What the March for Life Means for the Year Ahead
Leaders who spoke at the March for Life are looking ahead at ways to advance the cause of life — through election-year efforts and creative, culture-shifting campaigns.
“I’ve been here before, a few other times,” said Benjamin Watson, Super Bowl-winning tight end for the New England Patriots. “Standing for life is something that is important to me and my family — from the womb all the way to natural death.”
More than 250,000 people participated in the 47th annual March for Life on January 24. The March is held annually to mark the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision on abortion. The diverse crowd included the NFL star, who came to take a stand without even giving remarks from the stage.
“As a believer, as a citizen, I think this march is important for our country,” said Watson in an interview. “It’s really about kindness and caring for other people.”
President Donald Trump became the first U.S. president to address the March for Life in person. His speech echoed the event’s somber yet celebratory tone.
“Together, we must protect, cherish and defend the dignity and sanctity of every human life,” said Trump. “All of us here today understand an eternal truth: Every child is a precious and sacred gift from God.
“When we see the image of a baby in the womb, we glimpse the majesty of God’s creation.”
Inclusive of Diverse Voices
Young activists noted their presence had a higher purpose than politics.
“We are not here for Trump,” said Samantha Oldfather, a student at Colorado Christian University (CCU). She came to the March for Life with nearly 200 classmates. “We are here for the cause of life, which now the president is showing up to support as we do.
“It’s amazing that he is speaking, but we all signed up before we knew he was coming.”
Reflecting the inclusion of pro-life liberal voices, State Senator Katrina Jackson spoke along with Donna Edwards. She is wife of Louisiana’s Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards.
“The media doesn’t realize that there are a lot of pro-life Democrats here,” said Jackson in an interview. She referenced a Marist Poll released last week.
“This new study shows that two out of three Democrats are pro-life. They may not be 100 percent pro-life like myself. Regardless, life is an issue that unifies the nation.”
Despite differences with President Trump on several issues, she sought to reflect bipartisan unity.
“I fight issues not people,” said Jackson. “Today is about protecting life, and I won’t make it about anything else.”
CCU student Katie McTavish responded to Christians skeptical of the event. “If somebody dismisses this because they politically disagree, that is having a very narrow, bigoted view of it,” she said. “They are missing the point, because we are here for life. The president getting behind this simply brings a bigger voice to it.”
Those from the evangelical college noted involvement in practical outreaches, including Oldfather studying to be a family therapist.
“I believe this movement is getting bigger,” she said. “Life issues are becoming a topic of conversation on our campus. Pro-life advocacy — not simply for the unborn, but for women and men in these situations — is on the rise.”
Democratic Leaders Reject Pro-Life Advocacy
Mainstream coverage of the march generally ignored remarks from Jackson, which she said is a common occurrence.
“Our voices have been muted by the party,” said Jackson. “But that is going to end, as a lot of us are rising to the national level.”
With the Iowa caucuses set for next week, she lamented the lack of a Democratic candidate who is pro-life. “It’s very disappointing,” said Jackson. “Biden originally said he was for the pro-life Hyde Amendment, then he changed to follow certain party leaders. I think being pro-life goes hand in hand with being pro-education and pro-health care.”
On Sunday night in a televised town hall, candidate Pete Buttigieg dismissed a question from Democrats for Life of America president Kristen Day. The host asked her if the answer from Buttigieg was satisfactory.
“We have no part in the party,” said Day. “Because it says abortion should be legal up to nine months, [and] the government should pay for it.”
At the march, Terrisa Bukovinac of Pro-Life San Francisco had perspective on another candidate.
“Tulsi Gabbard has shown some promise, coming out against third-trimester abortions,” said Bukovinac. “But she wraps it in language that indicates she wants to codify Roe, which we know is incompatible with ending late-term abortion. Roe allows abortion up until birth.
“If she did moderate on abortion, it would be a good move for her — but it’s not a reality right now.”
Conservatives Mobilize Around Life Issue
One party’s lack of pro-life inclusion may prove to be the other major party’s gain.
Signs promoting the newly formed Pro-Life Voices for Trump committee blanketed the March for Life. Susan B. Anthony List president Marjorie Dannenfelser serves as chairwoman.
“This president is here because he has embraced us,” said Dannenfelser in an interview.
“In the past, presidents who were friends of the pro-life movement phoned it in — even though you can see the White House from here! President Trump has a proven record now of governing as the most pro-life president ever.”
In her speech, the election loomed large. “We have seen historic gains under this president,” said Dannenfelser.
“No one can afford to sit on the sidelines during this coming election. Let your pro-life voices be heard in November!”
March for Life president Jeanne Mancini seemed to respond in remarks immediately following.
“One thing I want to say is that the March for Life is nonpartisan and bipartisan,” said Mancini. “We seek very much to have people on both sides of the political aisle who are pro-life.”
Clearly the campaign committee has its mission mapped out for the year ahead. “We are on the verge of a real revolution in pro-life laws,” said Dannenfelser. “We believe that the life vote combined with our true believers — Catholics and others — will provide the margin of victory in these battleground states.”
She also addressed what some media have called a wave of House Republican retirements.
“If you’re a pro-life member of the House, you are retiring at just the wrong time in history,” she said. “Even with the background noise of impeachment going on, we are in a moment of great advantage to win this election.”
Shifting the Culture Towards Life
Beyond politics, several leaders plan to open up cultural conversations on life issues in the months ahead.
Days before the march, The Hollywood Reporter broke the news that NFL star Watson has been working on a major documentary examining abortion in the U.S.
“This film is for all people, whether they consider themselves to be pro-life, pro-choice, or somewhere in between,” said Watson.
“In light of so many laws that have changed over the course of the last couple years, it reflects my journey of discovery.”
In partnership with Movie to Movement, Divided Hearts of America is slated to hit theaters this May. “I really want to invoke empathy for people on all sides,” added Watson.
“Through many different perspectives, it unveils the truth about what abortion is and what it isn’t.”
Meanwhile, Focus on the Family president Jim Daly announced the ministry’s pro-life simulcast Alive 2020 coming on May 9 — the day before Mother’s Day. Events in five cities across the U.S. will feature live ultrasounds along with music and brief remarks.
“Our keynote speaker will be a 4-D third-trimester ultrasound, just showing people the baby,” said Daly in an interview. “Last year in New York, the hush over Times Square was godly. Even the protesters put their signs down and looked in awe at the screen. It was like scales dropped from their eyes.”
“We’re going to continue to fight for babies and women, because we believe it’s the right thing to do.”
A graduate of the University of Colorado, Josh M. Shepherd covers culture, faith, and public policy issues for media outlets including The Stream and The Federalist.