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The Long March for Life

The fiftieth annual March for Life celebrated the death of Roe v. Wade, but the cause of life still has a long road ahead of it.

March for Life in Washington D.C.
Pro-life supporters gather on the National Mall in Washington, DC ahead of the March for Life on January 20th, 2023. (Photo by Nathan Posner/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

“It’s always seemed a bit happy-go-lucky given the subject matter,” Declan Leary, a contributing editor for The American Conservative, wrote in the aftermath of last year’s March for Life. “This is proper, in a way,” Leary continued. “Genuine human joy is a perfectly valid means of combating an anti-human death cult.” If it was somewhat proper last year, it’s surely proper now. Roe, which enabled the slaughter of 60 million unborn children, is dead.

And the thousands who gathered for the fiftieth annual March for Life on Friday weren’t about to let the victory go understated. “One, two, three, four, Roe v. Wade is out the door,” chanted one cohort of high schoolers that made the three plus mile trek across the National Mall. “What a beautiful day,” I heard one man say to another as they walk; I was unsure if he was referring to the sunny winter day or the event itself. My guess is both. “This is our victory march,” a gleeful woman pushing a stroller said as I push through the mass of people.


The signs, too, were clear proclamations of victory. “Life Wins” signs are held high above the crowd. Other signs read, “RIP Roe.” Another held aloft by a boy who looked in his later teens simply said in bold red, blue, and black marker, “ABORTION = CRINGE.”

In years past, pro-life marchers, some of the nicest, noncontroversial people you’ll ever meet, would write longer, more complicated signs so as not to offend the sensibilities of onlookers. Their signs would inform women that they “don’t have to choose abortion,” that “there are other options,” and that “adoption is better than abortion.” Their messages implicitly recognized the pro-life position’s disadvantage, and possibly even its unpopularity, in pre-Dobbs America. But this year, many of those longer messages were reduced to bumper-sticker slogans in the belief that pro-lifers now have the upper hand, at least at the level of the Supreme Court. Now it’s the pro-abortion radicals who need to convince the government to return to the days of yore.

Other signs were more elaborate and made use of graphic design programs. A sign featured a picture of St. Teresa of Calcutta alongside her quote: “If abortion isn’t wrong, nothing is wrong.” Another sign, not ten feet away from the picture of St. Teresa, featured Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson. “You have a God-given right to live!” the quote from Robertson read in part. Triangulating the two was a sign of Jedi Master Yoda next to a picture of a fetus. “Judge me by my size, do you?” the sign said. “SIZE MATTERS NOT.” The skills of the respective designers varied greatly.

There is still plenty of work to be done for America to rid itself of the barbaric practice of abortion. Pro-lifers have notched one major victory, but in the wake of that victory they have suffered a series of smaller defeats. Since Dobbs, pro-life referenda have failed in GOP strongholds such as Kansas and Kentucky and in purple states such as Michigan. 

It’s certainly worth celebrating Roe’s defeat, but Dobbs left the issue to the states, an overwhelming number of which are still pro-choice in some way. And so marchers were still imploring their fellow Americans to “Love Life, Choose Life,” with their signage. Meanwhile, a young woman in aviators, a puffer jacket, and dark brown hair pulled back in a ponytail posed for a picture in front of the marchers with “choose life” signs holding a sign that reads, “it’s a child, not a choice.” 


They represent two different strategies for the pro-life movement in a post-Roe America. Current political conditions make both necessary for a full-frontal attack on the abortion regime, though I tend to agree with the brunette in shades. The bitter political reality that this is the start, not the end, of life’s campaign to recapture lost territory meant the march retained some of its somber air. Carter Snead, director of Notre Dame’s de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture and author of What It Means to be Human: The Case for the Body in Public Bioethics, told TAC, “We're obviously delighted that the Supreme Court has reversed Roe v. Wade and made it possible for the political branches of government to extend protections to mothers and babies and families. But the work is just beginning for those of us who believe in the intrinsic equal dignity of every human being from conception to natural death.”

Also among the Notre Dame contingent of 500 students, faculty, and staff at the March for Life was Merlot Fogarty, the president of Notre Dame Right to Life who has attempted to ensure the university upholds the Church’s teaching on abortion. “It's super important that we are here this year to celebrate. We have waited 50 years to show at a nationwide level that there is no constitutional right to abortion,” Fogarty told TAC. “However, there is a ton of work to be done at the local level.”

“One thing that I've learned from working at a pregnancy center in South Bend is that two out of every three babies in South Bend are born through the Women's Care Center, the local pregnancy center,” Fogarty explained. “If we are able to mirror that in towns across America, we would make it much easier to choose life and where we can make the biggest impact now that Roe is gone.”

In an emailed statement to The American Conservative, Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life, acknowledged that “marchers are always enthusiastic and positive, and this year had an added tone of celebration in recognition of the overturning of Roe v. Wade.” She added, “There was also a somber tone, both because of the seriousness of our fight to protect women and children, but also because we know our work to build a culture of life has just begun. The Dobbs decision meant that the people, through their elected representatives at both the state and federal level, once again have a say in laws governing abortion. So, while we can't give up the fight at the national level, the state battles have taken on a new importance and urgency, which is why we are rapidly expanding our State March program."

The slaughter of the unborn has slowed, but not yet stopped. The march remained prayerful—prayers of thanksgiving and of supplication. I joined the Sisters of Life as they prayed the Rosary—the sorrowful mysteries, not the joyful. Maybe the joyful will be prayed at a future March for Life when legal abortion in the United States is no more. Or maybe one day this march will make its way into the Capitol, rather than snaking around it. Countries have come apart from much less than 60 million murdered children.