March for Life (Washington, D.C.)

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March for Life
The start of the 2009 March (2009)
The start of the 2009 March (2009)
Date Every year since January 22, 1974 (1974-01-22)
(anniversary of Roe v. Wade).
Location Washington, D.C.

The 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 and reduce access to the procedure.[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 2013 march was moved to January 25, 2013, to accommodate the Presidential Inauguration.

Between 2003 and 2009, the march had an attendance of around 250,000,[2] but this number has since increased. The 2011 and 2012 marches drew an estimated 400,000 each, the 2013 march drew an estimated 650,000.[3][4]


The first March for Life, which was founded by Nellie Gray,[5] was held on January 22, 1974, on the West Steps of the Capitol, with an estimated 20,000 supporters in attendance.[6]

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."[7]

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.[8]

During the 2009 March for Life, the threat of passage by the 111th United States 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.[9]

From year to year, phrases on signs at the march have included “We Choose Life”, “End Abortion Now”, “Your Mom Chose Life”,[9] “Give Life, Don’t Take It”, "Stop Abortion Now", “Defend Life”,[8] “Women Deserve Better Than Abortion”, “Michigan Loves Our Pro-Life President”, “Respect Life, Diocese of Pittsburgh”,[10] “Abortion Kills”,[11] “Stop Unborn Child Abuse”, “Equal Rights for Unborn Women”,[12] "Abolish Abortion Courageously",[13] "I Regret My Abortion",[14] "Men Regret Lost Fatherhood",[14] and "I Am The Pro-Life Generation".[13] Others compared abortions to “Hitler's Holocaust”.[7] Many sing and chant phrases such as “Pro-choice, that's a lie, babies never choose to die!”,[10] "We are the pro-life generation!",[14] and "Hey hey, ho ho, Roe v. Wade has got to go!"[15]


The March for Life proceedings begin around noon.[9] 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.[12]


From 2003 to 2009, the March for Life brought in around 250,000 attendees each year. However, the events of the past few years have drawn in more people, with 2011's event bringing in up to 400,000 protestors.[2][4][16][17] The 2013 March for Life drew an estimated 650,000 people.[3]

Approximately 5,000 participated in the 14th annual march in 1987, despite a snowstorm.[12] 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.[18]

Notable speakers[edit]

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". Jesse Helms, then Senator of North Carolina, also spoke at the 14th annual rally. He called abortion an “American holocaust".[12]

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."[10]

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 House of Representatives, 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", foretelling that the United States would hold them accountable for their actions in trials equivalent to the Nuremberg Trials.[7]

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.[9]

President Barack 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. He said that abortion represents a broad principle: "government should not intrude on our most private family matters".[9]

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.[19]

Speakers at the 40th March for Life in 2013 included Speaker of the United States House of Representatives John Boehner (via a pre-recorded video address), former United States Senator and candidate for the 2012 Republican Party presidential nomination Rick Santorum, as well as other members of Congress.[20]

Media attention[edit]

March for Life has received relatively little media attention over the years.[citation needed] 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 President Barack Obama's inauguration, which brought in swarms of media representatives.[2] The 40th annual march in 2013 amassed 650,000 people.

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 pro-life issues. Such strategies include securing media coverage through legislative means or by tapping into new media outlets.[2]

Associated events[edit]

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.[8] The March for Life Education and Defense Fund hosts a dinner each year.[citation needed] Additionally, independent films with a pro-life message have premiered or have been promoted in association with the March, including the Vatican endorsed film Doonby, which was shown at Landmark E Street Cinema during the 2013 march, and 22 Weeks, which premiered at Union Station’s Phoenix Theatre on the eve of the 2009 march.[21][22][23][24]

Anglican events[edit]

Anglicans for Life, the pro-life apostolate of the Anglican Church in North America, launched the "Mobilizing the Church for Life" conference on the day before the 2016 March for Life.[25] On the following day, the primate of the Anglican Church in North America, Foley Beach, led Anglicans in the March for Life.[25]

Catholic events[edit]

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,[26] where a message from the Pope is relayed.

In 2009, the 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".[9] In 2008, the Pope's message thanked attendants for “promoting respect for the dignity and inalienable rights of every human being.”[8] 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.[27]

In response to a growing number of pilgrims traveling to the area for the March for Life, in 2009 the Roman Catholic Diocese of Arlington began to host the “Life is VERY Good” Evening of Prayer, the night before the March.[28] In 2013, a Morning Mass and Rally (preceding the March for Life) was added and held at the Patriot Center on the campus of George Mason University, including Arlington Bishop Paul Loverde and more than 100 bishops and priests from across the nation.[29] Life is VERY Good, which began with 350 participants in 2009, gathered in excess of 12,000 between its two events, held before and after the March, in 2013.[30]

Eastern Orthodox events[edit]

Orthodox clergy and laity at the March for Life in 2012.

The Orthodox presence at the March for Life is a long one with representation from many jurisdictions every year. The evening before the March, there is often at least one Vespers service at a local D.C. church. During the March there is a Panakhida for the Unborn performed along the way. Seminarians from Christ the Saviour Seminary, Holy Cross Seminary, St. Tikhon's Orthodox Seminary, and St. Vladimir's Orthodox Seminary (represented by the St. Ambrose Society[31]) are invariably in attendance along with their families, hierarchs, clergy, and monastics from all over the country. Metropolitan Jonah of Washington (Orthodox Church in America) has been a speaker at the pre-March invocations in recent years. The Carpatho-Russian Diocese and Greek Archdiocese also have a strong connection to the March for Life and have been at the forefront of the pro-life movement. Metropolitan Nicholas of Amissos (American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese) was a constant presence during his episcopate dating back to 1987.

