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View of the 2007 Pro-life March. January 22, 2007.

March for Life is an annual pro-life rally protesting abortion, held in Washington D.C. on the anniversary of the decision in the United States Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade. Many marchers also protest the use of euthanasia. The rally is organized by the March for Life Education and Defense Fund. The overall goal of the march is to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision.[1] The 36th occurrence of the March for Life occurred on January 22, 2009. EWTN, the global Catholic television network, has broadcast the March for Life live.



The first March for Life was held on January 22, 1974 on the West Steps of the Capitol, with an estimated 20,000 supporters in attendance.[2] The nomination of Judge Samuel A. Alito to the Supreme Court caused a major positive shift during the 33rd Annual March for Life in 2006 because of the expectation that Alito would "win Senate approval and join a majority in overturning Roe."[3] The excitement surrounding this expectation became the ultimate message of the 2006 rally.

The threat of the Freedom Choice Act, a legislative bill that would protect women's right 'to begin, prevent or continue pregnancy' served as a key rallying point during the 2009 March for Life because anti-abortionists worried that the legislation would eliminate certain abortion restrictions like parental notification for minors.[4]

Around the time of the 35th Annual March for Life in 2008, a Guttmacher Institute report was released, which revealed that the number of abortions performed in the United States dropped to 1.2 million in 2005. This is the lowest level of abortions since 1976. Although this seemed like a victory, many march participants stressed that the figures were not a large enough decline. Many marchers said they would not stop protesting until abortions were illegal.[5]

Phrases on signs have included “We Choose Life,” “End Abortion Now,” “Your Mom Chose Life,”[4] “Give Life, Don’t Take It,” “Defend Life,”[5] “Women Deserve Better Than Abortion,” “Michigan Loves Our Pro-Life President,” “Respect Life, Diocese of Pittsburgh,”[6] “Abortion Kills,”[7] “Stop Unborn Child Abuse” and “Equal Rights for Unborn Women”.[8] Others compared abortions to “Hitler’s Holocaust.” [3].

At the march, abortion opponents have been known to carry and display photos of aborted fetuses. Many sing and chant phrases such as “Pro-choice, that’s a lie, babies never choose to die!”[6]


The March for Life proceedings begin around noon.[4] They typically consists of a rally at the National Mall near Fourth Street. It is followed by a march which travels down Constitution Avenue NW, turns right at First Street and then ends on the steps of the Supreme Court the United States, where another rally is held. Many protesters start the day by delivering roses and lobbying their Congressmen.[8]


In recent years, the number of marchers has been estimated at around 100,000 to 300,000 each year[9], considered the most attended annual march in Washington, D.C.[10]

Approximately 5,000 participated in the 14th annual march in 1987, despite a snowstorm.[8]

Since 2003, March for Life has brought in approximately 250,000 attendants.[11]

Many teenagers and college students attend the march each year. Most of these youth represent religious clubs or church-run schools.[5] In 2009, many of the marchers were adorned with Obama pins, hats and other paraphernalia and said that, although they support President Barack Obama, they do not share his pro-choice views.[4]

Attendants at the 22nd Annual March for Life in 1995 included representatives from the Pro-Life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians and Indiana Blacks for Life.[7]

Attendants at the 35th Annual March for Life in 2008 included members of the Jesuit College Preparatory School of Dallas and members of the Knights of Columbus.[5]

Attendants at the 36th Annual March for Life in 2009 included about 50 students from Michigan Students for Life, 300 members of the Archdiocese of New Orleans[4] and about 16,000 Catholic college students. In addition, the entire student body of Magdalen College in New Hampshire attended.[11] There were approximately 200,000 people in attendance.[4]

Notable speakers

Notable former speakers at the March for Life include U.S. President George W. Bush, Pro-Life Speaker Molly Kelly, Alveda King, niece of Martin Luther King Jr., several members of the United States Congress and Senate, and the parents of Terri Schiavo. There are also many members of the Silent No More organization, which is made up of men and women who regret their abortions.

George W. Bush was out of town during six consecutive marches (2000-2006) during his tenure. However, he spoke via telephone line amplified by loudspeakers. In 2004, he thanked participants for their “devotion to such a noble cause” from Roswell, New Mexico. During his telephone addresses, he tended to speak broadly of opposing abortion as opposed to offering any specific efforts being made to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision.[1]

Ronald Reagan was also known to deliver telephone addresses to the march crowds. At the 14th annual march in 1987, he vowed to help “end this national tragedy." Senator Jesse Helms, of North Carolina, also spoke at the 14th annual rally. He called abortion an “American holocaust." [8]

At the 30th annual march in 2003, speakers included Representative Christopher H. Smith, Republican of New Jersey, and Randall Terry, the founder of Operation Rescue. In his speech, Terry targeted the youth in the audience, calling them to “fight for all you’re worth." [6]

At the 31st annual march in 2004, 15 lawmakers, all Republican, spoke. Many of them stressed the importance of backing and voting for only candidates whose platform supported antiabortion in the November elections. Among the lawmakers who spoke were Representatives Todd Tiahrt, of Kansas, and Patrick J. Toomey, of Pennsylvania. Tiahrt, who also spoke at the 30th annual march, urged marchers to “help pro-lifers in your state;” Toomey supported these remarks, saying to vote for pro-life candidates in order to reclaim the Senate and, in turn, the courts. [1]

