No Shades of Gray
A life of dedication to life.

Nellie Gray in 2009


Helen Gurley Brown and Nellie Gray died within hours of each other.

Brown, 90, was editor of Cosmopolitan for 32 years. She arguably did more than any other single person to sell the lie of “having it all”: self-focus, power, promiscuous sex.

Gray, 88, abandoned her promising legal career to challenge the moral conscience of the nation to protect the innocent unborn victims of the collateral damage of the Cosmo lifestyle. At the first March for Life in 1974, almost everybody knew each other, and we were excited that two whole busloads came from Long Island. It was Nellie’s sheer dogged determination that kept it going through the decades. Today, the March is a rite of passage for pro-life youth, and hundreds of busloads come from across the whole country.

The March for Life, by its very existence and its predictability, has been central to the development of the pro-life movement. It is truly the Gathering of the Clans, where bonds are forged, and quarrels fought among brethren, and from which leaders and the troops go forth reinvigorated for the work ahead.

Dozens of organizations schedule conferences and events around the March. People around the world plan their international travel to coincide with it. The March, with its attendant calendar of events, brings together a critical mass of people with a single purpose: to protect the unborn.

Protecting the unborn is multifaceted work: educating the public; providing care and services to women with unplanned, unwanted pregnancies; researching why women choose abortion and how to influence their choice; offering succor to women who regret their abortions; crafting legislation to protect women; crafting legislation to protect the unborn; teaching people how to register voters for life; and on and on.

Though Nellie’s goal of a constitutional amendment has not been achieved, there is fruit from her labors: American culture has been become more pro-life. Abortion rates fell 33 percent from 1990 to 2005. Popular support for “any abortion, for any reason” stood at only 7 percent in 2009, according to Gallup. And the pro-life movement will continue to be refreshed and renewed by the March that Nellie started.

Today, both Nellie Gray and Helen Gurley Brown stand before the awesome judgment seat, both giving an accounting of their lives. Not men shall judge them, but God.

— Connie Marshner is a long-time pro-life activist in Washington, D.C.


One of the many things to consider about the life and work of Nellie Gray is how she, and her beloved March for Life, represent what is so great about the pro-life movement, and what continues to confound its opponents.

Anyone who has been to the March will quickly notice several things. There are so many stalwarts there who have fought to defend life for years — just like Nellie Gray. They were out there when the states started legalizing abortion, and when Roe v. Wade was decided. They have shown the strength of the movement by their fidelity to the cause over many, many years. Constancy — staying the course in a just cause.

They also notice all the young people who are filled with passion for defending life — just as Nellie Gray was. The March is a rally and party, remarkable for an event about such a lamentable reality. This atmosphere, particularly the energy of the pro-life youth, lifts us up and encourages us that there is hope for the future. Renewal — transforming new hearts and minds and culture.

No movement in America is less fashionable and fancy than the pro-life cause. Its opponents cannot understand its appeal and its longevity. The March for Life is hardly a glamorous event. There are no movie stars, rock musicians, or A-list celebrities in sight, and there is little likelihood that it will become the next big fad.

But Nellie understood. The truth of the pro-life movement is very simple — every life has value. This drove Nellie Gray — and millions like her — to be steadfast defenders of life, and it continually renews the cause. Nellie Gray was an ordinary woman called by God to do exceptional work, with constancy and hope for renewal. The March goes on.

— Edward T. Mechmann is assistant director of the Family Life/Respect Life Office at the Archdiocese of New York.

Nellie Gray’s great leadership of the March for Life testifies to the importance of key leaders in the pro-life movement and speaks to what one determined person can accomplish with God’s grace. Yet the annual event she founded to protest both the evil of abortion and the Supreme Court’s legalization of it clarifies that the pro-life campaign is a true people’s movement — a grassroots effort by thousands and thousands of ordinary folk. The March for Life serves powerfully as both a rallying point and a source of strength for local pro-life groups across the country, such as the one that I am part of at the University of Notre Dame. Now over 400 students and 50 faculty and staff, led by the university’s president, attend the March for Life. Participation in it energizes us in our on-campus endeavors and for the struggles that undoubtedly lie ahead. We can only be deeply grateful for the tremendous courage and commitment of Nellie Gray and allow her witness to call each of us forth to reaffirm our gratitude for God’s gift of life and our resolve to allow all to share it.

— Fr. Bill Miscamble, C.S.C., is president of Faculty for Life and a history professor at the University of Notre Dame.