This past week, I attended the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., held each year on the anniversary of the 1973 Supreme Court decisions in Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton that legalized abortion in the United States. There were a number of different groups from the Archdiocese of Indianapolis that attended the March – I traveled with a group of young adults and college students sponsored by the Office of Young Adult and College Campus Ministry.
As you may have heard, cold and snowy weather surrounded this year’s March. We drove to D.C. this past Monday, hoping to have all day Tuesday to explore the city before the actual March on Wednesday. But a snowstorm followed by extremely cold temperatures completely shut down the area on Tuesday – in addition to school and business closings, the federal government was closed, which meant that our scheduled tour of the U.S. Capitol Building, a meeting with the staff of U.S. Senator Dan Coats (R-Indiana), and a tour of the Holocaust Museum were all cancelled. Instead, we walked around the National Mall in the snow, visited the outdoor monuments – the Veitnam Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial – and then returned to our hotel for the day. Some of us went to a movie in the afternoon – I was in a group that went to see 12 Years a Slave. And then we prepared to bundle up for the March the next day.
Our group of 20 young adults was among tens of thousands gathered for the March, which proceeded from the National Mall to the U.S. Capitol Building, and ending in front of the Supreme Court building – a necessary and appropriate point of convergence since it was in that building that the decisions legalizing abortion were made. But then it was over. Most people didn’t even stop in front of the Supreme Court – they just kept walking, circling around the other side of the Capitol building, slowly dispersing along side streets or onto buses or into museums to escape the cold. It was a bit anti-climactic. While the March starts with a rally on the National Mall, there is really nothing at the end – it’s even a bit hard to tell that it’s over.
But in that whimper of an ending, I think there is a lesson for us. One article I read on the March commented that, after 40 years, the March no longer really makes an impact on government leaders – most members of Congress leave town for the week, except those who already believe in the Pro-Life cause; the media pays very little attention to the largest annual peaceful demonstration in the nation’s capitol; and nothing really changes in the law of the land. But the people who are impacted by the March for Life are those who participate. The majority of the marchers are young people – high school and college students from around the country. In joining the March for Life, they witness in a real and tangible way that they are not alone in their beliefs, that there is a culture of life that is alive and well in this country in spite of the advances of a culture of death, that there is support in our faith and in our communities. Strengthened by this common bond, these young people return to their own homes and communities, where the real difference can be made – in promoting and protecting the sanctity of human life, from conception to natural death, in their families, their schools, and with whoever they meet in their daily lives. The March doesn’t really end because it’s primary purpose is to send the participants back home re-energized for the work of life. We gradually disperse through the streets of Washington, onto our buses and vans, to take the culture of life with us, wherever we go.
The Lincoln Memorial was one of the few places in D.C. that was open during the winter storm this week, and it was perhaps one of the most appropriate places for us to visit. Inscribed on the walls of the Memorial are the texts of Abraham Lincoln’s two most famous speeches – the Gettysburg Address and his Second Inaugural Address. He ended the latter address with these words, appropriate as much today for the cause of life as they were when first spoken in the midst of the Civil War:
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.