estimated that about half of the marchers are under age 30.[13]

Notable speakers

Notable speakers at the rally in front of the Capitol before the march have included President George W. Bush, Alveda King (niece of Martin Luther King Jr.), and the parents of Terri Schiavo. There are typically several members of Congress who speak at the march.

George W. Bush was out of town during six consecutive marches (2000-2006) during his tenure. However, he spoke via telephone line amplified by loudspeakers. In 2004, he thanked participants for their “devotion to such a noble cause” from Roswell, New Mexico. During his telephone addresses, he tended to speak broadly of opposing abortion as opposed to offering any specific efforts being made to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision.[1]

Ronald Reagan was also known to deliver telephone addresses to the march crowds. At the 14th annual march in 1987, he vowed to help “end this national tragedy". Then Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina, also spoke at the 14th annual rally. He called abortion an “American holocaust".[10]

At the 30th annual march in 2003, speakers included Representative Chris Smith, Republican of New Jersey, and Randall Terry, the founder of Operation Rescue. In his speech, Terry targeted the youth in the audience, calling them to “fight for all you're worth."[8]

At the 31st annual march in 2004, 15 lawmakers, all Republican, spoke. Many of them stressed the importance of backing and voting for only candidates whose platform supported antiabortion in the November elections. Among the lawmakers who spoke were Representatives Todd Tiahrt of Kansas, and Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania. Tiahrt, who also spoke at the 30th annual march, urged marchers to “help pro-lifers in your state”; Toomey supported these remarks, saying to vote for pro-life candidates in order to reclaim the Senate and, in turn, the courts.[1]

At the 33rd annual march in 2006, Representative Steve Chabot, an Ohio Republican and prominent pro-life advocate in the United States Senate, spoke to the masses on overturning Roe v. Wade. He stated that what he called the killing of millions of babies should be "sufficient justification for overruling that awful case". Nellie Gray, the founder of March for Life, spoke of "feminist abortionists", foreseeing that the United States would hold them accountable for their actions in trials equivalent to the Nuremberg Trials.[5]

At the 36th annual march in 2009, approximately 20 Congressmen spoke. They talked about the "challenges pro-life advocates face under the Obama administration". Specific speakers at the 36th annual included Representative F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr., Wisconsin Republican and former chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and Gray.[7]

President Obama was asked by Nellie Gray to speak at the 36th annual march, but he did not attend. Instead, he released a statement supporting abortion rights. He said that abortion represents a broad principle: "government should not intrude on our most private family matters".[7]

Notable speakers at the 38th annual march in 2011 included House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, and several other members of Congress.[14]

Media attention

March for Life has received relatively little media attention over the years. The typical coverage consists of a “story with a tiny little comment from one individual marcher”, Gray has said. The 36th annual march in 2009, which brought in very little media coverage, was just two days after Obama's inauguration, which brought in swarms of media representatives.[2]

To counter the relative lack of media coverage, one of the March for Life's supporters, the Family Research Council, organized a “Blogs for Life” conference in Washington, D.C. The main goal of the conference was to “bring pro-life bloggers together to talk over strategies” for securing more effective media coverage and advancing anti-abortion issues. Such strategies include securing media coverage through legislative means or by tapping into new media outlets.[2]

Associated events

Various pro-life organizations hold events before and after the March. Such events include a Luau for Life at Georgetown University and a candlelight vigil at the Supreme Court.[6] In addition, the March for Life Education and Defense Fund hosts a dinner each year.

Roman Catholic events

Youth Rally and Mass at Verizon Center (2006)

Preceding the March for Life, there are several Masses; two of which are celebrated at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception as well as the Verizon Center in Chinatown. The Catholic Archdiocese of Washington hosts a Youth Rally and Mass every year at the Verizon Center, attended by approximately 20,000 young people,[15] where a message from the Pope is relayed.

