An interview with Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life, about the unity, growth and challenges of the pro-life cause
After months of social and political unrest amid an ongoing global pandemic, the 48th annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., will take place Jan. 29 under a banner of unity and hope: “Together Strong: Life Unites.” This year’s theme underscores the fact that, for decades, the March for Life has been the largest peaceful protest for human rights in the United States.
Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life Education and Defense Fund since 2012, has long been an eloquent and passionate advocate for the unborn and pregnant women in need. Columbia recently spoke with her about this year’s theme, the momentum of the pro-life movement, and social and political challenges in the new year.
COLUMBIA: What is the significance of this year’s March for Life theme, Together Strong: Life Unites?
JEANNE MANCINI: Every year, the March for Life chooses a theme that conveys a timely message. Because 2020 has been marked by such division, unrest and fear, there is a great need for us to come together and be reminded of our special mission — and our strength in truth. Though each of us brings our own individual talents to the life movement, we are far stronger together.
Each one of us has a critical and irreplaceable role to play in building a culture of life. As St. Teresa of Calcutta put it, “You can do what I cannot do. I can do what you cannot do. Together we can do great things.” From choosing adoption to joyfully accepting the responsibilities of fatherhood and motherhood; from sidewalk counseling to lobbying; from prenatal care to post-abortion support; from praying for the most vulnerable to voting to protect them — everyone is desperately needed. Our unique gifts and talents, united in the service of one common mission, make us strong.
COLUMBIA: If the cause for human life should bring people together, why is the issue of abortion so divisive today?
JEANNE MANCINI: The very act of abortion and its consequences are intrinsically divisive. Abortion divides a mother from her child. Reality is not arbitrary, and abortion by its very nature is a divisive, disintegrating act; it can never be unifying. The abortion industry has deceived many women into believing that pregnancy is a disease, that motherhood means giving up her dreams and that abortion is empowering.
Abortion divides women from the support and love they need. Studies show that the majority of women who choose abortion do so because of a lack of support from their partner, or a lack of financial support, or for similar reasons. Instead of providing women with what they need to thrive as mothers, the abortion industry preys upon their fear and insecurity, even actively spreading misinformation about the pro-life organizations that would love to offer support.
Abortion also divides a man from his fatherhood. Some abortion activists attempt to remove men from the discussion by advancing a “my body, my choice” narrative. But being a voice for the voiceless unborn is everyone’s concern. In other cases, abortion allows men to walk away from their responsibility and duty to protect and care for mother and child.
Similarly, abortion divides siblings, ensuring some children will never know their sisters or brothers. It divides grandfather from grandson and grandmother from granddaughter. The abortion industry callously turns a blind eye to the devastating loss of generations that it has caused.
And it even divides us from reality itself when it denies the scientific fact that human life begins at fertilization.
COLUMBIA: This year’s theme of unity is also a founding principle of the Knights of Columbus. What role do you see Knights playing, both individually and collectively, in the pro-life movement today?
JEANNE MANCINI: The Knights have been a vital force in the March for Life from the very start, and they continue to be its backbone in many ways. From providing the operations infrastructure (over 100 Knights volunteer as marshals at each annual march) to organizing parish and community participation, the impact of this partnership should not be underestimated.
Because the Knights have such a unified spiritual and charitable mission to help the weak and vulnerable, which goes back to their founder’s deep concern for widows and orphans, they naturally desire to protect the unborn and assist pregnant women in need. Also, the fact that Knights of Columbus are so active throughout the United States obviously helps draw people to the March each year, including thousands of young people. In short, I don’t think the March would be the broad-reaching event and experience it is today without the aid of the Knights of Columbus.
COLUMBIA: There has been a lot of discussion this past year about public protests. Can you speak to the fact that the March for Life is the largest peaceful protest for human rights in the United States?
JEANNE MANCINI: This will be the 48th annual March for Life. We have marched every year against the human rights abuse of abortion and have always taken the peaceful approach. We have marched through blizzards, in subzero temperatures, during government shutdowns, after terrorist attacks, and we will march again this year.
The underlying principle of the pro-life movement is respect for the inherent dignity of the human person, and that is made obvious by the March for Life participants. Marchers are primarily young people, and have a contagious joy as they fight to protect the poorest of the poor, the most vulnerable unborn. We are marching against violence in the womb and bearing witness to love and the beautiful miracle of life.
COLUMBIA: How is the COVID-19 pandemic expected to affect the march in 2021? How can people unite in support of life if they are unable to attend in person?
JEANNE MANCINI: Given the pandemic landscape, we will take — and require — necessary health precautions to protect marchers, as well increase our virtual presence for friends to participate from home. Check out our website at marchforlife.org to get specific and up-to-date information.
COLUMBIA: What signs of hope do you see that the pro-life cause is changing minds and hearts?
JEANNE MANCINI: There are so many tangible signs of hope! The abortion rate and numbers are hitting historic lows — lower than any year since Roe v. Wade. Public opinion polls continue to reveal that most Americans believe abortion is morally wrong. And contrary to Roe’s legacy of abortion on demand, the annual Knights of Columbus/Marist Poll shows that 75% of Americans would limit abortion to, at most, the first three months of pregnancy.
The number of abortion centers is decreasing and the number of pregnancy care centers is increasing. I recommend reading a wonderful report about these centers recently published by the Charlotte Lozier Institute titled A Legacy of Life and Love: Pregnancy Centers Stand the Test of Time.
