March for Life has new leader
The new leader of the Jan. 25 March for Life Education & Defense Fund spoke to Human Events about the 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision that lifted legal protections for unborn children and the legacy of the march’s founder Nellie Gray.
There is a tension at the March for Life between the youthful energy and fellowship that people enjoy and the reality of why the march exists, said Jeanne F. Monahan, who took over the organization that has hosted the Washington march and rally on the Mall every year since 1974.
“The march is always somber, we are commemorating the loss of 55 million lives,” she said. “Then, on the other side, we’ve got many young people, maybe 80 percent of the participants in the march are young people—and they are the best ambassadors of the pro-life movement and they are so excited.”
“I joined the March for Life board because I was asked to and because after I checked it out I believed it was a place where I could use my gifts and talents to help the pro-life movement,” said Monahan.
A native of the Washington-area, the March for Life leader said she grew up in a military family and her father worked at the Pentagon.
Monahan earned her bachelor’s at James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Va., and her master’s degree at Washington’s John Paul II Institute For Studies on Marriage and Family at Catholic University of America.
Studying at the JPII Institute was great preparation for leading the March for Life, she said. “I loved studying there. It’s a pontifical institute, which is very important to Catholics.” A pontifical institution receives its charter directly from the pope, who exercises a higher degree than typical at other Catholic institutions.
“It’s amazing,” she said. “They were easily the favorite years of my life, it really helped me in this job, because what we are really studying there is the ‘Culture of Life.’
Every year the march brings hope, and because of the growing number of pro-life young people, this decision will be corrected, she said.
“I really believe that in their lifetime things will change,” she said.
“Abortion has been legal for four decades, that is not something to be cheerful about,” she said. “Really, there is a whole genocide of human beings.”
The March for Life has become a series of events related to the actual march.
The day before the march, the March for Life Convention will take place at Washington’s Hyatt Regency, and will include a youth rally and a “Law of Life” summit.
The morning of the march, more than 28,000 people are expected to attend a “Youth Rally and Mass for Life,” sponsored by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington and now held in two locations: Washington’s Verizon Center and the Comcast Center on the College Park campus of the University of Maryland.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops will hold a “National Prayer Vigil for Life” at Washington’s Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, followed by “Holy Hours for Life” led by seminaries from across the country from midnight until a pre-march Mass.
The March for Life rally begins at noon on the National Mall and the march kicks off at 1:30 p.m. Marchers will follow Constitution Avenue up Capitol Hill, then pass the Supreme Court building before dispersing to either public transportation or visiting the Capitol itself to lobby their members of Congress.
The evening of the march, there is the 31st Annual Rose Dinner, which is also at the Hyatt Regency.
Monahan said being in front of the Supreme Court is the most emotionally powerful part of the march.
“In a sad way, it is very powerful,” she said.
“Knowing all the power that is there with the justices to make decisions—knowing that this was an act of judicial activism—something beyond the parameters of what the court usually does, even by the admission of Ginsberg,” she said. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, appointed by President William J. Clinton, was a feminist lawyer before joining the court.
The 1973 Roe v. Wade decision was not constitutional and not based in solid law, and not even supporters of abortion defend its legal justification, she said.
This year’s march is the first one since the passing of the march’s foundress Nellie Gray, whose first march was held on the one-year anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision.
“I only knew Nellie Gray for a few months before she passed away. Of course, I knew of her for many years—going back to when I was a teenager,” Monahan said.
“I officially came on working for the March for Life in November,” Monahan said.
“To be honest, it was a position I found myself in but it wasn’t a sought after role. I was content in my previous position and intended to stay there for many, many more years.”
In the end, the point of the March for Life is to have no more marches because unborn children are once again protected by the law, she said.
“What we do hope is that we work ourselves out of a job,” she said.
“I’ll tell ya’, I was slightly hesitant to join the board,” she said.“It sounded like a lot of work.”
“In the end, it was her call and her convincing that got me to do it,” she said.
“She had it in her mind that ‘this is happening,’ and I just went with it—I know that sounds funny, but it was like ‘yeah, just trust me,’ in the end it was her determination, she said: ‘OK, you’re on the board,’”
Monahan said she is not normally the type of person to just go along with things.
“Nellie was a staunchly principled woman, even if that meant she was going to offend people or cause divisions, I appreciate her principles—she was not a shrinking violet. She was a tough cookie,” she said.
“The other thing is that she had a merciful heart,” she said. “She was a woman of deep faith, and she prayed for people who were involved in abortions.”
Monahan said Gray never lived to see the unborn protected by the law again, but she was blessed to have prominent supporters of abortion come around to support life instead. They included Norma McCorvey, who was the actual “Roe” in the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court case, Sandra Cano, who was the “Doe” in the companion case to Roe, Doe v. Bolt decision and the abortionist Bernard N. Nathanson, one of the architects of legalized abortion and founders of the National Abortion Rights Action League.
“I don’t know if she single-handedly did it, but I know she prayed very hard for them,” she said.