By CHRISTIAN LEDFORD, Guest Writer
This past Friday, Jan. 27, anti-abortion activists gathered en masse at the National Mall in Washington DC as part of the 2017 March for Life. Since the Supreme Court decision of Roe v. Wade in 1973, participants have gathered yearly on or around the anniversary of the decision to demand the outlawing of abortion and the overturning of the controversial SCOTUS ruling.
For 43 years, the March for Life has consistently drawn enormous crowds that have only increased in size, and I was fortunate enough to be part of this year’s march. The cold, blustery weather and cloudy sky didn’t stop marchers from turning out in full force, as hundreds of thousands of men and women gathered at the base of the Washington Monument as early as 9 a.m. While accurate total crowd size estimates of the 2017 march aren’t yet available, pundits safely say that, like previous years, participants indeed numbered in the hundreds of thousands. The highest turnout ever for the march thus far took place in 2013, as an estimated 650,000 activists marched on the capitol.
At noon, Vice President Mike Pence became the highest-ranking government official in the march’s history to speak as he gave a powerful speech at the opening rally declaring that “life is winning again” and promising that the newly-installed Trump administration would make it a priority to defund Planned Parenthood, the nation’s single largest abortion provider, and create policy to limit abortion; Kellyanne Conway, senior counselor to the president, also spoke.
The rally included speeches by political figures such as Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa, Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey, and Rep. Mia Love of Utah, the first African American female in history elected as a Republican. Other speakers included Abby Johnson, former Planned Parenthood director turned Christian and founder of And Then There Were None, Benjamin Watson, tight end for the Baltimore Ravens, Eric Metaxas, bestselling author and nationally-syndicated radio host, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York City, and Karyme Lozano, Mexican telenovela star and anti-abortion advocate. The rally was ended by Bishop Vincent Matthews Jr., president at Church of God in Christ (the largest African American Christian denomination), who, in a powerful closing speech and prayer, strongly advocated for adoption and fiercely equated abortion with racism, labeling it an attack on the black community as well as children of all races. Inspired, the massive crowd was ready to march.
After the invigorating opening rally, the March for Life officially began. Moving from the base of the Washington Monument and onto Constitution Avenue, the massive crowd over two hours marched three miles to the steps of the Supreme Court building, the origin of Roe v. Wade. Over these three miles, the crowd chanted, prayed, and played music, marching in unity and demanding the protection of the right to life of the unborn. Ending in front of the Supreme Court, women who regretted abortions and abortion doctors who left the business gave powerful testimonies on their convictions and changes of heart. Even present were some pro-abortion rights counter-protesters, yet this didn’t produce conflict, as droves of anti-abortion activists engaged in peaceful and respectful dialogue with those who disagreed.
A common stereotype that pro-choice opposition thrusts onto the anti-abortion movement is one that broadly paints supporters as something of a monolith of “old white men who tell women what to do with their bodies,” yet looking at the speakers and participants of the March for Life easily disproved this; not only were half of the speakers at the opening rally women (including the recognizably non-white Mia Love, who was born to Haitian immigrants, and Karyme Lozano, who gave large parts of her speech in excited Spanish), but glimpsing the crowd saw a march made up largely of women, young women. While the crowd did include elderly nun-types and middle-aged women, the crowd was dominated by energetic teenage and college-aged women and young mothers who were marching united, defying the sexist stereotype placed on their movement. The Washington Post has estimated that 50 percent or more of participants are under age 30.
Even more interesting was that the crowd didn’t even seem politically consistent; while there were many red “Make America Great Again” hats seen floating amongst the heads of the crowd and several individuals waving flags bearing our new president’s name, I also saw many who didn’t fall in line with the Republican party. I saw signs showing slogans such as “Pro-Woman, Pro-Life, Anti-Trump” and “#NoBanNoWall” and even one written in Spanish declaring “No deportar a mis hermanos” (Don’t deport my siblings) on one side and “No abortar a los niños”(Don’t abort my children) on the other. Whereas the Women’s March in DC one week earlier controversially demanded a group of anti-abortion feminists, the New Wave Feminists based out of Texas, not march with them, the March for Life turned away no one, bringing differing groups together united in defense of the unborn. Sure enough, the New Wave Feminists turned out in force for the March for Life.
My close friend and I drove hours to be part of the March for Life, each of us wielding homemade signs; mine read “End the American Holocaust” on one side and “Defund Planned Parenthood Now!” on the other while my friend went for a less dramatic approach, simply writing “I Choose Life.” Regardless, we and our signs quickly blended into the massive crowd, but this didn’t lower our spirits, lifting them instead. It was inspiring to know we were part of something greater, part of a movement that instead of demanding free commodities or recognition of imaginary grievances demanded recognition of the inherent right to life of every human being, whether they’re white, black, Asian, Latino, Christian, Muslim American or non-Americans, wanted or unwanted. And despite our legs being sore from miles marching through the capitol and our faces frozen from chilling wind, this made it all worth it, and I know that the March for Life will be an annual tradition I look forward to until the day it’s no longer necessary.