No Shades of Gray
A life of dedication to life.

Nellie Gray in 2009


Pro-life students from across the nation will be forever grateful for the leadership that Nellie Gray has provided to our movement, for founding the March for Life, and for setting an example of passion and perseverance that inspires us all to dedicate our lives to finishing what she started, abolishing abortion in our lifetime.

The common phrase we hear most at Students for Life from young pro-lifers is that they feel “alone” on their campus, singled out by professors or friends for being that “radical anti-choicer.” For all of us, our first time at the March for Life felt like a huge welcome-home party. The joy you feel being surrounded by 400,000 other people who are just as passionate as you to abolish abortion is indescribable. The emotional high you receive gives you what you need to persevere though the rest of the year. As soon as you step off the coach bus, you know you are not alone, that our movement is winning, and someday soon abortion will be a thing of the past. There is nothing like that feeling in the whole world.

— Kristan Hawkins is president of Students for Life.


Since the early 1970s, Nellie Gray’s March has reminded the nation that the abortion debate won’t just go away. Indeed, much to the dismay of abortion-choicers, the United States is still arguing over two key questions that will do nothing less than determine the future of human beings.

First, we’re arguing about moral truth. Is it real and knowable, or just a preference, like choosing chocolate ice cream over vanilla? Second, we’re arguing over human value. Does each and every human being have an equal right to life, or do only some have it, in virtue of some accidental property that may come and go in the course of their lifetimes?

Gray’s annual march reminds pro-lifers that surrender on these two questions is not an option. The importance of that fact alone can hardly be overstated. From Democrats on judiciary committees to Planned Parenthood operatives, the consistent theme from our critics is that the abortion debate is over and pro-lifers have lost. We should make peace with over a million procedures a year.

Gray’s answer? Never. Sure, the road is hard and the defeats are many. Progress is slow. But we’re not quitting, no matter how many times you try to bury us.

There’s more. Gray’s annual event now draws to D.C. thousands of students who receive valuable pro-life apologetics training sponsored by Students for Life of America. Consider SFLA’s growth: In 2004, I spoke to roughly 70 students at the national conference. In 2011, I spoke to over 1,800! This year we expect 2,100 plus.

Michael Bauman of Hillsdale College puts it well: “When words lose their meaning, people lose their lives.” Nellie’s march is a statement that despite the best efforts of Planned Parenthood, words like “abortion” still mean something in our nation. And if we don’t like what the word means, maybe we should think twice about tolerating it.

— Scott Klusendorf is president of Life Training Institute, where he trains pro-life advocates to defend their views in the public square.

From the beginning, the March for Life was an important event in my family. Our lives had changed irrevocably on January 22, 1973, because from then on my father, J. P. McFadden, devoted his energies and passion to the defense of the unborn. In 1974, he opened a lobbying organization in D.C., the Ad Hoc Committee, and launched a lively newsletter, Lifeletter, which — as I saw while looking through the early issues, after hearing of Nellie Gray’s death — reported on the first March with such hopeful enthusiasm for the overturn of Roe it makes one’s heart ache. By the second annual March, in ‘75, Nellie Gray emerged in the pages of Lifeletter as the clear leader of the march on Washington, who unabashedly demanded that Congress act to stop the slaughter of the innocents.

For years, we older children would go to the March with our parents, sometimes standing in the midst of the crowd to hand Lifeletters or the Human Life Review (which J. P. founded in 1975); afterwards, we’d head to the office, where an open house for marchers offered warmth, food, and sprits (both drinkable and in camaraderie). My father often spoke of “Miss Nellie” with fondness, admiring both her chutzpah and her absolute dedication.

J. P. died in 1998, and the Ad Hoc office in D.C. has closed; but the March, with Miss Nellie at the helm, has continued, with strength and fervor. Attending in recent years, I marvel: at the masses of young marchers, at the overwhelming attitude of joy and hope — no matter how invisible about half a million people are to the press. 2013’s march will mark the 40th anniversary of Roe. Miss Gray will be missed, but I believe she’ll be watching, in heavenly freedom from the icy winds of an earthly January.

— Maria McFadden Maffucci is the editor of the Human Life Review.