At the 33rd annual march in 2006, Representative Steve Chabot, an Ohio Republican and prominent pro-life advocate in the United States Senate, spoke to the masses on overturning Roe v. Wade. He stressed that the killing of millions of babies should be “sufficient justification for overruling that awful case." Nellie Gray also spoke of ‘feminist abortionists,’ foreseeing that the United States would hold them accountable for their actions in trials equivalent to the Nuremberg Trials.[3]

At the 36th annual march in 2009, approximately 20 Congressmen spoke. They talked about the “challenges pro-life advocates face under the Obama administration." Specific speakers at the 36th annual included Representative F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican and former chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and Nellie Gray, March for Life founder.[4]

President Obama was asked by Gray to speak at the 36th annual march, but he did not attend. Instead, he released a statement supporting abortion rights. He said that abortion represents a broad principle: “government should not intrude on our most private family matters."[4]

Media attention

March for Life has received relatively little media attention over the years. The typical coverage consists of a “story with a tiny little comment from one individual marcher,” Gray has said. The 36th annual march in 2009, which brought in very little media coverage, was just two days after Obama’s inauguration, which brought in swarms of media representatives. Gray would like the media’s coverage to focus on the movement’s principles of life and the fact that thousands of people travel across the country to talk to Congress despite frigid January temperatures.[11]

To counter the media coverage issue, one of the March for Life’s supporters, the Family Research Council, organized a “Blogs for Life” conference in Washington, D.C. The main goal of the conference was to “bring pro-life bloggers together to talk over strategies” for securing more effective media coverage and advancing anti-abortion issues. Such strategies include securing media coverage through legislative means or by tapping into new media outlets.[11]

Associated events

Various pro-life organizations will often hold events before and after the March. Such events include a Luau for Life at Georgetown University and a candlelight vigil at the Supreme Court.[5] In addition, the March for Life host a dinner each year. In 1987, the dinner honored John Cardinal O’Connor of New York for his strong leadership regarding abortion issues.[8]


Roman Catholic events

Preceding the March for Life, there are several Masses; two of which are celebrated at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception as well as the Verizon Center in Chinatown. The Catholic Archdiocese of Washington hosts a Youth Rally and Mass every year at the Verizon Center, attended by approximately 20,000 young people,[12] where a message from the Pope is relayed. In 2009, apostolic nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Pietro Sambri read Pope Benedict XVI’s message, which told attendants that he was “deeply grateful” for the youth’s “outstanding annual witness for the gospel of life."[4] In 2008, the Pope’s message thanked attendants for “promoting respect for the dignity and inalienable rights of every human being.”[5]

Democrats for Life pre-march breakfast

In 2006 Civil Rights Leader Dr. Alveda King, the niece of Rev. Martin Luther King, spoke at the Democrats for Life of America pre-March breakfast. She praised their Pregnant Women Support Act saying abortion "might be decriminalized, but it can also be unthinkable."

Controversy with PLAGAL

In 2002, Ms. Nellie Gray, the President and permit holder for the annual March for Life, denied a permit to Pro-Life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians and ordered its members to be arrested rather than participate in the twenty-ninth annual march. [13] PLAGAL has been allowed to participate in marches since 2003. [14]



  1. ^ a b c Janofsky, Michael. for Life”&st=cse “Words of Support from Bush at Anti-Abortion Rally”. The New York Times. January, 23, 2004. Retrieved November 9, 2009.
  2. ^ [1]. Official Website of the March for Life.
  3. ^ a b c Janofsky, Michael. “Abortion Opponents Rally, Saying the End of Roe is Near”. The New York Times. January 23, 2006. Retrieved November 9, 2009.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i Drost, Michael. “Pro-life activists march on court; Call on Obama to ‘save lives’ by opposing pro-choice bills”.The Washington Times, D.C. Area Section, A18. January 23, 2009. Retrieved November 9, 2009.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Montes, Sue Anne Pressley. “A Youthful Throng Marches Against Abortion”. The Washington Post, Section A03. January 23, 2008. Retrieved November 9, 2009.
  6. ^ a b c Toner, Robin “At a Distance, Bush Joins Abortion Protest”. The New York Times. January 23, 2003. Retrieved November 22, 2009.
  7. ^ a b Rimer, Sara. “Abortion Foes Rally in Joy Over G.O.P. Surge”. The New York Times. January 24, 1995. Retrieved November 22, 2009.
  8. ^ a b c d e Toner, Robin “Rally Against Abortion Hears Pledge of Support by Reagan”. The New York Times. January 23, 1987. Retrieved November 22, 2009.
  9. ^ "The Marchers Keep On Marching." Website of the March for Life. Retrieved January 26, 2007.
  10. ^ Miller, Jeff. (January 22, 2007). "Newsworthy means advancing their agenda." The Curt Jester. Retrieved January 24, 2007.
  11. ^ a b c d Harper, Jennifer. “Pro-life rally yearns for media spotlight; Post-inaugural streets empty”. The Washington Times, Section A01. January 22, 2009. Retrieved November 9, 2009.
  12. ^ Archdiocese of Washington. (January 22, 2007). "Archbishop Wuerl's Homily at Jan. 22 Pro-Life Mass" Archdiocese of Washington. Retrieved January 23, 2007.
  13. ^ Chiorazzi, Anthony. "Gay, Proud and Pro-Life." Busted Halo. Retrieved January 18, 2007.
  14. ^ Doig, Will. (January 30, 2003). "The Fetal Position." Metro Weekly. Retrieved January 18, 2007.

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