"The greatest difference between other civil rights movements and this one,” Fr. Ivany reflected solemnly, “is that most of the people affected by Roe v. Wade can't march on Washington. They can't give great speeches.”
In the afternoon, the demonstrators assembled on the Washington Mall before proceeding to the steps of the Supreme Court. Although the city of Washington, D.C. does not provide estimates of the crowd size at the yearly event, organizers predicted that up to 400,000 people would participate in this year's march.
The evening before the event, thousands gathered in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception for the opening Mass of the National Prayer Vigil for Life. Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston, Texas and chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, celebrated the Mass for a capacity crowd at the nation's largest Catholic church.
Cardinal DiNardo drew particular encouragement from the presence of many young people who came from across the nation to advocate for the human rights of the unborn. He described the youth as the “genuine leaders and pioneers of this March for Life,” noting that their stand against abortion showed a willingness to question the fashionable stances and received opinions of popular culture.
He recalled the words of Pope John Paul II, whose beatification he hailed as “sign of light in darkness” for those defending the rights of the unborn against violence. The late Pope, he said, “called on us to be a 'luminous conscience' for many whose conscience, on the dignity of the human person, is distorted, and thus lives in shadows.”
Catholic participation in the March for Life itself has always been strong, although the event attracts participants with various beliefs. Its focus is on the right to life as a question of justice and human rights, rather than as a matter of faith – an approach that Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York recently endorsed when he called the defense of unborn life “the premier civil rights issue of our day.”