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
DateEvery year since January 22, 1974 (1974-01-22)
(anniversary of Roe v. Wade)
LocationWashington, D.C.

The March for Life is an annual rally protesting both the practice and legality of abortion, held in Washington, D.C. on or around the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, a landmark decision issued in 1973 by the United States Supreme Court decriminalizing abortion. The march, whose stated mission is to "End abortion by uniting, educating, and mobilizing pro-life people in the public square", advocates for overturning Roe v. Wade.[1][2] It is organized by the March for Life Education and Defense Fund.

Logo for the March for Life as of 2014[3]


Demonstrators of the first March for Life in Washington, D.C. on January 22, 1974, a year after Roe v. Wade was passed

The first March for Life, which was founded by Nellie Gray, was held on January 22, 1974, on the West Steps of the Capitol, with an estimated 20,000[4] supporters in attendance. The march was originally intended to be a one-time event, in hopes that the United States Supreme Court would reverse Roe v. Wade immediately a year after its ruling. However, after the first march in 1974, Gray took steps to institute the rally as a yearly event until Roe v. Wade was overturned by incorporating more grassroots anti-abortion activists into the march, which would later be officially recognized as a nonprofit organization the same year.[5] |quote=On January 22, 1974 thousands of anti-abortion protesters attended the first March for Life. A rally was held as Members of Congress announced pro-life legislation and expressed their support for the anti-abortion cause. The program concluded with a "Circle of Life" march around the Capitol, followed by participants lobbying their Members of Congress.

During the 33rd annual March for Life in 2006, the nomination of Judge Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court caused a major shift for the movement, because of the expectation that Alito would "win Senate approval and join a majority in overturning Roe."[6] 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.

During the 2009 March for Life, the potential passage of the 110th 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.[7]


The March for Life proceedings begin around noon.[7] They typically consist of a rally at the National Mall near Fourth Street (in 2018, this will be near 12th St. NW).[8] It is followed by a march which travels down Constitution Avenue NW, turns right at First Street NE, 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.[9]


Attendees of the 2013 March for Life
Students from the University of Notre Dame
A young girl holds up a pro-life sign.

In 1987, approximately 10,000 participated, despite a snowstorm.[10]

In 1995, which is the last year that the National Park Service made an official estimate of attendance, 45,000 attended, compared to 35,000 in 1994.[11]

Between 2003 and 2012 the marches drew crowds estimated in the tens of thousands, while organizers claimed hundreds of thousands.[12][13][14] According to organizers, the 2011 event was attended by 400,000.[15][14][16][17] In 2013, Life advocates estimated the march drew 650,000.[18] As with all large crowd estimates, the generated number of attendees reported differ, with sources indicating from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands.[19][18][20]

In 2016, the march proceeded despite a blizzard that dropped 24 inches (610 mm) of snow in D.C., with thousands of attendees.[21][22]

Many teenagers and college students attend the march each year, typically traveling with church/youth groups. A columnist for The Washington Post estimated that about half of the marchers were under age 30 in 2010.[23]

Notable speakers[edit]


In 1987, Ronald Reagan spoke remotely via telephone, and vowed to help "end this national tragedy". Jesse Helms, then Senator of North Carolina, attended and spoke. He called abortion an "American holocaust".[9]


In 2003, George W. Bush spoke remotely via telephone and thanked participants for their "devotion to such a noble cause". 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.[24]

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."[25]

In 2004, 15 lawmakers, all Republican, spoke. 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.[24]

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. Nellie Gray, the founder of March for Life, also spoke.[6]

In 2009, approximately 20 Congress members spoke, including Representative F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr., Wisconsin Republican and former chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and Gray.[7]


Mike Pence (pictured during the 2017 march) is the first vice president and highest-ranking US official to attend March for Life.