Despite these signs of hope, the reality remains that more than 800,000 abortions occur annually and that any abortion takes the life of one and wounds another. All of this presents a heartbreakingly daunting task; our work to build a true culture of life is cut out for us.
COLUMBIA: With looming threats to pro-life legislative measures, how can the pro-life movement respond and continue to build on the momentum it has gained in recent years?
JEANNE MANCINI: It is critical to stay engaged and communicate effectively with elected officials on pro-life policies. One way that pro-life Americans can do this is through March for Life Action and our broad activist network, which makes contacting your representatives on the most important policies easy. You can sign up at marchforlifeaction.org.
It is important to support groups like the March for Life that strongly advocate for pro-life policies at all levels of government. Stay educated, run for local office, write opinion pieces. There is no lack of work or need.
Finally, please remember that the most effective way to build a culture of life in a hostile environment is through the spiritual means of prayer and fasting.
Five Ways to Get Involved
JANUARY 22 marks 48 years since the infamous Roe v. Wade U.S. Supreme Court decision, which decriminalized abortion throughout the country. Here are five ways you can observe the anniversary and unite with others in peaceful protest, advocating for the defense of life.
March in person. In addition to the March for Life in Washington, D.C., many local marches are still scheduled across the United States and beyond. Visit marchforlife.org and click “state marches” for more details. If you plan to attend a march, be sure to check the organizers’ website for details on safety and travel restrictions and other important information.
Go virtual. Online components have been added to the March for Life in Washington and many regional pro-life events. Visit marchforlife.org or your local event’s website for updates on virtual programming opportunities.
Drive for life. Organize a car caravan through your town to promote the cause of life. Ask participants to decorate their vehicles with pro-life signs and flags, and invite homeowners along the route to show support with their own signs.
Pray for life. Join Catholics across the country in praying the 9 Days for Life Novena Jan. 21-29. Subscribe for a daily email reminder by visiting 9daysforlife.com. Participate in the livestreamed National Prayer Vigil for Life (Jan. 28-29), which will include a rosary, Holy Hour and Mass. For the complete schedule, visit nationalshrine.org.
Order Knights of Columbus pro-life resources. Council officers can order free pro-life signs through the K of C website. Pro-life apparel, masks, yard signs, car flags and more are also available for purchase at knightsgear.com.
Canada’s Virtual March for Life
ORGANIZERS of Canada’s National March for Life expect to rally in person May 13, 2021, in Ottawa, Ontario. But they are well prepared to pivot if COVID-19 interferes. Last spring, tens of thousands of people, including Knights and their families, participated in the first-ever Virtual National March for Life, which consisted of a series of inspirational events May 10-15.
The National March for Life has been organized annually since 1998 by the Campaign Life Coalition (CLC), Canada’s largest pro-life political organization, with support from the Ontario State Council. Last year’s march was scheduled for May 14 until pandemic restrictions forced a change of plans. Instead, organizers livestreamed nearly a week of programming that included screenings of pro-life films, a candlelight vigil and a memorial Mass for the late pro-life hero Basilian Father Alphonse de Valk, who died last April.
The National Mass for Life, celebrated by Archbishop Terrence Prendergast of Ottawa, was livestreamed from the Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica on May 14 — the anniversary of the bill that opened the floodgates to abortion on demand in 1969.
A program titled “Be Not Afraid” was then broadcast, featuring interviews with Canadian pro-life leaders such as CLC president Jeff Gunnarson, a member of Galt Council 2184 in Cambridge, Ontario.
Other civil and religious leaders, including Supreme Warden Graydon Nicholas and Ontario State Deputy David Peters, delivered greetings and remarks during the Virtual Rally and March that followed.
The final day of the Virtual March for Life featured a pro-life webinar that replaced the traditional youth conference.
CLC vice president Matt Wojciechowski, who recently joined the Order, said, “We hope and pray that the thousands who tuned into the various events will have the courage to take what they learned and be pro-life witnesses in their schools, churches and communities.”
Native Americans Proclaim Life is Sacred
THE KNIGHTS OF COLUMBUS strengthened its partnership with the Native American pro-life organization Life is Sacred this past year, after welcoming more than 200 members of the group to Washington, D.C., for the 2020 March for Life.
“Native Americans are our brothers and sisters in Christ, and they are so often forgotten by the culture at large,” Supreme Knight Carl Anderson told members of the organization following the march. “Together we march as people of faith, standing up for the rights of every human life.”
After COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic, K of C councils in Arizona, New Mexico, South Dakota and Hawaii helped Life is Sacred to raise money, buy essential supplies and deliver more than 37,000 boxes of food to native and indigenous people across several reservations and communities. The Supreme Council contributed more than $40,000 to these ongoing efforts.
“It is a common principle among Indigenous peoples of the Americas that humanity and personhood are not distinguished by an arbitrary barrier such as birth,” explained Supreme Director Patrick Mason, a member of the Osage Nation and one of the founders of Life is Sacred. “All life is sacred, at all points in time, and at all points in human development, from conception to natural death.”
Mason, an attorney who also serves as assistant supreme secretary, further noted that the Navajo Nation Supreme Court has affirmed the sanctity of human life. In a 2010 decision, the court stated that “the child, even the unborn child, occupies a space in Navajo culture that can best be described as holy or sacred.”