More than 800 Notre Dame students, faculty attend March for Life over weekend featuring Trump
Lauren Spencer | Tuesday, January 28, 2020
Over 800 members of the Notre Dame community traveled to Washington, D.C., over the weekend to participate in the 47th annual March for Life, themed “Life Empowers: Pro-Life is Pro-Woman.”
The march is meant to highlight the anti-abortion movement and is held annually around the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that decriminalized abortion. This year, the event featured a speech by President Donald Trump, which marked the first time a U.S. president has spoken in person at the March for Life.
“Everyone started sprinting to get a good look,” freshman Karina Duffy said about Trump’s speech. “No matter what people’s opinions are of our president, it was so cool to see him live, in person — to hear him talk.”
For Duffy, the March for Life is less of a fight for pro-life legislation and more of a necessary celebration of humanity.
“It’s about giving a voice to those who don’t have a voice,” Duffy said. “All facets of life need to be celebrated, no matter who you are, what color you are, whatever you are. I think society today is losing the value of that. So for one day, for everyone to come together to march and celebrate that unity is beautiful.”
In particular, the march is a way to give a voice to the unborn, said Noelle Johnson, senior and president of Notre Dame Right to Life.
“The March is our opportunity to witness, not only to life and love, but through that, to participate in our democratic process and to utilize those things that we praise in our American society, in which we can demonstrate what we believe in and stand for legal protection of the unborn,” Johnson said.
Duffy said though it is important to advocate for the unborn, there are other vulnerable groups that she marched for over the weekend.
“Babies are still life, no matter what, starting at conception,” Duffy said. “Getting legislation passed for that purpose is powerful and necessary. But I think it’s also important to march for those that are wrongly accused, those that are homeless, those that have been neglected, those that are victimized by racism, those that are in the justice system that don’t know how to get out.
“If we want to call ourselves pro-life, we have to uphold the dignity of the human person at all stages of life — from conception to death. Not just protecting those in the womb, and not just saying no to the death penalty, but also supporting all those in the middle that so many people just disregard.”
Duffy said though the 11-hour trek to D.C. was difficult, the atmosphere was full of energy.
“We boarded the bus, and everyone could just feel the excitement — excitement to go march for human dignity,” she said. “You knew people weren’t going to get much sleep that night.”
The number of people who were willing to travel and participate in the march was inspiring, Johnson said.
“Our University is committed to the defense of life at all stages, and this is our greatest public demonstration of that,” Johnson said. “It’s powerful not only that so many people care, but that so many people are willing to undergo what is a really exhausting trip.”
Ahead of the march on Friday morning, director of Campus Ministry Fr. Pete McCormick spoke at a Mass for Notre Dame students, faculty and alumni at St. Agnes Catholic Church in Arlington, Virginia.
“He gave a homily about how he has all these hopes and aspirations that he can only have because his sister and brother chose life,” Duffy said. “It was beautiful and powerful.”
Mary Benz, junior and director of spirituality for Notre Dame Right to Life, said at least 500,000 people were at the march this year.
“The march is important because it’s such a big statement of the number of people that are pro-life and that are convicted enough about it to go to D.C. every single year,” Benz said. “When you go, you get to experience it firsthand and see the joy and the energy. There’s a lot of young people there so having that experience serves to bring the pro-life movement together, and also to encourage and inspire all of us going home to continue defending life in our day-to-day.”
Seeing so many like-minded people at the march was encouraging for Benz.
“Sometimes, even on this campus — which probably has a lot of pro-life students — I do feel nervous about voicing my opinion, wanting to be aware of disagreement,” she said. “Knowing there’s that many people was a huge encouragement for me. Doing pro-life work is one of the most important things in my life.”
As an active member of Right to Life’s executive board, Benz often encounters pro-life versus pro-choice discussions and advises addressing them through relationships.
“It isn’t very effective to be abrasive in conversations like that,” Benz said. “I think it’s most effectively done in the context of a friendship. I appreciate when I get to know someone well enough that we’re able to honestly share what we think, and why we disagree. I’ve also had several conversations with people via different tabling events with Right to Life, just asking people to explain to us why they would justify abortions at different stages of embryonic development.”
Though she is firmly pro-life, Benz added she tries to work to understand the pro-choice point of view.
“The best way for me to become more sure of why I’m pro-life is to try to understand pro-choice arguments,” she said. “Their most compelling arguments have to do with women who are in such dire circumstances that they’re led to see abortion as their only way out. It makes me call to mind that we need to be doing a lot to support moms through their pregnancy and after. The life of the mother is just as important as the baby, and I want to defend both of them.”
The pro-life movement should be at the forefront of the nation’s consciousness, Johnson asserted.
“It is the issue on which all of our other basic civil rights stand,” Johnson said. “We have to protect the right to life for the most innocent and most vulnerable.”
But being pro-life is about more than just the political movement, Duffy noted.
“Each person has an innate dignity, and we need to recognize that and celebrate that,” Duffy said. “Yes, the march is focused on babies because they don’t have a voice, and there’s legislation that’s allowing them to be killed against their will, so the political movement is a main point of the march, but it’s also to celebrate life at all stages.”