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The Year the March for Life Went Virtual — Both Strange and Oddly Helpful

Pro-life marchers take part in the 48th Annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., January 29, 2021. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

If you’re not a regular to the March for Life every January, you might not fully understand just how out of sorts those of us who did not go to Washington, D.C., to march today are feeling. I’m not sure there’s anywhere where I run into so many people I know or who know me (many National Review readers). For a number of years, I’d run up to the Supreme Court ahead of most, to see what was happening there. There’s usually a rag-tag group of angry anarchists with crude signs declaring their love for abortion. (Which I know is not representative of most people who identify as pro-choice.) This would mean I would run into very many of the thousands heading up the Hill to the Court. I’ve normally been overwhelmed in the best of ways by all the friendly faces.

The March for Life is an annual civic and spiritual ritual — though I am encouraged by the secular pro-life and even atheist groups that show up, too. For Catholics, there’s a big Mass the night before. Young people who came on buses and their chaperones will sleep in the Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception after the Vigil for Life before they march. (They had the Mass last night with representatives, like the March this year, of everyone who would normally be there.)

It’s all an encounter with hope. We’ve endured a near half-century of legal abortion because of Roe v. Wade. And yet, every year, thousands of young people and others spend hours traveling to D.C. to take a stand against this human-rights travesty in our backyard. There’s horror about the evil, but there is also joy about the gift of life and a confidence that there will be victory over this intimate violence.

I have no doubt that some of the violence we have seen stems back to this poison in our country. I remember being at the Supreme Court for an abortion-clinic buffer-zone case that Mark Rienzi from the Becket Fund and Catholic University argued. Eleanor McCullen was the lead plaintiff, she’s a grandmother who had dedicated years to being a sign of hope to women who do not want to have an abortion. Outside the Court, after the oral argument, Eleanor talked about what a generous people Americans are — giving to people in need throughout the world as both a nation and as individuals. Except when it comes to the unborn. She challenged America to rethink this. Sadly, that was 2013, and now we have what looks to be the most anti-life president when it comes to abortion — and even more tragically, he’s a Catholic who should know better.

I watched video of the smaller March this year — and got some photos and reports from friends who were among the representatives of us all. It was much quieter, much more prayerful. It’s always prayerful, but you have a beautiful, wild mix — of young people with pro-life chants, singing, friends in conversation, and more. Usually there are so many people, some never figure out where the banner is and just go for it. It looks like many marches, if you are watching from the side of the Senate buildings.

And this year, the smaller march seemed appropriate in more ways than the coronavirus pandemic and fear of violence, knowing how riled up some are in the worst ways. Last year was the first year there was near-universal coverage of the March for Life because Donald Trump decided to show up to it. It was the first time I saw so many candidate signs at a March for Life. That didn’t seem right — people are free, too, of course, but it gave the March a different feel, one that wasn’t representative of what it has been for four decades. I actually always appreciated that George W. Bush didn’t, but would send a message.

The president showing up changes the dynamic of a thing. And people didn’t like W. either. Trump, of course, was a whole different scene. And it was hard on our credibility with people meeting the March for the first time — he said that all people are made in the image and likeness of God. Even Nancy Pelosi? Yes, even Nancy Pelosi. And one of the fatal problems with politics today is that we see political opponents as evil. Their policies may be — abortion certainly is. I’m praying against all reason, perhaps, that there can be mass conversions on the issue. I think the slower, quieter march that left so many of us home praying and a quiet rose laying at the Court makes for a more contemplative marking of the January anniversary of Roe. How can we better show the face of love of the pro-life movement, a cause that is not associated with or contingent on any one person or politician? The cause is just and peaceful in the face of intimate violence shrouded by euphemisms that lie.

I was thinking today: When we hopefully see the day when we don’t have to march in protest of Roe (which I don’t think is imminent, contrary to the rhetoric around Trump Supreme Court picks), I think we will march anyway, in gratitude. But maybe the ruling restoring sanity to our law will come down in the spring, which would be fitting for new life for our country, instead of the appropriate bitter cold we march in now.

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