Feminists, humanitarians drawn to March for Life in Washington
By Lizzie Short | January 13, 2016, 15:27 EST
WASHINGTON – The annual March for Life is attracting a new crowd. In recent years, the event has drawn – and reached – groups that include feminists, human-rights advocates and atheists, not just the religiously devout.
The march has historically attracted religious leaders, Catholic students and activists, and has focused largely on the Roe v. Wade U.S. Supreme Court decision that effectively legalized abortion nationwide in 1973. Last year’s event drew an estimated 800,000 people to Washington.
Since the March’s first organizer, Nellie Gray, passed away in 2012 at 88, the March has shifted its tactics, expanded its budget, and incorporated non-abortion, pro-life issues. The 2015 March for Life already showed signs of the organization’s wider reach as members of the Pro-Life Allies Coalition participated in the march. The group includes Democrats, feminists, secularists and atheists.
“I’ve always understood this to be a human rights issue,” Jeanne Mancini, the March for Life president, reflected on the change in an interview Tuesday. “As head of an organization, your ideas trickle down.”
“We’ve grown up in the pro-life movement, we’ve seen advances in science and technology, changes in opinion polls and heard from women who regret their abortion,” Mancini added. “These things inform us to be better messenger of what we’re talking about.”
For Mancini, choosing life has always been a humanitarian issue, she said. That outlook jibes with views of the Pro-Life Coalition.
“Our movement is not one that is solely religious or political,” Aimee Murphy, the group’s leader, said in a 2015 briefing for reporters. “It is a movement for human rights.”
Reframing the pro-life argument as a human rights issue helps broaden the impact of the march, expanding both participants and the potential audience for the views it represents.
“We’re seeing more and more non-religious pro-lifers, a growing number of liberal and unaffiliated pro-lifers, and a lot of young people looking at the abortion issue from a perspective of human rights and solid ethics instead of from a perspective that touts religious reasoning,” Murphy told reporters last year.
Murphy is the founder of Life Matters Journal, which promotes the value of, respect for and protection of life as it seeks to educate readers about issues like abortion, unjust war, suicide, euthanasia, embryonic stem-cell research and the death penalty, according to its website. Including abortion with other life-related human rights issues will make the issue more palatable to those who don’t identify with a religion, Murphy said in an interview last year with Life News.
March organizers have also taken up a point of view expressed by New Wave Feminists, that pro-life activists provide help to women as a way to encourage pro-life feminism. This year’s March for Life theme is “Pro-Life and Pro-Woman Go Hand-in-Hand.” The events begin Jan. 21 and culminate with the march on Jan. 22.
“There is a misunderstanding about what it means to be pro-woman,” Mancini said. “When I think about what it means to be pro-life, I think pro-woman. We hear a lot of messages about women – erroneous messages, I think – that you have to be pro-choice to be pro-woman.”
“A woman’s capacity to be a mom is a gift, not something to be embarrassed or shy about. Not that it’s everything, but it is gift,” Mancini said.
The eve of this year’s march features a conference with speakers, educational events and political advocacy training.
“We want marchers to take that next step,” Mancini explained. “We don’t want them to finish the walk in front of the Supreme Court and get back on the bus and go home – we want them to visit their member of Congress and let them know they are there and that these issues are really important to them.”