Evangelical events[edit]

At the 2016 March for Life rally, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, organized a conference "aimed at increasing the level of engagement in the pro-life cause".[32]

The Taskforce of United Methodists on Abortion and Sexuality, which is a part of the National Pro-Life Religious Council, held its annual service of worship at the United Methodist Building, which featured "a sermon by Dr. Thomas C. Oden, General Editor of the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, former Professor of Theology and Ethics at Drew University, and Lifewatch Advisory Board member."[33][25]

Lutheran events[edit]

Lutheran Churches have consistently held conferences annually in Washington D.C. surrounding the March of Life and they are planning the 2017 LCMS Life Conference to be held on 27 January, 2016, on the day of the March for Life.[34] Students from Lutheran schools have made pilgrimages to the capitol of the United States in order to march in the event.[35][36] Before the 2016 March for Life, a Divine Service was celebrated at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Alexandria, Virginia.[25]

Students for Life conference[edit]

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[edit]

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.[37] The online event attracted approximately 75,000 participants.[17]


See also[edit]


  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 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. ^ a b Portteus, Danielle (10 February 2013). "Newport: 650,000 In March For Life". MonroeNews. MonroeNews. Retrieved 14 April 2013. 
  4. ^ a b "Youth Turnout Strong at US March for Life". January 25, 2011. Retrieved 2011-02-09. 
  5. ^ Notice of death at Washington
  6. ^ Official March for Life website–About Us Retrieved 2012-02-17.
  7. ^ 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
  8. ^ 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
  9. ^ 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
  10. ^ a b c Toner, Robin “At a Distance, Bush Joins Abortion Protest”. The New York Times. January 23, 2003. Retrieved November 22, 2009
  11. ^ Rimer, Sara. “Abortion Foes Rally in Joy Over G.O.P. Surge”. The New York Times. January 24, 1995. Retrieved November 22, 2009
  12. ^ 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
  13. ^ a b Zimmerman, Carol (January 28, 2013). "At annual March for Life, crowds show endurance, passion to continue". National Catholic Reporter. Retrieved August 22, 2016. 
  14. ^ a b c "March for Life 2015 unites 'pro-life generation'". Catholic News Agency. Retrieved August 22, 2016. 
  15. ^ Bacon, John; Toppo, Greg (January 22, 2015). "'Roe v. Wade' turns 42; thousands march in opposition". USA Today. Retrieved August 23, 2016. 
  16. ^ About Us. March for Life website. Retrieved 2011-01-27
  17. ^ 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. 
  18. ^ "Young activists adding fuel to antiabortion side"
  19. ^ Activists at March for Life Rally Demand Tougher Abortion Laws, Overturn of Roe v. Wade
  20. ^ "March for Life Rally". C-SPAN Video Library. C-SPAN. 25 January 2013. Retrieved 26 January 2013. 
  21. ^ Gilbert, Kathleen (14 January 2009). "Free Premiere of Pro-Life Movie "22 Weeks" to Show in D.C. Before March for Life". Retrieved 10 November 2014. 
  22. ^ Ertelt, Steven (15 January 2009). "New Pro-Life Movie 22 Weeks, Based on Botched Abortion, Premiers Soon". Retrieved 10 November 2014. 
  23. ^ Mancari, Jim (30 January 2013). "NET and 'Doonby' March for Life". The Tablet. Retrieved 24 January 2015. 
  24. ^ Crane, Anita (23 January 2013). "Hollywood Actor Flayed". WND. Retrieved 24 January 2015. 
  25. ^ a b c d Vicari, Chelsen (20 January 2016). "Top 5 Church Affiliated Events Coinciding with the March for Life". Institute on Religion and Democracy. Retrieved 7 April 2016. 
  26. ^ Archdiocese of Washington. (January 22, 2007). "Archbishop Wuerl's Homily at Jan. 22 Pro-Life Mass" Archdiocese of Washington. Retrieved January 23, 2007.
  27. ^ "Abortion protesters see hope in GOP gains"
  28. ^
  29. ^,21147
  30. ^
  31. ^ JOIN US ON THE BUS: St. Ambrose Society sponsors participation in March for Life, Washington D.C.. "[1]" St. Vladimir Orthodox Theological Seminary. Retrieved January 22, 2014.
  32. ^ Zystra, Sarah Eekhoff (21 January 2016). "Evangelicals Join March for Life as Abortions Plu". Christianity Today. Retrieved 7 April 2016. 
  33. ^ Evans, Cindy (5 January 2016). "Annual Lifewatch Worship Service". Taskforce of United Methodists on Abortion and Sexuality. Retrieved 7 April 2016. 
  34. ^ "March For Life". Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Retrieved 7 April 2016. 
  35. ^ Black, Susannah (2015). "LuHi Students Participate in March for Life". Lutheran High School (Colorado). Retrieved 7 April 2016. Last week, a group of students and LuHi teachers embarked on a trip to Washington, D.C., for the annual March For Life. 
  36. ^ "CLHS students to 'March for Life' in Washington". Concordia Lutheran High School (Fort Wayne, Indiana). 7 January 2015. Retrieved 7 April 2016. A group of 44 Concordia Lutheran High School students will be marching on Washington later this month in support of pro-life. 
  37. ^ Washington Post, January 23, 2010

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Washington, D.C.
Dallas, Texas
Oakland, California