Today, Jan. 18, is the annual March for Life. Tens of thousands will converge on the National Mall to pray, listen to speeches, march and advocate for respect for life. In the more than thee decades I have been an observer (and often participant) of this event, it has never ceased to amaze me just who participates.

Among the thousands and thousands braving the cold Washington winter to stand (and rally and march) in defense of life are many young people and many disabled people.

Young people, born after the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision that virtually guaranteed abortion on demand, have never known anything but “the right” to have an abortion. For 46 years it has been drilled into their psyches that “freedom of choice” is the ultimate ideal. It is not as important what you choose – to kill your baby or not – as long as you are free to have a choice. In watching these young people defend life, I know we are blessed that so many of that generation have seen through and rejected that specious thinking.

It also is poignant to see the disabled who participate in the annual march. These people, perhaps more than anybody else, know what it is like to have to fight to have their human dignity recognized and respected. Their voices are perhaps the most eloquent raised in support of the unborn.

I am rightly proud of my many fellow Catholics who participate in the March for Life. In doing so, we affirm that this precious gift of life – with all its flaws – is one that must be protected and cherished. It is natural that Catholics would come out in droves to participate in the annual march because the Church is a tireless defender of life from conception to natural death.

Being a Catholic, we know, comes with obligations. We are called to speak out against injustice and to speak up for the Kingdom of God. We are called to love our neighbor as ourselves, to love God above ourselves and to stand up for God and His (not our nor society’s) values.

Because the March for Life marks with the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe vs. Wade decision, many marchers will be specifically concerned with stopping abortion. However, abortion is just one of the threats to life that we must defend against.

Sadly, there are many, many threats to life: murder, genocide, euthanasia, insults to human dignity, subhuman living conditions, persecution, slavery, prostitution, and human trafficking. All of those things belittle life, threaten life, and disrespect life.

People who support abortion on demand like to point out that the government should stay out of our personal lives. That argument is weak. By that reasoning, there should be no laws governing the sale of cigarettes or liquor to a minor who has made the “personal” choice to use such products. What about a person’s “personal” choice to use heroin? What about my “personal” choice not to wear a seat belt when I drive?

Many of these abortion advocates who say the government should stay out of our lives are the same ones who have supported the government when it has decided it knows what’s better for a family than the family itself. Some states have laws that allow strangers to take our under-aged daughters and sisters across state lines to procure an abortion. States have passed “assisted suicide” and “death with dignity” laws that allow (and some would say, urge) the infirm and the ill to kill themselves.

What I find disheartening about the March for Life is that we actually have to remind people that life is a precious gift to be respected. Shouldn’t that be a given?

I have heard it said that we live in a “throw away” society where, if we encounter something or someone we do not want, we simply toss it away. And that is what we do with unplanned babies and the sick and elderly who are being sold on the idea of assisted suicide.

We must act, which is why we must march. We have to stand up for life; we have to advocate for respecting the great gift of life; and we have to reject the “throw away” mentality that is such an affront to our life-giving God.

Years ago, I won a gold fish at a carnival and set up a nice aquarium for it and bought a “how to care for gold fish” book. The book included a section on how to treat a sick fish and the most humane way to euthanize a sick fish.

Abortion and other assaults on human life are not humane. And, because we don’t want to live in a society where we treat a gold fish better than we treat a child in his mother’s womb or any other sick, frail or vulnerable person, we march.