March for Life: A look at the largest pro-life rally in the United States

Pro-life activists took to the National Mall in Washington, D.C. on Friday to commemorate the 45th March for Life, an annual event that protests Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court’s 1973 landmark ruling that legalized abortion in the U.S.

“Here we are at the 45th year – we never anticipated that we would be here for so long. Today, we grieve the loss of life. But it’s also an enthusiastic time; we’re changing hearts and minds,” Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life, told Fox News ahead of the event on Friday.

The march, which is the biggest pro-life event in the country, was first started in 1974 by Nellie Gray, an activist and Catholic who died in 2012 at the age of 88.

Pro-life activists gather for the National March for Life rally in Washington January 27, 2017.  REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein - RC1AFD7066B0

Nellie Gray led the first March for Life in 1974.  (Reuters/ Aaron P. Bernstein. )

Gray was a fierce advocate and “voice for the voiceless,” as the official slogan for the march goes. “She laid the foundation for March for Life,” said Mancini, who has been with the organization for six years. “It wouldn’t be what it is without Nellie.”

Indeed, Gray’s initial event 45 years ago has had a long-standing impact for the pro-life community, leading some activists, such as Amanda Fowley, to attend the event every year for well over a decade.

“There is no more important issue for me,” Fowley, who has attended every year since she was 13, told Fox News at the march last year. The pro-life activist, then 33, traveled to the march from Rhode Island with her husband in 2017.

Ahead of the event, here’s what you need to know about the March for Life.

What is it?

The March for Life is the nation’s largest annual pro-life event. The event protests Roe v. Wade, but also works throughout the year to educate Americans about the “biggest human rights abuse of today, of our time,” Mancini said, adding that she often travels to schools to speak about the march and the broader pro-life agenda.

Additionally, the non-profit is “involved everyday on the Hill to enact pro-life public policy,” Mancini said. “We want laws to represent the inherent dignity of human life and also create a culture where abortion is unthinkable.”

Still, while Mancini added that incremental laws that have been enacted on the state level, such as informed consent and parental consent, over half (57 percent) of Americans still support a woman’s right to abortion in all or most cases, according to a recent study from the Pew Research Center.

“We are very committed to moving in the right direction and have a real intensity and burden to do more,” she said.

Who will be there?

This year’s March for Life will include some notable speakers, such as President Trump, who spoke to the activists via satellite. House Speaker Paul Ryan also spoke. Pam Tebow is also slated to speak. She is the mother of Tim Tebow, a former NFL quarterback who played for the Denver Broncos and the New York Jets, respectively.

Thousands of people gather for the annual March for Life rally in Washington, DC, U.S. January 27, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas - RC1107F36930

President Trump spoke to activists via satellite at the 2018 March for Life.  (Reuters/ Yuri Gripas )

A few members of Congress are also slated to speak, including Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash.; Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Ill; and Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J.

Religious leaders, such as Sister Bethany Madonna of Sisters of Life, along with Bishop Vincent Matthews Jr., president of the International Missions Department of the Church of God in Christ, will also attend. The full list of speakers can be found here.

Where it starts and ends

The rally ahead of the physical march began at noon on the National Mall. The official march, however, begins on Constitution Avenue at 1 p.m. between the Washington Monument and the Capitol. Activists will march toward the Supreme Court. The event ends at 3 p.m.

1974 to now

Gray led the first March for Life on Jan. 22, 1974, exactly one year after the Supreme Court affirmed a women’s right to abortion in a 7-2 decision. At the time, roughly 20,000 people attended the rally, which was initially intended to be a one-off event. But Gray later decide that the march would take place every year until Roe v. Wade was overturned.

Pro-life activists gather for the National March for Life rally in Washington, DC, U.S. January 27, 2017.  REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein - RC178D0B2B30

The March for Life is in its 45th year.  (Reuters/ Aaron P. Bernstein )

The march’s 45th year is the first that organizers are sharing official numbers, Mancini said, who estimated that 100,000 people will attend today’s event. While it does not give exact figures, the March for Life’s website estimates that 2009 was its most-attended year on record.

Additionally, a previous Fox News report estimated that roughly 650,000 pro-life activists attended in 2013.

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