No Shades of Gray
A life of dedication to life.

Nellie Gray in 2009


With the passing of pro-life leader Nellie Gray, many in the right-to-life movement are reflecting on her main legacy, the annual March for Life. Sometimes pro-lifers take the March for granted. However, the March is unique for several reasons. There is no annual protest March in Washington that consistently draws the crowds the March for Life does. With only a couple of exceptions, there is no other pro-life event that has lasted some 38 years. Finally, it is one of the few events that are supported by nearly every pro-life group.

Of course, each and every pro-life activity is subject to intense internal scrutiny. The March for Life was certainly no exception. Among the common complaints are that the March receives too little media attention, the media coverage it does get is misleading, and pro-lifers could get more political leverage from the thousands of people who attend the March.

These complaints have varying degrees of merit. However, they miss the point that the March itself has intrinsic value to its participants. The ongoing struggle to restore legal protection to the unborn is often thankless. However, every January it was always heartening to witness people who traveled considerable distances, see a large crowd of enthusiastic young people, and reconnect with friends from across the country.

Furthermore, the March contains important symbolic value. Every January, thousands of people from across the country descend upon the Mall on Washington. We come to support the weakest among us and protest a tragic and indefensible Supreme Court decision. It never matters who is in the White House, who controls Congress, whether the pro-life movement had a good year, or what the weather is like. The attendance year in and year out is consistently strong. This sends a clear and unambiguous message to friends and foes alike. The pro-life movement is here to stay.

— Michael New is an assistant professor at the University of Michigan – Dearborn, a Fellow at the Witherspoon Institute, and an adjunct scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_J_New

Thanks to Nellie Gray, I have a standing appointment every January 22 at the place where the most disastrous decision in American history was made. On that now-infamous date in 1973, newspapers across the country declared in their headlines that the U.S. Supreme Court had “settled the abortion issue.”

But because a courageous woman knew she couldn’t live with that decision, she mustered her forces to march on Washington and say abortion is murder and would not be tolerated in a nation whose Declaration of Independence declares the right to life inalienable.

She found her motivation to fight abortion by thinking about how the Nuremburg trials had made it clear that there are laws of human nature that no government may transgress.

It is regrettable that we still march, but march we do, in ever-growing numbers. Our presence, in the hundreds of thousands, in the seat of government of the most powerful nation in the world, is proof that abortion remains the most unsettled issue in America.

The 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade could be the most important yet. There are certain galvanizing moments in the history of every movement for social reform — moments that represent definitive turning points on the path to victory. For the pro-life movement, the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade can and should be such a moment. Priests for Life is mobilizing a coordinated effort to have events not only in January but throughout 2013 to bring focus to the holocaust of abortion and how to end it.

We will have to march without Nellie Gray this year, but when we ultimately march to victory — and we will, I assure you — it will be because a woman of great faith and great conviction was bold enough, and heartbroken enough, to take those first steps.

— Fr. Frank Pavone is national director of Priests for Life and president of the National Pro-life Religious Council.