Despite an overcast day with temperatures in the teens and subzero winds, opponents to abortion from around the country came out by the tens of thousands to join the 41st annual March For Life march in Washington D.C., on Jan. 22.
The march was first organized by activist Nellie Gray in 1974, to mark the first anniversary of the United States Supreme Court's decisions in Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, affirming a woman's right to privacy in seeking an abortion. Held every year since, the march has become what is touted as the largest anti-abortion demonstration in the world.
Though the previous year's rally had drawn a record 600,000 marchers, only a fraction of that were able to make the trip this year, with snowy roads and delayed flights trammeling movement along the Northeastern seaboard.
Minot students from Bishop Ryan Catholic School were among those marching in Washington D.C. on Jan. 22 for the 41st annual March For Life rally, protesting abortion. From left, Sydney Marmon, Shelby Schmidt, Emily Booth, and a student from St. Mary’s Central High School in Bismarck bear signs at the National Mall.
"It was frigid," recalled Father Jadyn Nelson, chaplain at Bishop Ryan Catholic School in Minot. Accustomed to even harsher weather, Nelson and fourteen junior- and senior-level students from Bishop Ryan were undeterred from making this year's week-long trip, accompanying other students from St. Mary's Central High School of Bismarck, and Trinity High School of Dickinson.
"This is the first year that all three schools in the diocese were able to go," Nelson noted. Meeting up with another group of students in Fargo, they travelled down in several buses, numbering nearly 200 in all.
"It's a long way out, on a bus," said Nelson, an over 1,600 mile journey in each direction. But he added that the trip was important because the march "brings awareness of the fact that we think Roe versus Wade was wrong."
The event itself began with a rally at the National Mall, where a number of speakers addressed those assembled.
"Stephanie Grey was outstanding. I was really, really impressed with her," Nelson recalled. A Canadian activist, Grey directs the Calgary-based Canadian Centre for Bioethical Reform. In her presentation, Nelson said she gave their students "a tangible way to explain the logical positions behind the pro-life standpoint," placing importance on using stories, asking questions, and "dialoguing."
Following the rally on the Mall, the crowd then marched down Constitution Avenue with signs and slogans, turning onto First Street and coming to the very steps of the Supreme Court Building, where another rally was held.
"It was a lot of fun," said McKenzie Eberg, a senior at Bishop Ryan who attended the march. "It's a sacrifice missing so many days of school, but we know we're doing it out of love," she said. "For the dignity of the human person and doing the right thing."
In addition to the march itself, Nelson said the students also attended related assemblies, as well as the capitol's various monuments and museums.
"The kids love it," said Nelson. "We were lucky because we had a pretty good itinerary set up."
"We went to the National Pro-Life assembly," Eberg recalled. "We were there all day, listening to numerous speakers." The underlying theme she thought was most important is: "Stand for what you believe and don't let people tell you otherwise." Eberg believes education is key to understanding the issue, and so is active in her school's pro-life outreach group.
Among their stops was the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, which was dedicated in 1993 to publicly preserve the memory of one of humanity's darkest moments. Its extensive collection of artifacts and archived materials serve as a sobering reminder of the six million Jews whose deaths were orchestrated by Nazi Germany before and during World War II.
Nelson used the museum's message to draw a parallel to legalized abortion, which he considers to be a modern-day genocide. "That's another aspect that we draw into this," Nelson said, "to show that parallel." Likewise, he felt another lesson could be taken from Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Jan. 20, recalling King's quote: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
"Right now the womb is not the safest place to be," he went on. But he is optimistic, feeling that the issue has become politically less divisive in recent years. "Polls are showing Americans are overwhelmingly pro-life now," he said.
A Gallup poll taken last May indicated that 48 percent of Americans considered themselves "pro-life," with 45 percent identifying as "pro-choice." This is a reversal of the position that was held in mid-2008. However, among respondents in the same poll, 56 percent still believed abortion should be legal, but in certain cases. Only 20 percent felt the practice should be banned entirely, fewer than the 26 percent that believed it should be legal regardless of the circumstances.
Nationally, the more pronounced shift has been legislative. The Guttmacher Institute released a state policy report for 2013 that found more abortion-restrictive measures had passed state legislatures in the past three years than the entire decade prior, with 205 measures. Of these, 70 were enacted in 2013, including four measures in North Dakota. These are currently being challenged in court and are awaiting review.