One of the most inspiring pro-life events in the world took place in Washington DC this week. If you rely on the television or daily papers for your news this is probably the first you’ve heard of it. Even in the United States it barely registered in the mainstream media. Nevertheless, it was a significant moment in the long struggle to defend the dignity of every human being, especially the unborn. We are talking about the March for Life, an annual event which draws hundreds of thousands of Americans to the nation’s capital on the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision to legalise abortion.
On Monday some 200,000 people – Catholics and non-Catholics alike – marched along Constitution Avenue to the Supreme Court, where they held a dignified protest against the landmark 1973 Roe v Wade ruling. On the eve of the event Catholic marchers gathered in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception for Mass. Five cardinals, 39 bishops, hundreds of priests, deacons and seminarians and an estimated 10,000 lay people were present.
Let’s imagine for a moment that the march took place in Britain. Imagine thousands of people descending on Parliament on the anniversary of the 1967 Abortion Act. Imagine them holding a peaceful and dignified protest against a law that has caused such untold suffering. Imagine a Mass at Westminster Cathedral on the eve of the march with dozens of bishops, hundreds of priests and thousands of lay people in attendance.
At this point you may be thinking: “There’s no way that could happen.” You may believe that we as a nation are too apathetic to protest against this injustice. You may believe that the bishops are too preoccupied to offer concerted pro-life leadership. You may believe that our pro-life charities are too divided to set aside their differences and work together.
The organisers of the first March for Life in Washington faced the same objections. Just months before the first anniversary of Roe v Wade it seemed as if the occasion would pass uncommemorated. No pro-life group was prepared to organise or fund a mass demonstration. The US bishops were unable to take the lead. There was no guarantee that marchers would turn out en masse. But thanks to a few grassroots activists a march did take place on January 22 1974. It attracted more than 20,000 people. And almost three decades later the march draws 10 times that number.
When Benedict XVI visited Britain last September he urged us to live up to our calling as Catholics, to be strong in faith and committed to serving others, especially the weakest. What better way to respond to this than by holding an annual March for Life?