PROVIDENCE — Many thousands of Catholics, along with people of all denominations and affiliations from across the United States, gathered in the nation’s capital last Friday to raise their voices on behalf of human life at the 45th annual March for Life. This year’s event, which had the theme “Love Saves Lives,” marked nearly half a century since the Supreme Court declared abortion legal across the U.S.
For participants, the day was especially historic as they turned their attention at noon to the screens set up around the National Mall for a message of support from President Donald Trump. While other presidents have addressed marchers via telephone or radio, President Trump was the first sitting president to address the March for Life via a live video broadcast from the White House Rose Garden.
“Today I’m honored and really proud to be the first president to stand with you here at the White House to address the 45th March for Life,” said President Trump following an introduction by Vice President Mike Pence.
“Today tens of thousands of families, students and patriots, and really just great citizens, gather here in our nation’s capital. You come from many backgrounds and places but you come for one beautiful cause: to build a society where life is celebrated, protected and cherished.”
During the speech, President Trump discussed some of his administration’s initiatives to establish greater protections for human life, including creating a new division within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights to protect the conscience and religious freedom of health care workers and reinstating the Mexico City Policy, which bans the federal government from funding foreign nongovernmental organizations that provide or promote abortion. He also called on the Senate to pass the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which passed a House vote in October and would ban late-term abortions (after 20 weeks) nationwide.
“Under my administration, we will always defend the very first right in the Declaration of Independence, and that is the right to life,” said President Trump.
Following the speech by President Trump, House Speaker Paul Ryan addressed the crowd from the main stage at the National Mall. Commenting on the group’s high energy level, he expressed his admiration for the large number of young people participating in the march.
“Looking out on this crowd I can see there are people from all ages, all walks of life, but the young people here is what is most inspiring because it tells us that this is a movement that is on the rise,” he said to enthusiastic cheers.
The strong participation of students and young adults in the annual march was also a source of encouragement for David Renner, a parishioner at St. Luke Parish, Barrington. Renner and his wife, Marilynn, travelled to the March for Life with a bus trip organized by the diocesan Office of Life and Family Ministry.
“We’ve been attending the March for Life for many, many years. It’s always been something very special to us but one of the things that I always like about being in the capital is that we’re a couple generations away from thousands and thousands of youth that are there,” he told Rhode Island Catholic on Monday following his return from the march. “It just makes us very proud to be there to see them witness to their commitment to life. To me, they are truly the pro-life generation.”
Christopher Mancini, a parishioner at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, and sophomore at Franciscan University of Steubenville, also marched with the diocesan group. In the past, he has attended the march with a group from his university, where the student body is overwhelmingly pro-life. Acknowledging this is not the case on many campuses, Mancini said he thinks the March for Life is important in demonstrating to others that a large portion of the American population, including its young people, are pro-life.
“I think there’s this illusion that everyone is liberal and supports the left side of the agenda, and the fact that you have a million people gathering for the march just blows that agenda out of the water,” he said.
Though estimates of past marches put the number of attendees in the hundreds of thousands, participants said the size of the crowd was at times overwhelming as they marched up Constitution Avenue toward the Capitol and the Supreme Court.
“The overall thing was just so amazing. It was a genuine, overwhelming, exuberant celebration of life,” said Marnie Crawford, a parishioner at St. Francis de Sales Church, North Kingstown. “It was packed shoulder to shoulder it was really tight. It was also a testament to people’s tremendous patience and presence just to be among each other.”
Crawford and her son, Sam, also found an energetic crowd at the Capitol One Arena, where they and other members of the diocesan group attended a Mass and rally hosted by the Archdiocese of Washington prior to the start of the march. The Mass, said Crawford, was among the largest she had ever attended.
“The peace, the solemnity, the presence of God was there. It was so beautiful,” she said.
Father Stephen Dandeneau, who also attended with the diocesan group, spoke with Rhode Island Catholic about the church’s perspective on fighting for human life. The dignity and value of human life, he explained, are at the root of the church’s teaching about social justice, and a starting point for all its other advocacy.
“This is the first part of working towards a culture that’s based upon justice,” he said. “For a Catholic and any disciple of Jesus Christ, if you’re going to respond to Christ’s call to work toward a more just society, I think you have to start with this.”
Father Dandeneau also expressed his appreciation for the politicians who spoke at the march on behalf of life, adding there were more of them than he expected.
“I’m hopeful that the political administration that we have will do more to promote the pro-life cause,” he said.