In 2011, speakers included House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, and several other members of Congress, including Mike Pence (see below).[26]

In 2013, presenters 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.[27]

In 2016, Republican Presidential candidate Carly Fiorina took part in the march.[28]

In 2017, the march included Vice President Mike Pence, Kellyanne Conway, the Counselor to President Donald Trump, the Archbishop of New York, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, pro-life activist Abby Johnson, and NFL player Benjamin Watson. Vice President Pence attended and spoke at the march, becoming the first vice president and the highest-ranking official to do so.[29][30] Pence was also one of the speakers at the 2010 march while serving as representative of Indiana's 6th congressional district.[31]

In 2018, President Donald Trump addressed the 45th march via satellite from the White House Rose Garden, becoming the first US President to address the rally using this technology.[32] The march, on the other hand, was attended by US House Speaker Paul Ryan, Democratic Illinois Representative Dan Lipinski, former NFL center Matt Birk,[33] and former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow's mother Pam.[34]

In 2019, Trump addressed the crowd via satellite and Pence spoke at the event in person. The President said, "I will always defend the first right in our Declaration of Independence: the right to life."[35] Political commentator Ben Shapiro also spoke at the event.[36] After the March, a widely discussed incident happened, when a group of March for Life participants and participants of the Indigenous Peoples March confronted each other.

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.[37] 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.[38][39][40] Students for Life of America typically holds its national conference the day after the March.[41] The National Memorial for the Pre-Born and their Mother and Fathers ( is a Christian, interdenominational prayer service that takes place every year on the morning of the March at DAR Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C.. 2017 will be the 24th year for this prayer service which features inspirational speakers and musicians. Clergy from many Christian denominations participate each year and a pro-life recognition award is also given out. This prayer service is sponsored by The National Pro-Life Religious Council, Priests for Life and Gospel of Life Ministries. The event is free and open to the public.[42]

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.[43] On the following day, the primate of the Anglican Church in North America, Foley Beach, led Anglicans in the March for Life.[43]

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,[44] 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".[7] In 2008, the Pope's message thanked attendants for "promoting respect for the dignity and inalienable rights of every human being."[37] 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.[45]

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.[46] 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, Richmond Bishop Francis DiLorenzo and more than 100 other bishops and priests from across the nation.[47] 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.[48]

Since 2000, Catholic students at Georgetown University have hosted the annual Cardinal O'Connor Conference on Life the day after the march. It is the largest of the student-run pro-life conferences in the U.S., and it regularly hosts prominent pro-life speakers such as Cardinal O'Malley and feminist Helen Alvaré. Hundreds of laypeople and clergy attend each year to hear the speakers and to participate in break-out sessions on pro-life issues.[49]

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[50]) 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]

Clergy and laity at the 2017 United Methodist event for the March for Life hosted by Lifewatch, Taskforce of United Methodists on Abortion and Sexuality

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".[51]

The Taskforce of United Methodists on Abortion and Sexuality, which is a part of the National Pro-Life Religious Council, holds its annual service of worship at the United Methodist Building, and the liturgy held for the 2016 March of Life 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."[52][43]

Lutheran events[edit]

Several Lutheran denominations, including the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, North American Lutheran Church and Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, have held conferences in Washington, D.C. surrounding the March of Life and the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS) is planning the 2017 LCMS Life Conference to be held on January 27, 2017, on the day of the March for Life.[53] Students from schools affiliated with the Lutheran church bodies mentioned above have made pilgrimages to the capitol of the United States in order to march in the event.[54][55] Before the 2016 March for Life, a Divine Service was celebrated at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Alexandria, Virginia.[43]

