Politics & Policy

Every Year They March

On the 35th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, pro-life citizens again take to the streets.

Every year they march.

They come on thousands of buses and cars and trains and on public transportation, but they come every January 22. Many make annual pilgrimages and have planned their trips months in advance. Others are merely people whose conscience and commitment got the best of them, such as the two college students who drove through the night from Mequon, Wisc., to be there.

#ad#But however they come, every year tens of thousands find their way to the right place at the right time, and they march.

They come from Wexford, Pa. and Elizabeth, N.J., and the Upper Peninsula, and all over Missouri, and lots of other places that people in Washington, D.C. — including their own elected representatives — don’t think about enough. That’s fly-over country; places where the rubes think that every life is worth protecting. While Washington disdains the values of Middle America, the marchers’ essential faith in self-government and the values our nation was founded on keeps them from storming the Bastille. Instead, the inhabitants of the heartland (and those from coasts framing it too) descend on the Supreme Court and peacefully mark the anniversary of the most democratically subversive act in the nation’s history.

They orderly carry signs and banners that express their unified support for the right to life, and they march.

One of the less consequential indignities of Roe v. Wade is that the decision was handed down in January, so commemorating the date with a protest march ensures there will be terrible weather every year. (One measure of relative commitment worth considering — the last major pro-choice rally in D.C. was years ago and took place in the spring.)

Every year they put on warm clothing and wait patiently while it takes hours to assemble in the cold, and finally, they march.

The March for Life is also a time to come together. It’s one of the best representations of DeTocqueville’s famous observation about the nation’s affinity for volunteer organizations. Older men in their Knights of Columbus sashes keep the crowd safe. The march itself is a roll call of churches, schools, and civic institutions of all stripes, each carrying its own banner and wearing its own colors — giving you some indication about who they are and what they believe. There are even groups marching for those who can’t all the way from Germany and France. Even the guy holding the sign saying “Anarchist Agnostic Against Abortion” is welcome.

But while the fellowship is important for expressing a unified message, many are there providing a more personal witness. A Lutheran pastor at the march told his story:

I will be at the March (my first one this year) because I was born in November of 1972. Just a couple of years after Gov. Rockefeller had signed into law one of the most liberal abortion laws in the country. It allowed for abortion-on-demand beginning at the 24th week of pregnancy. I am fairly certain that the young, unmarried woman who gave me up to Lutheran Social Services in Buffalo, New York, would have been well within her State-given rights to terminate her pregnancy. Instead, she courageously carried me to term, gave me up, and by the grace of God I was placed in the home of my family, who had been waiting almost a decade to have a baby of their own. Hence, discussions about when life really begins are a little less abstract for me.

The Rev. Andrew Jagow came to Washington on January 22, 2008 and, for the first time, he marched.

For the 35 years since Roe v. Wade, opposition has been mounting. And the decades of marching have been a hard slog, with little visible progress on the issue of abortion. But finally, there are signs that the walls of Jericho might finally be starting to crumble. The Supreme Court upheld a congressional ban on partial-birth abortion last year. Abortion rates have fallen nine percent in the last five years. And while the pro-life forces were marching, the former head of National Abortion Rights Action League marked the anniversary of the Supreme Court decision with an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times lamenting that pro-abortion forces have lost the “moral high ground” — if that were even possible. But encouraging as these signs may be, they are not enough.

Until the life of every unborn child is protected, they will come to Washington every year on January 22 and they will march.

— Mark Hemingway is an NRO staff reporter.

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