I believe in my heart that we are on the cusp of overturning Roe v. Wade. And while that will not end,
throughout the United States, the human rights violation that abortion is, it is the essential first step in
doing so. (Overturning Roe will return the issue to the people, through their elected representatives,
where it belongs in a democracy.)
One of the chief reasons we are on that cusp is because Americans have refused to be bullied into
silence by the Supreme Court, in its grandiose claim (in Roe and afterwards) to have settled an issue of
national importance, in the words of Planned Parenthood v. Casey: “when the Court’s interpretation of
the Constitution calls the contending sides of a national controversy to end their national division by
accepting a common mandate rooted in the Constitution”.
Abraham Lincoln refused to accept such high-handed nonsense (technically called, judicial imperialism)
with the Dred Scott decision and slavery. For the people to accept the idea that the Court could decide,
for all time, a fundamental issue unjustly would be to “resign their government into the hands of that
eminent tribunal”. Lincoln refused to do it.
And so did Nellie Grey.
As Lincoln refused to accept the “constitutionalization” by the Supreme Court of a right to slavery, Nellie
Grey refused to accept the “constitutionalization” of a right to abortion. And thus was born what is, I
believe, the longest running civil rights movement in American history, the March for Life.
Nellie Grey did not create the March alone, of course, but she was the fire that drove it. It was an evil
whose existence could not be tolerated. As she said, “I don’t understand slavery. I don’t understand the
Holocaust. I don’t understand abortion.”
Nellie Grey was sadly wrong in expecting the wrong to be corrected immediately. It is an evil that has
proved to have enduring power (though, as noted, I believe that power is eroding through deeper
understanding of the origins of human life, the realization that abortion harms women, and the
willingness of young people to be open-minded and thus to grasp the essential justice of the pro-life
But what we must not miss is the incredible enduring witness of the March. Every year, for forty years,
rain or shine, snow or wind, the Marchers come. And every year they seem to get younger.
But make no mistake about it — immense political pressure was on the pro-life movement to go away, to
go home, to keep any objections for, perhaps, one’s conscience but not to express them in the public
square. Yet the commitment and resolve of Nellie Grey (and many like her) resisted that seemingly
irresistible tide (after all the Court had summoned everyone to accept its “common mandate”). And 40
years later, the March continues.
This is the cause to which Nellie Grey gave her life. It is one to which we (as Americans committed to
equal justice under law) should give ours.
She is a great role model and she will be missed. But we will keep marching.