The Corner

Nellie Gray, R.I.P.

On Monday evening, many pro-lifers were saddened to hear of the passing of pro-life leader Nellie Gray. Nellie Gray is best known for founding the March for Life and serving as the March’s emcee every year. Mny do not realize is that Gray’s involvement in pro-life activities also extended beyond the annual March for Life: She had a law degree from Georgetown University, and her ideas about how to design a Human Life Amendment to the U.S. Constitution had considerable influence in pro-life circles during the 1970s and 1980s.

Of course, the March for Life is Nellie Gray’s main legacy. Many pro-lifers sometimes seem to take the annual March for granted, but the longevity of the March is actually a remarkable achievement. Some 39 years ago, pro-life activists felt a need to properly commemorate the first anniversary of the tragic Roe v. Wade decision. That is when the idea for the March for Life was born. Interestingly, there was no plan to repeat the first March, but when deciding what to do with the leftover funds, someone suggested hosting a March the next year. Before long, the March for Life was incorporated with Nellie Gray as president and became an annual tradition.

Since then, the March has been a key contribution to the pro-life cause. Pro-lifers have spent a considerable amount of time during the past 39 years debating various strategies and approaches. Yet in a movement where nearly every last decision is subjected to rigorous internal debate, the March for Life remains exceptionally popular. Nearly every pro-life group — whether they be incrementalist, absolutist, religious, or secular — supports the March for Life and encourages friends and supporters to attend.   

The struggle to restore legal protection to the unborn has doubtless been a long and sometimes thankless journey. However, every January pro-lifers always look forward to the March for Life. It is always heartening to witness people who travelled considerable distances, see a large crowd of enthusiastic young people, and reconnect with friends from across the country. And of course, without fail, pro-lifers could always count on Nellie Gray leading the way. She will be missed. R.I.P.

Michael J. New is a visiting assistant professor of social research and political science at the Catholic University of America and an associate scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute in Washington, D.C.

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