In 2009, apostolic nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Pietro Sambri read Pope Benedict XVI's message, which told attendants that he was “deeply grateful” for the youths' "outstanding annual witness for the gospel of life".[7] In 2008, the Pope's message thanked attendants for “promoting respect for the dignity and inalienable rights of every human being.”[6] In 2011, an event parallel to the Verizon Center event was held at the D.C. Armory; a total of over 27,000 young people attended the events.[16]

Students for Life conference

Students for Life of America, the largest association of pro-life groups or clubs on college campuses, holds an annual conference for pro-life youth on the week of the march, generally the Saturday after the 22nd of January.[citation needed] Attendance at the conference has exploded in recent years according to Kristan Hawkins, president of SFLA, who announced at the 2010 conference that attendance has gone from about 400 in 2007 to over 1,200 in 2010; in 2011, there were 1,800 attendees.[citation needed]

Virtual March for Life

In 2010, Americans United for Life launched an online virtual March. Pro-lifers unable to attend the event in person could create avatars of themselves and take part in a virtual demonstration on a Google Maps version of the Washington Mall.[17] The online event attracted 75,000 participants.[12]

PLAGAL controversy

In 2002, Gray denied the inclusion of the Pro-Life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians (PLAGAL) under her demonstration permit, and allowed PLAGAL members be arrested. [18] PLAGAL was subsequently allowed to participate with March for Life, beginning in 2003.[19]


See also


  1. ^ a b c Janofsky, Michael. for Life”&st=cse “Words of Support from Bush at Anti-Abortion Rally”. The New York Times. January, 23, 2004. Retrieved November 9, 2009.
  2. ^ a b c d e Harper, Jennifer (January 22, 2009). "Pro-life marchers lose attention". The Washington Times. Retrieved 2011-01-27. "[T]he event has consistently drawn about 250,000 participants since 2003." 
  3. ^ "Youth Turnout Strong at US March for Life". January 25, 2011. Retrieved 2011-02-09. 
  4. ^ [1]. Official March for Life website
  5. ^ a b c Janofsky, Michael. “Abortion Opponents Rally, Saying the End of Roe is Near”. The New York Times. January 23, 2006. Retrieved November 9, 2009
  6. ^ a b c d Montes, Sue Anne Pressley. “A Youthful Throng Marches Against Abortion.” The Washington Post, Section A03. January 23, 2008. Retrieved November 9, 2009
  7. ^ a b c d e f Drost, Michael. “Pro-life activists march on court; Call on Obama to ‘save lives’ by opposing pro-choice bills”.The Washington Times, D.C. Area Section, A18. January 23, 2009. Retrieved November 9, 2009
  8. ^ a b c Toner, Robin “At a Distance, Bush Joins Abortion Protest”. The New York Times. January 23, 2003. Retrieved November 22, 2009
  9. ^ Rimer, Sara. “Abortion Foes Rally in Joy Over G.O.P. Surge”. The New York Times. January 24, 1995. Retrieved November 22, 2009
  10. ^ a b c d Toner, Robin “Rally Against Abortion Hears Pledge of Support by Reagan”. The New York Times. January 23, 1987. Retrieved November 22, 2009
  11. ^ About Us. March for Life website. Retrieved 2011-01-27
  12. ^ a b "300,000 March for Life in US Capital: Another 75,000 Participate Online". ZENIT news agency. Innovative Media, Inc.. January 22, 2010. Retrieved 2011-01-27. 
  13. ^ "Young activists adding fuel to antiabortion side"
  14. ^ Activists at March for Life Rally Demand Tougher Abortion Laws, Overturn of Roe v. Wade
  15. ^ Archdiocese of Washington. (January 22, 2007). "Archbishop Wuerl's Homily at Jan. 22 Pro-Life Mass" Archdiocese of Washington. Retrieved January 23, 2007.
  16. ^ "Abortion protesters see hope in GOP gains"
  17. ^ Washington Post, January 23, 2010 [2]
  18. ^ Chiorazzi, Anthony. "Gay, Proud and Pro-Life" Busted Halo. Retrieved January 18, 2007.
  19. ^ Doig, Will (January 30, 2003). "The Fetal Position: PLAGAL Marches for Life or with Uneasy Allies". Metro Weekly. Retrieved January 18, 2007. 

Further reading

External links

Washington, D.C.
Dallas, Texas

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