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 National Mall.[56] The online event attracted approximately 75,000 participants.[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "About the March for Life". Retrieved September 8, 2018.
  2. ^ Morrow, Brendan (January 26, 2017). "March for Life 2017: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know". Retrieved January 28, 2017. The general goal of the march is always to advocate for the overturning of Roe v. Wade...
  3. ^ Mancini, Jeanne. "March for Life's New Logo". Retrieved January 27, 2017.
  4. ^ "History". Retrieved January 28, 2017. On January 22, 1974, the first MARCH FOR LIFE was held on the West Steps of the Capitol. An estimated 20,000 committed prolife Americans rallied that day on behalf of our preborn brothers and sisters.
  5. ^ {{cite web|last1=Goodman|first1=Bethany|title=History of the March|url= January 2017
  6. ^ a b Janofsky, Michael. "Abortion Opponents Rally, Saying the End of Roe is Near". The New York Times. January 23, 2006. Retrieved November 9, 2009
  7. ^ a b c d 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. ^
  9. ^ a b Toner, Robin "Rally Against Abortion Hears Pledge of Support by Reagan". The New York Times. January 23, 1987. Retrieved November 22, 2009
  10. ^ Hula, Bryan (January 21, 2015). "From the Archives: March for Life History". VOX. Retrieved January 28, 2017.
  11. ^ Frank Somerville; Richard O'Mara (January 24, 1997). "Keeler exhorts March for Life crowd". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved January 24, 2017. The U.S. Park Police estimated 45,000 people marched, about 10,000 more than last year.
  12. ^ Leslie Shapiro; Shelley Tan (January 22, 2017). "A century of women marching on the Mall". The Washington Post. Retrieved January 28, 2017. The event has grown throughout the years. The first march drew a few thousand protestors, while mlater marches have seen consistent crowds estimated to be in the tens to hundreds of thousands.
  13. ^ Tim Drake (January 25, 2011). "March for Life 2011". National Catholic Register. Retrieved January 28, 2017. A crowd estimated between 100,000 and 200,000 contended with a water main break on the Beltway and below freezing temperatures to demonstrate their support for a culture of life.
  14. ^ a b "Youth Turnout Strong at US March for Life". January 25, 2011. Retrieved February 9, 2011.
  15. ^ Harper, Jennifer (January 22, 2009). "Pro-life marchers lose attention". The Washington Times. Retrieved January 27, 2011. [T]he event has consistently drawn about 250,000 participants since 2003.
  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 January 27, 2011.
  18. ^ a b "Abortion Foes Aim to Compete With Turnout for Women's March". The New York Times. January 27, 2016. Retrieved January 28, 2017. One of the largest turnouts was in 2013, the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade and the march itself. Some abortion opponents claimed that as many as 650,000 marchers showed up.
  19. ^ "Thousands converge for March on Life". CNN. January 22, 2014. Retrieved January 23, 2017. tens of thousands of protesters marched through the snow and ice, hoping to change minds
  20. ^ Johnson, Lacey (January 22, 2014). "U.S. anti-abortion marchers brave freezing cold in Washington". Reuters. Retrieved January 23, 2017. Thousands of U.S. anti-abortion activists braved frigid temperatures to rally at the annual March for Life on Wednesday
  21. ^ Michelle Boorstein; Joe Heim (January 22, 2016). "As DC shuts down for a blizzard, a small, faithful crowd still joins the March for Life". The Washington Post. Acts of Faith. Retrieved February 14, 2017. Despite the onset of a snow storm, thousands participate in the 43rd annual March for Life, commemorating Roe v Wade.
  22. ^ Nicolas Fandos (January 22, 2016). "Hundreds Brave Snow at March for Life in Washington". The New York Times. Archived from the original on December 15, 2018.
  23. ^ McCartney, Robert (January 24, 2010). "Young activists adding fuel to antiabortion side". The Washington Post. Retrieved January 25, 2017.
  24. ^ a b Janofsky, Michael (January 23, 2004). "Words of Support From Bush at Anti-Abortion Rally". The New York Times. Retrieved January 28, 2017.
