This year’s March for Life marks the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion throughout the United States. As thousands prepare to march in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 25, it would be understandable if those in the pro-life movement felt frustrated and discouraged. But they don’t; they are hopeful, energized and as dedicated as ever.
A key reason, say pro-life leaders, is the increasing and enthusiastic participation of young people.
“We’re seeing a growing cultural change, especially among the young, with a greater respect for human life,” said Edward Mechmann, assistant director of the archdiocesan Family Life/Respect Life Office.
“You don’t always see this in the political context, especially in New York…(but) the attitudes of young people are changing,” he said. “This is the survivor generation; these are the young people who have survived Roe v. Wade…They know how fragile life can be, and how precious it is.”
Mechmann has been participating in the March for Life for 20 years, and he said that it has become “almost a celebration of life, as much as a remembrance of those who’ve been lost.”
Pro-life leaders also say that there are signs of opposition to abortion, or at least abortion-on-demand, among the public.
“Politically, despite an awful lot of the failures we’ve had in elections,…more and more states are coming up with restrictions on abortion,” said Alan Mehldau, who is the chairman of the Northern Westchester and Putnam Center for Life, the Westchester and Putnam Right to Life Committee and the Northern Westchester and Putnam Vicariate Respect Life Committee.
Mehldau said statistics show that more Americans “have problems with abortion” today than in the 1970s. But much more work needs to be done to translate that into pro-life legislation.
“We have to spend more time educating and converting the public, and the politicians will follow,” he said.
Mechmann also sees the movement making some political gains.
“I’m very encouraged by the number of pro-life laws being passed around the country at the state level,” he said, especially to place restrictions on abortion facilities.
“It’s an outlaw industry,” he said. “It’s virtually unregulated.” He sees a hopeful message in the passage of laws protecting women’s health and safety, and requiring parental notice before a minor can obtain an abortion.
“I think it shows broad cultural support for these common-sense laws and a consensus that abortion’s not a good thing,” he said.
Sister Lucy Marie, S.V., Respect Life coordinator for the archdiocese, told CNY that the pro-life movement is “renewed in vigor, persevering, unrelenting, not willing to give up and very youthful”—and she has the numbers to prove it.
More than 700 young people from the archdiocese will spend two days in Washington to participate in the March for Life and in an annual youth rally and Mass for youth that will draw 28,000 from across the nation. Sister Lucy will lead a group of students from Cathedral and Cardinal Spellman high schools traveling together on one bus.
She added that more than 45 buses from the archdiocese will make a one-day journey for the march, including, for the first time, a bus just for young adults, coordinated by the archdiocesan Young Adult Ministry.
Sister Lucy has been in the pro-life movement for 25 years, almost 22 of them as one of the original members of the Sisters of Life. She emphasized that the trip to Washington is far more than political activism.
“This isn’t just a march where we’re protesting abortion, although of course we are,” Sister Lucy said. “But we’re also on a pilgrimage of prayer and penance…Our people are very eager to pray because they know that the answer lies in prayer and sacrifice.”
As an example of sacrifice, she mentioned the many people from the upper counties who will rise long before daylight to go to Washington—14 hours or more, round trip—in a single day.
She also said the journey is “a pilgrimage of mercy, because this isn’t just about children who have been killed, but also about a culture that’s been wounded by abortion for 40 years.”
Binding up those wounds are those who assist women in crisis pregnancies, and Sister Lucy noted the many resources that are available, including the archdiocese, the Sisters of Life and the pregnancy care centers in New York and throughout the country.
“There’s no need to have an abortion in our land,” she said. She remarked that the Sisters of Life have “a policy of non-abandonment,” which means that they provide everything a woman needs to continue her pregnancy. The same is true of all local pregnancy care centers, she said.
Discussing roadblocks to the pro-life cause, Sister Lucy, Mehldau and Mechmann mentioned the policies of elected leaders. Mechmann cited the inclusion of abortion and contraceptives in the national health care plan.
“This is not health care; this is not good medicine,” he said. “I think the continuing hostility of the current administration is a real source of frustration to us. Not discouragement. We’re never discouraged.”
This year’s March will be the first since the death of Nellie Gray, a Texas native and World War II veteran who started the March in 1974.
“Nellie was a faithful leader for decades,” Mechmann said. “Now you see the younger people, in their maturity, stepping up and taking leadership. And that’s encouraging.”
Sister Lucy said that marchers will be saddened by Miss Gray’s absence, but she noted that the 40th anniversary of the march falls during the Year of Faith.
“Our faith tells us that life doesn’t end at death; it continues throughout eternity,” she said. “That’s why life is sacred…Knowing how Nellie lived, how could she not be present to us, though in a different way? We miss her, but I know that her presence will be very tangible to us in a spiritual way.”
Mehldau said, “She left a legacy that will continue after her.”