For the first time in 47 years, thousands of pro-life activists from around the country are forgoing the journey to the National Mall for the annual March for Life. A combination of the coronavirus pandemic and security concerns in Washington, D.C., has led to the decision to keep participants at home this Friday. The annual event will instead take place through an online broadcast at a critical juncture for a storied cause.
Nellie Gray didn’t envision an online rally when she organized the original 1974 march in response to the prior year’s Roe v. Wade decision. The skilled lawyer had no intention of ever repeating the event until the march failed to have the desired impact on the highest court’s ruling. Realizing that she was in for an uphill battle, Gray left behind her work as an attorney to devote all of her time and energy to fighting for the civil rights of the unborn, which she continued to do until her death in 2012.
The March for Life is now headed by Jeanne Mancini, who is encountering her own struggle after this month’s special election that provided Democrats with control of both the legislative and executive branches. President Joe Biden has made clear that he will continue to maintain distance between the pro-life teachings of his Catholic faith and his pro-choice policy agenda. He will also end his long-standing support of an amendment that prohibits federal funds from being used to pay for abortions. While he may not have the backing of the Roman Catholic hierarchy on this issue, President Biden does have the blessing of the Rev. Raphael Warnock, who clinched the Senate for the Democrats as a firmly pro-choice Christian.
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In addition to losing ground in federal elections, pro-lifers have reason to be concerned about the continued use of fetal tissue from elective abortions for biomedical research. My employer, UPMC, was recently criticized for participating in an immunology study that grafted the skin of fetuses aborted during the second trimester to mice and rats. After the Trump administration’s ethics advisory board restricted the use of federal funding for this kind of research, a coalition of 98 organizations sent a letter to President Biden earlier this month asking him to rescind the constraints.
Despite these setbacks, there are reasons for optimism among those who question such practices. Unless the president decides to pack the Supreme Court, activists against abortion can find comfort in the court’s conservative-leaning composition thanks to the three appointed justices nominated by Biden’s predecessor. President Donald Trump followed through on his promise to nominate judges who are widely considered to oppose the constitutionality of abortion rights. Even if Roe v. Wade isn’t overturned, pro-lifers are confident in their ability to effectively enact laws in state legislatures and win cases in lower courts.
In the court of public opinion, anti-abortion advocates continue to maintain significant influence while other social issues like gay marriage and marijuana legalization have drifted away from conservatives. Polling data released in June from Gallup reveals that roughly half of Americans continue to identify as pro-life, and a slight majority believe that abortion is morally wrong. Furthermore, the Kaiser Family Foundation released findings last January showing that most people support some legal restrictions on abortion. These include laws that require ultrasound images to be shown prior to getting the procedure and mandatory waiting periods between meeting with a health-care provider and getting an abortion.
This year’s March for Life may be virtual, but there are people on the ground every day who are working to eliminate the causes that drive women to abortion and offering services to support them throughout their pregnancy. These advocates believe that every person deserves fundamental protections, and they are committed to building a culture in which all human lives are valued. It’s safe to assume that Nellie Gray would be proud of their continued efforts, no matter how small.
Ryan Navarro works as a therapist with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.