Life Marches On: A Brief History of the March For Life

The Gordon Review editorial team was unable to attend the March for Life this year, but we want to commemorate the event by reflecting on its significance as the movement continues boldly into the Post-Roe era. 

On January 22, 1973, the legislative decisions of Roe V. Wade and Doe V. Bolton made abortion legal throughout every state in the US, on demand. On January 20, 1974, in recognition of the one-year anniversary of this decision, pro-life leaders and lobbyists took to the streets of Washington D.C. to advocate for a legislative solution to the injustice of abortion. Although the March was originally planned as a one-time event, it quickly became clear that the legislative support it sought would be difficult to attain. As a result, Nellie Gray, a pro-life leader and one of the primary organizers of the first March for Life vowed to continue the event every year until Roe v. Wade was overturned. 

The March and its participants have seen years of hardship and obstacles. For example, in January of 1987, a blizzard struck Washington D.C. leaving more than twenty inches of snow. But this did not stop the 10,000 advocates determined to fight for life that they marched through harsh weather. Likewise, in January of 2002, mere months after the September 11 terror attacks in New York and Washington D.C., thousands marched “despite the uncertainty and fear the attack brought upon the American people.” The marchers’ dedication was unshaken even in the midst of circumstances that urged them not to march. 

The very steadiness of the pro-life movement has helped bring about substantial social and legislative change. Throughout the existence of the March for Life, pro-life advocacy coincided with changing priorities in the lives of notable pro-abortion advocates. 

For example, Norma McCorvey, “Jane Roe” of Roe v. Wade, “challenged the constitutionality of Texas abortion laws,” originally advocating for abortion as a Constitutional right. However, in 1995, even after the passing of the Roe legislation, she publicly quit her job at an abortion clinic and became a notable pro-life advocate. Similarly, in 1998, former pro-abortion activists Dr. Bernard Nathanson (one of NARAL Pro-Choice America’s founders), Sandra Cano, and Mary Doe of Doe v. Bolton (who challenged the constitutionality of Georgia’s abortion laws), all spoke at the March for Life. Their lives were noticeably altered by the movement and the evils of abortion. 

January 2023 marks fifty years since the decision of Roe v. Wade. There has been a march every year since this decision. But yesterday, pro-lifers marched in D.C. victorious, with the knowledge that the law has finally been overturned. 

Even though yesterday marked the first March not overshadowed by Roe v. Wade, the fight for life is far from over. Yet, the mission of the pro-life movement is not confined to or swayed by a set of political circumstances. Instead, it is defined by an unceasing desire to promote the sanctity of life, on both the national and state levels. This desire will continue to bring change. This desire marches on. 

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Mary Ellen Siegler

Bravo, GR! Thank you for this inspiring history of the pro-life movement. May we never grow weary in speaking out to protect the unborn and their mothers.

Brad Fogo

Excellent article. We’ll done, Ladies!

James B. Griffin ‘84

I have attended the March for Life in DC seven times with my daughter’s school. Great event, a faith pilgrimage as much, if not more, than a political demonstration. What is most important is that a hundred thousand to half a million young people get to see legions of people from all over stand up for the weakest of the weak. The personal stories told are worth retelling. The joy, kindness, and good cheer of the marchers is refreshing.