WASHINGTON—A 6-inch layer of snow blanketed the nation’s capital during a winter snowstorm on Tuesday, but that didn’t stop tens of thousands of pro-life advocates from converging Wednesday on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., for the 41st annual March for Life.
Activists from all over the country braved frigid temperatures to experience a new and improved event, which included live music, fewer political speeches, and more from cultural warriors such as Focus on the Family Founder James Dobson, who spoke at the march for the first time.
“Thank you for braving the cold—thank you for caring,” Dobson told the cheering crowd. “Together, we’re going to win this fight.”
The crowd had no lack of energy, spurred in large part by increasing involvement from young people. I spoke with teens and college students from Florida, Louisiana, Kansas, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, all of whom said the cold weather did not make them consider staying home. Several people told me buses had been canceled in multiple cities, leaving marchers stranded without a way to travel to Washington.
After overnight temperatures dipped into single digits, organizers erected first-aid tents for medical emergencies. Organizers conceded a thinner turnout than previous years, but they were pleased the weather didn’t keep more people away.
“We still have an amazing crowd,” said Bethany Goodman, assistant director for the March for Life. “This is the greatest human rights violation of this generation. We will not be silenced.”
Goodman, who joined March for Life in August, is spearheading efforts to broaden the pro-life coalition through social media and outreach to evangelicals and other groups. Although the crowd appeared mostly Catholic again this year, Goodman said the strategy to engage more denominations is only beginning.
Grazie Pozo Christie, a physician with The Catholic Association, said it’s both important and logical to reach out to non-Catholic groups to broaden the pro-life coalition.
“You don’t have to be Christian or even religious to be pro-life,” said Christie, who traveled from Miami for the march. “Anybody who takes a moment to open their eyes and think—they don’t need a religious reason to say that’s a human. … Science is taking us in a pro-life direction.”
Christi told me she was especially pleased with the 2014 march theme—adoption—which turned her from passively to actively pro-life. She and her husband adopted an orphaned Chinese girl who had been found on a sidewalk three days after she was born: “I always had a rational pro-life way of thinking, but my passion came when we adopted.”
Before the rally, Methodist Bishop Kenneth H. Carter delivered a pro-life message at the United Methodist Building across the street from the Capitol—a rare occurrence for a mainline protestant leader. He challenged Methodists to find unity on life in the same way Catholics and evangelicals have: “The gospel is always on the side of life.”
The March for Life got another boost earlier this month when Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC), announced the party would postpone its annual winter meeting to give members an opportunity to attend the March for Life. I saw many red RNC hats in the crowd and spoke to two members who said they were pleased the chairman encouraged them to attend.
“It was very important that the Republican party show support for life,” said Lenar Whitney, a state representative from Louisiana attending the rally for the first time. “It’s exciting.”
Marion Boteju, executive director of the American Principles Project, said the RNC’s move is cause for hope: “This is an unprecedented show of support for life by the Republican Party and demonstrates that elected officials are listening to voters.”
Although at least a dozen Republican lawmakers were in attendance, only three addressed the crowd: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey, co-chair of the Pro-Life Caucus, and Rep. Vicky Hartzler of Missouri. Dan Lipinski, the other caucus co-chair and the lone Democrat set to speak Wednesday, was unable to attend due to a flight delay in Illinois.
Listen to J.C. Derrick discuss Wednesday’s March for Life on The World and Everything in It: