Scanning the massive crowd gathered near the Washington Monument for the rally preceding the 44th annual March for Life on Jan. 27, Jeanne Mancini – the president of the March for Life – offered special thanks to the multitude of young adults, college and high school students who had come from across the country to join the march.
“You give me hope! You are the pro-life generation, and I believe you will be the generation that will bring an end to abortion,” she said. “Your joy, your love, your enthusiasm are exactly what our world needs.”
She said their presence there reflected the theme for this year’s march – “The Power of One.” That theme is drawn from “The Lord of the Rings” by J.R.R. Tolkien, a devout Catholic who wrote, “Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.”
“Every single one of you has the power to change history,” Mancini said, commending them for helping to build a culture of life in this country. “We need you! Our culture needs you!”
Mancini thanked the dedicated people who join the march year after year, even in sub-zero temperatures and occasional blizzards, to offer a witness for the dignity of life. They came, she said, in recognition that abortion is a human rights issue and to march in support of unborn children and their mothers.
“Pro-life is pro-woman!” the March for Life president said, noting “that voice may have been shut out last week” at the Women’s March on Washington.
Mancini had planned on joining the women’s march, but when that rally’s organizers officially adopted an abortion rights platform, she decided not to participate in an effort whose official message was opposite to what the March for Life promotes.
Addressing those gathered for the March for Life, Mancini quoted one of her heroes, St. Teresa of Calcutta, who once said, “Abortion is profoundly anti-women. Three quarters of its victims are women: Half the babies and all the mothers.”
“Choosing life empowers women,” Mancini added, noting that in the United States each year, there are about one million abortions, but only 22,000 infant adoptions. “Choosing life, choosing adoption is noble and heroic,” she said.
Mancini asked the crowd, “Did you know Steve Jobs was adopted?” She noted how different modern life would have been without the contributions of the co-founder of Apple, Inc., and she encouraged the marchers to hold up their iPhones and take selfies at that moment.
Earlier that month in an interview with the Catholic Standard newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington, Mancini reflected on her work with the March for Life.
She grew up in several states in a military family, as the fourth of five children of Air Force Col. John Monahan and his wife Carol.
“We always had a very close-knit family… We always had a sense life was a gift and a miracle, and to respect it,” said Mancini, who remembers attending her first March for Life around the time of her late high school years.
In 2012, Nellie Gray – the founder of the March for Life and its volunteer president who had led the annual march for nearly four decades – died at the age of 88. Gray, who was Catholic, had started the annual march to protest the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, that along with its companion case, Doe v. Bolton, had led to the legalization of abortion on demand throughout the United States.
“It’s only standing on her shoulders that we continue,” said Mancini, who became the president of the March for Life after Gray’s death and who led her first march in January 2013, after earlier serving as director of the Center for Human Dignity at the Family Research Council in Washington and as a member of the March for Life Education and Defense Fund board of directors.
“Nellie never took a penny from the March for Life and volunteered her time and did it for 40 years,” Mancini said of her predecessor. “She was such a noble woman who dedicated her life to what God was calling her to do. I pray for her intercession.”
Like the March for Life’s founding president, Mancini is Catholic. The member of St. Leo the Great Parish in Fairfax, Virginia, said she “is working for an audience of one – God.”
Her greatest blessing in her work, she said, is “in my heart feeling at peace, that I’m responding to what he’s asking me to do.”
She admitted “it’s a ton of work leading up to it, so chaotic and stressful.”
This year, the March for Life had the honor of Vice President Mike Pence addressing the crowd as the first president or vice president to attend the gathering in person and speak to the marchers. “Life is winning in America,” he told the crowd.
In her earlier interview, Mancini said that last year after a string of disappointments for the pro-life movement, including the support of pro-abortion policies in the administration of then-President Obama, the death in February of Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, and a Supreme Court decision in June that struck down a Texas law restricting abortion, the tide unexpectedly turned in November, with the election of Donald Trump, an abortion opponent, as president, and with pro-life majorities elected to the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.
“To win in November was such an unexpected, empowering, hopeful and positive experience,” she said.
Now Mancini hopes that with the new president and Congress, a Supreme Court justice will be approved who will interpret the Constitution like Justice Scalia, who in his rulings opposed abortion. She also hopes that Planned Parenthood will be defunded by Congress and that money instead will be redirected to community health centers that serve women.
In addition, Mancini and other pro-life leaders hope that Congress will enact and the president will sign a ban on late-term abortions, and a law preventing taxpayer funding of abortions.
If she had joined the women’s march, Mancini said she might have carried a sign reading, “Equal rights for unborn women.” Last year, the March for Life’s theme was “Pro-Life and Pro-Woman Go Hand in Hand.”
She believes that women, including Catholics, who support abortion rights have received “bad formation and information.” Mancini said she finds hope in polls indicating that more and more Americans oppose abortion.
Mancini said that people can help change hearts by prayer, dialogue and by their experiences of helping to build a culture of life.
And in the interview, she echoed what she later exclaimed at this year’s March for Life, how the young people participating in the march inspire her and the effort to overturn abortion in the United States.
“I have the honor of standing at the stage and looking at young people with their huge smiles, so enthusiastic and encouraging,” she said. “….St. John Paul II said young people are the best ambassadors for life, and that’s true. They don’t have a cynicism of heart. They know abortion is wrong.”