No Shades of Gray
A life of dedication to life.

Nellie Gray in 2009


When I first attended the March for Life in the early 1990s, I was just a kid. I remember the experience well: It was cold and rainy, and I was amazed by the size of the crowd. At that March I learned for the first time that our small group of pro-lifers was a part of something much larger.

That first experience confirmed in me the conviction that the cause is just, and that victory will come eventually.

I have been back to the March many times over the years since. But my most memorable experience at the March came in January of 2011. It was my first time back to the March since becoming a “professional,” a full-time worker for the cause. We had just launched our NYC 41 Percent campaign here in New York, and I had spent a few weeks dealing with the very hostile New York press. I had a meeting on Capitol Hill that made me miss the rally, and by the time I emerged at the top of the hill near the Supreme Court, hundreds of thousands of marchers had filled the streets from the Mall all the way to the Supreme Court.

I was immediately overwhelmed and moved by the joy, and the power, of that crowd. I again felt sure that victory would be ours, in time.

When Nellie Gray launched the first March for Life, she had no such palpable consolation to support her in her fight for life. But she persevered, and the March for Life has launched generations of pro-lifers into the fight to which she dedicated her life. We owe her a great debt of gratitude. May she rest in peace.

— Greg Pfundstein is executive director of the Chiaroscuro Foundation.

Nellie Gray did more than focus the nation on the pro-life cause once a year. She helped pro-lifers see each other, and in so doing has kept the movement young and strong.

I remember the first time I marched as a mom. Little Lucy, snug and warm in a sling on my hip, engaged in one of her favorite pastimes: studying the faces of the people around her. She saw many happy ones that cold day.

What Lucy understood instinctively has been lost to many in our post-modern world: that we are made to live in relation to each other, not in isolation.

The post-modernist’s idea of freedom is a quest for absolute autonomy: autonomy over our bodies, our time, the timing of our children and even of our own deaths. Pope John Paul II called this a distortion of freedom and said it leads to a society in which “everyone else is considered an enemy from whom one has to defend oneself.” (Evangelium Vitae, No. 20.)

The March for Life is a political protest, yes, but it’s also a great expression of solidarity. The tens of thousands of people who march each year stand to gain nothing from the success of their efforts. No rights, no raises, no cures for a suffering relative. They march in solidarity with fellow members of the human family they have never met and will never meet. How selfless. How counter-cultural!

The first year I brought Lucy, the Washington Post (whose March reviews I dread to read) reported that “the mood was closer to a party than a political protest, and the soundtrack of the day was the laughter of young people.”

Thanks for the laughter, Nellie!

— Cathy Ruse is senior fellow for legal studies at the Family Research Council.