  25. ^ Toner, Robin "At a Distance, Bush Joins Abortion Protest". The New York Times. January 23, 2003. Retrieved November 22, 2009
  26. ^ Huma Khan, Amy Bingham January 24, 2011 Activists at March for Life Rally Demand Tougher Abortion Laws, Overturn of Roe v. Wade
  27. ^ "March for Life Rally". C-SPAN Video Library. C-SPAN. January 25, 2013. Retrieved January 26, 2013.
  28. ^ Michelle Boorstein; Joe Heim (January 22, 2016). "As DC shuts down for a blizzard, a small, faithful crowd still joins the March for Life". The Washington Post. Retrieved January 24, 2017.
  29. ^ Gaudiano, Nicole (January 27, 2017). "At Anti-Abortion Rally, Mike Pence is a Beacon of Hope". USA Today. Retrieved January 27, 2017.
  30. ^ Fredericks, Bob (January 27, 2017). "Mike Pence Makes History by Rallying with Pro-Life Marchers". New York Post. Retrieved January 27, 2017.
  31. ^ House Republicans (January 22, 2010). "Congressman Mike Pence at the 2010 March for Life". YouTube. Retrieved January 27, 2017.
  32. ^ "Live stream: Trump makes historic speech at March for Life 2018". USA Today. January 19, 2018. Retrieved January 19, 2018.
  33. ^
  34. ^ St. Clair, Adrienne (January 19, 2018). "'You Love Every Child': President Trump Addresses March For Life". NPR. Retrieved January 20, 2018.
  35. ^ "March for Life 2019: Vice President Pence makes surprise visit at DC rally". USA Today. January 18, 2019. Retrieved June 9, 2019.
  36. ^ Stanglin, Doug; Miller, Ryan (January 18, 2019). "March for Life 2019: Vice President Pence makes surprise visit at DC rally". USA Today. Retrieved January 19, 2019.
  37. ^ a b Montes, Sue Anne Pressley. "A Youthful Throng Marches Against Abortion." The Washington Post, Section A03. January 23, 2008. Retrieved November 9, 2009
  38. ^ Gilbert, Kathleen (January 14, 2009). "Free Premiere of Pro-Life Movie "22 Weeks" to Show in D.C. Before March for Life". Retrieved November 10, 2014.
  39. ^ Ertelt, Steven (January 15, 2009). "New Pro-Life Movie 22 Weeks, Based on Botched Abortion, Premiers Soon". Retrieved November 10, 2014.
  40. ^ Mancari, Jim (January 30, 2013). "NET and 'Doonby' March for Life". The Tablet. Retrieved January 24, 2015.
  41. ^
  42. ^
  43. ^ a b c d Vicari, Chelsen (January 20, 2016). "Top 5 Church Affiliated Events Coinciding with the March for Life". Institute on Religion and Democracy. Retrieved April 7, 2016.
  44. ^ Archdiocese of Washington. (January 22, 2007). "Archbishop Wuerl's Homily at Jan. 22 Pro-Life Mass Archived February 8, 2007, at the Wayback Machine" Archdiocese of Washington. Retrieved January 23, 2007.
  45. ^ Michelle Boorstein, Ben Pershing January 25, 2011 "Abortion protesters see hope in GOP gains"
  46. ^ "LIFE IS VERY GOOD - MORNING RALLY AND EVENING OF PRAYER". Archived from the original on January 24, 2013. Retrieved December 10, 2014.
  47. ^ Collins, Katie (December 19, 2012). "Culture of life starts with prayer". Archived from the original on December 10, 2014. Retrieved December 10, 2014.
  48. ^
  49. ^
  50. ^ 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.
  51. ^ Zystra, Sarah Eekhoff (January 21, 2016). "Evangelicals Join March for Life as Abortions Plu". Christianity Today. Retrieved April 7, 2016.
  52. ^ Evans, Cindy (January 5, 2016). "Annual Lifewatch Worship Service". Taskforce of United Methodists on Abortion and Sexuality. Archived from the original on April 4, 2016. Retrieved April 7, 2016.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  53. ^ "March For Life". Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. Archived from the original on May 1, 2016. Retrieved April 7, 2016.
  54. ^ Black, Susannah (2015). "LuHi Students Participate in March for Life". Lutheran High School (Colorado). Retrieved April 7, 2016. Last week, a group of students and LuHi teachers embarked on a trip to Washington, D.C., for the annual March For Life.
  55. ^ "CLHS students to 'March for Life' in Washington". Concordia Lutheran High School (Fort Wayne, Indiana). January 7, 2015. Retrieved April 7, 2016. A group of 44 Concordia Lutheran High School students will be marching on Washington later this month in support of pro-life.
  56. ^ Thousands march in D.C. demonstration against abortion, William Wan, January 23, 2010 Washington Post, January 23, 2010

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]