‘We are the pro-life generation,” the crowd chanted, voices building to an overwhelming crescendo with each repetition of the line. Packed onto the National Mall across the street from the White House Friday, the revelers deafened one another with their joyful shouts, tens of thousands gathered just across the street from President Donald Trump’s new home, smiling and laughing and breaking into spontaneous cheers.
Such was the scene at the 44th annual March for Life, first held here on January 22, 1974, one year to the day after the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion nationwide. In good weather and in bad — given Washington’s bitter Januaries, it’s usually the latter — crowds swarm the Mall every year to protest against the country’s abortion laws and to advocate for the protection of unborn life.
This year’s March had particular historic significance, as it followed on the heels of a Republican sweep of November’s elections and, with it, the chance to enact pro-life policies at the federal level for the first time in years. The crowd never cheered louder than when Vice President Mike Pence spoke at the morning’s rally, becoming the first member of a presidential administration ever to address the event in person.
“President Trump actually asked me to be here with you today,” Pence said. “He asked me to thank you for your support — to thank you for your stand for life and for your compassion for the women and children of America. . . . Compassion is overcoming convenience and hope is defeating despair. In a word: Life is winning in America because of all of you.”
Every year the March makes evident just how phenomenally young and vibrant the pro-life movement is, bolstered by students who travel from hundreds of colleges, universities, and high schools all across the country, often sleeping on buses overnight or driving for two days straight to be here. This year was no different.
Take, for example, twelve-year-old Tommy Steines, who was attending his very first March for Life. “I’m here to stand up for life and for support,” he told National Review, smiling from under his knit cap. Steines and his family drove eight hours from Ohio to attend the event. Steines’s mother, Donna, said that there are smaller, satellite marches for life in Ohio, “but none of them have half a million people.”
Even though young faces dominated the crowd, people of all ages and genders and races were well represented at the March, as they always are. The Mall this year held a truly heterogeneous mixture of Americans, united in the belief that this country’s women and children and families deserve better than a regime of abortion on demand.
Dozens of pro-life public figures and movement leaders gathered behind the rally stage, speaking most frequently of the hope embodied by the new administration. One of those activists was David Daleiden, founder of the Center for Medical Progress, which recorded and released the undercover videos that exposed the vast fetal-tissue-trafficking industry profiting off the body parts of aborted babies.
Dozens of pro-life public figures and movement leaders gathered behind the rally stage, speaking most frequently of the hope embodied by the new administration.
Daleiden told National Review that the Trump administration gives pro-life people reason to expect the demise of the abortion industry. “It’s a historic moment that I think we now have the opportunity to enact the sorts of commonsense, consensus pro-life policies that the vast majority of Americans say they want,” he said.
Judging from the groups within today’s crowd, Daleiden is correct. The March for Life has always been a highly inclusive event, with Feminists for Life and Atheists Against Abortion standing shoulder to shoulder with Catholic priests and nuns, Protestant ministers, and rabbis.
And NFL players, too, for that matter: Baltimore Ravens tight end Benjamin Watson was one of the featured speakers at Friday’s rally, and he chatted with National Review for a moment before heading on stage. “Any time I can advocate for life — whether it’s pre-born, whether it’s post-born, whatever it is — I want to stand for life and for those who can’t stand for themselves,” he said.
If there was a theme this year, it was “hope.” Jonathan Darnel, a Northern Virginia resident and pro-life activist, said it is incumbent on pro-life people to continue doing everything they can to end abortion in the U.S. “We say it’s murder, but we don’t act like it,” he told National Review, holding up a twelve-by-four-foot banner that reads, “Be honest: If abortion killed born kids, wouldn’t we fight harder?”
Rather than seeking out pro-choice individuals, Darnel sees his mission as encouraging people who are already pro-life to become as active in the movement as they possibly can. “It should radically change your regular life as long as it’s legal,” he said.
Kansas governor Sam Brownback sounded hopeful, too. “The video evidence against Planned Parenthood is so significant and their defense, I believe, so weak, in that they say nobody else can provide these services, the non-abortion services that we provide,” he said. “But others can, and this is now documented. We’ve gone through this in our state.”
Three pro-life politicians, representatives Chris Smith and Mia Love and Senator Joni Ernst, also spoke at the rally. Love’s address was particularly poignant, as she tearfully spoke about how her parents chose not to abort her.
“I am certain that this couple would never have thought that that child would become the first black, female Republican ever elected to Congress,” she declared. Love spoke eloquently about the limitless potential each child has:
That child may become a friend that saves a peer from suicide, or a mom who strengthens her family, or a neighbor who volunteers and eradicates hunger, or a teacher who inspires a struggling student. Every time we kill a child through abortion, we kill our potential. Every time we kill a child, we — all of us — suffer. We lose a little of ourselves and a whole lot of our future.
Perhaps Love’s remarks best encapsulate the perpetual hope of the pro-life movement: hope for a future free of the horrific violence of abortion, hope for each mother to embrace the child within her, hope for the potential and promise of every unborn life. It is this hope that impels thousands to travel here to stand in the snow and wind and rain every January, and it is this hope that fuels their joyful belief that they will one day bring an end to the brutal practice of abortion in America.