Jenny Swope: Changing lives one march at a time for four decades
Every year since 1974, around Jan. 22, an amazing phenomenon takes place in Washington, D.C.: hundreds of thousands of people of all races, beliefs, ages and social backgrounds and from every corner of the U.S. converge upon the nation's capital for what is referred to as the March for Life. They come for two main reasons: to celebrate the miracle which is every human life, and to seek to reverse the 1973 Supreme Court decision of Roe vs. Wade, which legalized abortion on demand in this country.
I attended my first March for Life in 1979, at the age of 16, making the 12-hour overnight trek from Ohio in a chartered bus filled mostly with high school students like myself. I was told there would be a lot of people, but there was no way my young mind could have been prepared for what I experienced: a vast throng, more than I had ever seen in one place in my life, filling Constitution Avenue from one end to the other as far as the eye could see — young and old, families with children, doctors and nurses, priests and nuns, and groups holding large banners with the name of their school or club.
It was such an impressive sight that I noticed even the Washington, D.C., "natives," no doubt long accustomed to seeing crowds demonstrating for one cause or another, leaned their heads out of their office windows into the frigid January air to stare at this procession that seemed to go on and on.
Despite the numbers, however, the gathering was orderly, peaceful, prayerful, even joyful. They smiled, they sang, they chatted with friends and with people they had met only that day. All were united in the conviction that every human life, born or unborn, sick or healthy, is precious and ought to be protected under the law. Equally strong was their belief that a woman undergoing a crisis pregnancy deserves compassionate care rather than the violence and pain of abortion. As one sign eloquently stated, "We love them both!"
That was the sixth annual March for Life, and the estimated attendance was a "mere" 100,000 people. This number has swelled to five times as many in 2013. This year, again, a half million people are expected to march; approximately half of them will be under the age of 30. New Hampshire alone has chartered buses for several hundred, and two of my own teenage children will be among them.
I urge anyone who has not witnessed this amazing event to go see it in person. Even when the media do not choose to ignore it entirely, no news coverage can do it justice. I can think of nothing to compare with it on the national or international stage, either now or any time in the past. For what other cause in history are hundreds of thousands inspired to carve time from their hectic schedules and travel for hours or days at their own expense, enduring many sacrifices, in order to peacefully protest outdoors in the dead of winter? And this massive event has taken place not just once, but for 41 years running.
Further, those who take part do so not for their own benefit, but on behalf of people they have never met, and who have no voice of their own.
When in 1973 seven men on the U.S. Supreme Court overturned every existing law that restricted abortion in this country, it was assumed that the debate was over and that the voices of protest would soon be silenced. Yet every year these voices grow stronger, younger and more effective. More young people than ever consider themselves "pro-life," and there are now more crisis pregnancy centers offering women and their children true compassion and practical help, free of charge, than there are abortion clinics.
Someday I hope to attend a March for Life that celebrates not only the value of all human life, but the closing of every abortion clinic in this nation, whose services will no longer be needed or desired.
Jenny Swope and her husband Paul, of Derry, met for the first time at a pro-life youth event. They have been married for 29 years, and have 9 children.