WASHINGTON — As Nellie Gray puts the finishing touches on plans for this year’s March for Life, the founder of the nation’s premiere right-to-life event is thinking of an anniversary: This will be the 39th March for Life, but the day it is being held marks the first day of the 40th year of legal abortion in the United States.
The Supreme Court issued Roe v. Wade, the ruling that legalized abortion, on Jan. 22, 1973. The actual anniversary of the ruling falls on a Sunday, when Washington officials are less likely to be on hand to witness or participate in the March for Life, so the march will take place the following day, a Monday, Jan. 23.
“We must use this time together for this march to set foundations with Washington officialdom and the pro-life movement for truly overturning Roe v. Wade as we move into the 40th year,” said Gray, who compared the past four decades to Christ’s 40 days and nights in the desert. Other pro-lifers compare the time span to the 40 years the Israelites spent traveling from captivity in Egypt to Canaan.
Gray said her message this year is “Stay on message” and “No exceptions,” describing these themes as a rejection of an incremental approach to ending abortion.
Many pro-lifers, however, embrace incremental changes as acceptable and are willing to support legislation that reduces the number of abortions without abolishing it.
The 40-year mark is not the only date that pro-life marchers will be thinking about this year. Pro-lifers interviewed for this article said they will also be thinking about the 2012 presidential election.
“There will be two themes this year,” said Eric Scheidler, executive director of the Pro-Life Action League, who will be marching as usual this year. “One is to pull and tug and elect a president who is responsive to the pro-life movement and who will put in place judges who will recognize the rights of the unborn.”
The second theme, Scheidler said, is supporting the movement at the grassroots level, which includes sidewalk counseling at abortion facilities. Scheidler also predicted that many speakers at the march will talk about working to defund Planned Parenthood in 2012, as they did last year.
“The unity we see at the march is very important to these efforts,” Scheidler said.
The Hill newspaper recently reported that Planned Parenthood’s annual report for 2009-2010 showed more than $1 billion in assets. An analysis of Planned Parenthood’s finances by the Susan B. Anthony List, a pro-life group, indicated that almost half (46%) of the organization’s income comes from taxpayers in the form of grants, contracts and Medicaid payments.
Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, said that “the election will be a frequently mentioned theme at the rally and other events.”
“I think it will take on a specific character and that is because of the new health-care law [the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, known informally as Obamacare] that funds abortions. We are very active in opposing that legislation, not because we don’t want health care for all, but because of its abortion provisions.”
Father Pavone has “tentative plans” to attend the March for Life, but in an interview he referred to his personal situation as “fluid.” Last fall, his bishop, Bishop Patrick Zurek of Amarillo, Texas, recalled the priest to his diocese and has not allowed him since then to travel outside the boundaries of that diocese. Bishop Zurek said that he sought “clarification and answers to concerns about the administration” of Priests for Life “and other related entities of which Father Pavone has a leadership role.” Father Pavone has appealed to the Congregation for the Clergy in Rome to resolve the dispute.
The priest said that since his plans for the Washington event are longstanding, he hopes the bishop will not object.
“If for some reason he says I absolutely can’t attend, then we would have to deal with that,” he said.
Onsite Voter Registration
The keynote speaker at the March for Life’s Rose Dinner, held the evening of the march, is Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who is widely identified with the fight against the health-care law. Cuccinelli, who has said he would like to run for governor of Virginia in 2013, was one of the first attorneys general in the nation to file a suit challenging the constitutionality of the law.
Nellie Gray said that he was not tapped to deliver the address because of his opposition to the health-care law, but because several of her board members from Virginia were impressed with Cuccinelli’s overall record on abortion.
One of the new features of this year’s March for Life will be a move by Students for Life to register pro-lifers, especially the younger ones, to vote in the 2012 elections.
“This will be the first time at the March for Life that somebody has been registering people to vote,” said Kristan Hawkins, executive director of Students for Life. SFL will also emphasize the importance of registering to vote for pro-life candidates while marching.
“We will be walking with and handing out 10,000 placards that read ‘I am the pro-life generation,’ and we are going to hand out 20,000 postcards with pledges to vote pro-life first.”
“For us, every election is important,” Hawkins continued. “But 2012 is crucial.”
The Obama administration is the most pro-abortion administration in history, she noted.
“If we are going to overturn Roe v. Wade, we can’t do it unless we get the votes on the Supreme Court,” Hawkins said. “If we have four more years of Obama, he will appoint justices who support abortion.”
But Hawkins, 26, is optimistic that she and her peers will see Roe overturned. The theme of Students for Life’s Jan. 22 national conference, co-sponsored with the Alliance Defense Fund, at the North Bethesda Marriott in suburban Maryland, is “Envision … a World Without Abortion.” Two thousand young people have registered to attend the conference.
One panel at the Students for Life event will address “What Happens When Roe v. Wade Is Overturned” and will feature David Bereit of 40 Days for Life and Dr. John Bruchalski of the Tepeyac Family Center in Fairfax, Va.
Bryan Kemper of Stand True Ministries, who was recently named youth outreach director of Priests for Life, will also be the keynote speaker at another event, a Jan. 21 youth rally at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill. It is officially co-sponsored by Gray’s March for Life.
Speakers at the youth rally will include Lila Rose of Live Action, who became famous for her undercover investigations of Planned Parenthood. But here, too, the 2012 presidential election will loom large.
The rally will promote a BeMyVote.com campaign, featuring pro-lifers not yet old enough to vote who will ask people to support their cause. Those registered for the campaign can win a Ford Mustang and a trip to Washington to be on hand to see the 2013 presidential inauguration.
What if Barack Obama is being sworn in that day?
“We don’t believe that is going to happen,” Kemper said confidently. “I believe that we are going to have a new, pro-life president and a renewed commitment to pro-life work by this generation. If you look at the right-to-life movement, it gets younger every year.”
‘Something Big Will Happen’
“The thing that is huge this year is that with 40 years of legalized abortion we see an entire generation that has grown up with the legalized killing of children,” Kemper said. “We want to take this 40-year mark and know that something big is on the horizon. If we stand up and make pro-life the priority, something big will happen.”
As usual this year, commentators will likely note that there are more and more young people at the March for Life — and, as usual, they will most likely be right.
“I used to go to the March for Life with my parents in the 1980s,” said Maria McFadden Maffucci, editor of Human Life Review, “and there weren’t all these young people. When I was in college, I was alone. It was considered nerdy to be pro-life. But now you see Union Station awash in young people trying to get fast food after the march.”
Also scheduled to speak at the youth rally are Victoria Hearst, a member of the publishing family (and sister of Patty Hearst, who was kidnapped in 1974) and founder of the nondenominational Praise Him Ministries, and Julia Holcomb, who in the 1970s became pregnant with the child of rock star Steven Tyler of Aerosmith (and more recently an American Idol judge). Holcomb aborted their son, something for which both she and Tyler have publicly expressed remorse.
Hearst is scheduled to receive an award for her pro-life work from Father Pavone at a prayer service, while Holcomb is scheduled to speak on the steps of the Supreme Court as part of Silent No More Awareness’ annual testimony from people who have experienced abortion.
“Julia Holcomb is leading for the first time,” said Janet Morana, a co-founder of Silent No More and executive director of Priests for Life. “This is the first time she is going to be silent no more.”
Morana always finds the three-minute testimonies at the Supreme Court one of the most moving times of the march. “On all minds, as we stand in front of that building this year, will be that we have an opportunity to change the course of history on abortion if we elect a pro-life candidate as the next president — one who is 110% pro-life.”
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