Head of March for Life calls abortion 'social justice cause of our time'

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller


NEW YORK (CNS) — Charlie
Camosy, associate professor in the theology department at Jesuit-run Fordham
University, spoke to Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life, in advance of
this year’s annual march in Washington Jan. 19.

She talked about changes in the
event and the crowd she has seen over the years, the efforts to unify pro-lifers on
a variety of life issues and her own pro-life views.

For her, abortion is “the single
most significant social justice cause of our time.”

Here’s Camosy’s Q-and-A with Mancini:

Q: You’ve been going to the
March for Life for many years now. What are some ways that the march has
changed since you first started attending?

A: The rally is a little
shorter, the crowds have grown, the age demographics have decreased, marcher
signs are more diverse and creative. What hasn’t change is that the weather
often presents extra opportunities for making a sacrificial pilgrimage! Plus
that the event is primarily staffed by generous volunteers, and most
importantly the issue. Mostly, that we are there — for the 45th year in a row
— to protest the human rights abuse of today — abortion.

Q: One thing that struck me from
when I first started taking high school students to the march nearly two
decades ago was the hyper-religiosity of the event. As a theology teacher, I
shared many of these commitments, but it made a number of my students
uncomfortable and I don’t think they returned after high school. The
hyper-religiosity of pro-life activists also seems to keep more moderate folks
from identifying with the movement more generally and our policy proposals from
getting wider traction — especially in a culture which – wrongly — sees much
of what we do as imposing our religion. Religious commitments are nothing to be
embarrassed about, obviously, and many grass-roots movements for basic justice
and rights were very religious. But do you see a tension to navigate here?

A: Our experiences differ, so I
find it hard to answer this question — but broadly I would say no. There are a
lot of religious signs, but my experience is that it is mostly young people who
attend the March for Life. Young people are attracted to this cause because it
is the single most critical social justice issue of our time. They are so
enthusiastic — it is contagious! Perhaps that excitement and motivation could
be interpreted as “hyper-religiosity,” but I see it as attractive unbridled
zeal for ending abortion and building a culture of life. Of course, there are
always a few “outliers” and some people are led to the pro-life movement
through their faith. But, overall — this is a movement filled with vibrant,
passionate, life-affirming young people. I’m older, reserved and suspicious at
my age, and I find their confidence and trust inspiring. I love the lack of
cynicism in many young people, and admire their hope and goal to “abolish
abortion.” At the front of the march when we’ve had some counter-protesters, I’ve
watched young people being spit on and mocked and respond with Christian
messages of love. Basically, I agree with St. John Paul II, who said that young
people are the best “ambassadors for life.”

Q: Especially with the campaign
and election of Donald Trump, divisions and fissures within the pro-life
movement have become more pronounced in the last couple years. Do you think the
March for Life has the chance to contribute to the unity of pro-lifers who
disagree about these political matters?

A: We certainly seek to unify
and I hope we are successful. I’m convinced that disunity is our biggest enemy.
As an organization we quietly do what we can behind the scenes within the
movement; whether arranging group meetings or making strategic introductions to
draw groups and pro-life leaders together. In a more public way we always seek
to have a bipartisan lineup of speakers, although admittedly that has gotten
harder in recent years.

Q: What vision did you have in
mind when you started running the March for Life? How does the current march
reflect who you are as a pro-lifer?

A: When I first became president
of the March for Life, it was a surprise, and it happened very quick following
the death of MFL founder Nellie Gray. In the beginning, I had some goals, but
not an overall big picture vision. These goals included trying to break into
mainstream media — especially showing our enthusiastic young marchers; having
a shorter and very engaging rally; positive messaging grounded in the
attractiveness of life; drawing in people of all faith; and embracing social
media. I believe that we have been successful in these goals and we continue to
be more success in these goals each and every year. My ultimate goal is to work
myself out of a job by working to make abortion unthinkable and enact laws that
reflect the inherent dignity of the human person.

Q: Suppose a reader is on the
fence about attending the march. In your view, what should she consider as she
makes a decision whether or not to attend?

A: I was just reading an email
from a business owner who attended for the first time last year. To paraphrase
her, the March for Life is a life changing experience that will restore your
hope in the goodness of humanity. I would add to that, how can you not attend?
Abortion is the single most significant social justice cause of our time. Every
single one of us carries that burden on us and needs to do everything possible
to bring it to an end.

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