By Elizabeth Van Pilsum, Staff Writer
I trudged across campus in the bitter cold at 4:45 am, wondering if I was making a mistake. I had been to the March for Life twice before, and both times I had enjoyed it, but this time I was accompanied by an anxiety that I could not shake. I worried about missing my classes and about catching Omicron, but most of all, there was an underlying frustration that had been building inside me for the past few years.
I have always considered myself pro-life. However, there is so much division in the world, and some of that division has seeped into the pro-life movement. There are disagreements about and confusion around who is protected under the term “pro-life,” vicious political battles and so many nuanced issues that need to be treated with care. As I was walking towards the bus that morning, I could not help but reflect on how discouraged I was that people I respect and care for cannot respect each other’s personhood over conflicting views, even within the pro-life movement. I worried that the day’s pilgrimage would confront me with reminders of my discouragement and frustrations.
Over the next three-and-a-half hours, I chatted with my friends on one of the buses Saint Vincent’s Respect Life Club had sent to the March, tried to nap a little and prayed a rosary with the entire bus for the unborn and their mothers. We arrived at the National Mall over an hour before the Rally started at noon, giving us time to take photos and find a spot near the stage.
One of my best friends from high school was at the March, so I called her and started trying to find her, becoming increasingly amazed by the amount of people pouring into the Mall. By the time I had found my friend, I was exhilarated by the amount of people who had gathered in D.C. from all over the world, ready to March for the unborn despite our differences. According to NBC Washington, as many as 50,000 people attended the rally, with twice that number participating in the actual march. The turnout was smaller than usual – approximately 400,000 attended in 2019, according to Catholic Business Journal.
This difference in attendance was possibly due to the pandemic; however, the massive show of solidarity reassured me. I was overcome by the feeling that, even though I might disagree with many of the people here on the finer points of their politics, we could all agree on one important issue enough to show up and support each other. Seeing the crowds of people reminded me that people in the pro-life movement still hold the value of life in such a high regard they were willing to brave the below-freezing January weather and travel various distances to stand up for their beliefs.
The theme for the 2022 March for Life was “Equality Begins in the Womb,” and a wide variety of presenters gave speeches, from actor and producer Kirk Cameron to former Congressman and pro-life Democrat Daniel Lipinski, who had spoken at Saint Vincent earlier that week. Katie Shaw, an advocate for babies with Down Syndrome, discussed how her parents chose life when they found out she would be born with Down Syndrome and medical issues. Toni McFadden, founder of the organization Relationships Matter, talked about the trauma surrounding the abortion she had in high school and the regrets she has.
The keynote speaker was Fr. Mike Schmitz, host of “Bible in a Year” podcast, who gave a crowd-stirring speech emphasizing the importance of every human life. He addressed those who had chosen abortion, saying “you matter, you still belong here… you are still loved,” and concluded by reminding those in the audience that this March is intended to change the marchers. Overall, he effectively asserted that, by marching for the dignity of the unborn, we are forced to recall our own human dignity and the sanctity of all life. This speech, along with the variety of other speeches at the Rally, was like a breath of fresh air for me, affirming my growing feeling of solidarity with the pro-life movement. By marching for the dignity of human life, I was forced to remember how important it is to be pro-life and to stop focusing so much on the divisions that make me struggle to love others.
After the Rally was done, the massive crowd of people took an agonizingly long time to start marching faster than an inch, but I was filled with excitement as I marched through downtown D.C. with my friends. Our fingers and toes were turning numb in the cold, and we were all exhausted, but I was so glad I had decided to go. There are still divisions within the pro-life movement, and I know that my frustrations might never go away fully, but I was overwhelmingly content to just be present at the March and put all differences aside as I walked with tens of thousands of people who shared my same desire to protect the lives of others.