Marching through the years

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The year was 1976, and Lucille Maloney was in the hospital, suffering heavy blood loss after a miscarriage. Feeling woozy, she was placed in a recovery room with some 30 other women. Though in a daze, it didn't take her long to realize that these women were recovering not from miscarriages but abortions.

"There I was having lost my baby and they had all aborted theirs," said Maloney. "It was just an eye opener, and (my husband and I) started marching as a result."

This year, just like the past 42 years, thousands of people will descend on the nation's capital Jan. 22 to protest abortion on the anniversary of its legalization: the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade. Today the march is known for its abundance of young people, and many participants may not have been born when the first March for Life took place in 1974. Others, like Maloney, have seen the giant celebration of life grow since its humble beginnings.

Longtime March for Lifer and parishioner of St. James Church in Falls Church, Margaret Whitehead gave birth to two of her four boys in the late 1960s and early 1970s. At that time, she and her husband Kenneth were living in Maryland, where even before Roe v. Wade, the state legislature passed a bill allowing abortion, which was vetoed by the governor.

"I was feeding my baby when they passed their abortion law and I just wept," said Whitehead. "When you have a baby you know how original they are. You just can't accept that they're expendable," she said. After Roe v. Wade, Whitehead, her husband or one of her four sons have made it to every march.

Although the march was not as organized in its inception, Whitehead believes its phenomenal success is one of the most amazing grassroots movements of the age.

"The march is so important because it brings so many people together. Even though it isn't widely reported, our elected officials can't help but notice. It's important to let people know we haven't gone away," said Whitehead.

Up until about five years ago, Mary and Maurie Stevens were in charge of organizing the March for Life bus for St. Philip Church in Falls Church. Each year they would publicize a month beforehand, placing signup sheets and a collage of March for Life pictures in the back of church. On the morning of the march, they wore matching scarves to be spotted easily and carried a large St. Philip banner.

"We never lost anybody; the Blessed Mother always heard our prayers," said Mary.

Each year at the march they would listen to the speeches of politicians, ministers and pro-life activists. "(March for Life founder) Nellie Gray spoke every year until she passed on," said Maurie. "It was amazing to see the diversity down there of religions and races, every nationality and faith."

The Stevens saw the progression of the march's starting point from the White House Ellipse to the Washington Monument to the National Mall. As the marching began, their parish priest would lead the rosary. Without fail, they would run into old friends or see buses from Mary's home town of Louisville, Ky., or even members of an all-boys school wearing hats of his patron, St. Maurice.

Maloney always was encouraged by the friendly crowd. "People were always trading buttons and pushing someone else's babies up the hill," she said.

Though Maurie is saddened that there's still a reason to march, he feels the march consistently has been a celebration of life.

"From the beginning, the March for Life has always been very warm, despite the weather," he said.

Di Mauro can be reached at zdimauro@catholicherald.com or on Twitter @zoeydimauro.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016