Annual tradition resumes for the first time since 2020
Notre Dame students embarked on a pilgrimage to the annual March for Life in Washington D.C.—representing the university’s continued commitment to upholding the sanctity of human life—for the first time since 2020. The march’s 50th anniversary was also its first since the overturning of Roe v. Wade, which returned the issue of abortion to the state level.
In the aftermath of Roe, some students questioned the necessity of attending a march at the national level. The Notre Dame March Team—responsible for facilitating the university’s attendance at the march and comprised of members of Notre Dame Right to Life and the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture—grappled with this challenge. March Team leader Bridget Arbuckle noted, “The main challenge was educating people about why it was still important to go to the National March for Life in light of the Dobbs decision.”
Overwhelmingly, however, students understood the purpose of the national march and, as host to the largest pro-life organization on a college campus, the significance of Notre Dame’s attendance. As junior Janey Olohan explained, “Especially now, it is essential to keep the pro-life message alive through the March for Life … setting an example for people everywhere.” Freshman Theo Austin further stressed, “The focus [may have] changed from the courts to the legislators, but the mission has not changed.”
The march itself maintained many elements constitutive of its past occurrences, while enacting key changes in recognition of the movement’s shifting focus. The pre-march rally was headlined by actor Jonathan Roumie of the internationally-renowned T.V. series The Chosen, and although Olohan observed that attendance at the march “seemed much smaller” than in past years, she was struck by the overwhelming number of “young people.” The march route’s ultimate destination was shifted from the Supreme Court to Capitol Hill, and senior and first-time march attendee Blake Perry “was impressed with how peaceful the march was,” further noting the inspiration of “each marcher’s commitment to the pro-life movement.”
For Notre Dame students in particular, the trip to D.C. served as a pilgrimage in recognition of the sanctity of life. “Praying together at Mass before the march,” Arbuckle remarked, “was a great way to center [Notre Dame’s] focus.” She confessed she would have liked to “try to emphasize the pilgrimage aspect more” by providing “Mass on Saturday morning [and] some other pilgrimage opportunities,” but even in the absence of a more structured agenda, many students took advantage of D.C’s religious activities, using their free day after the March to visit sites, such as the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and the Saint John Paul II National Shrine.
New to Notre Dame’s march tradition was the employment of signs from all fifty states, representing the homes of Right to Life students. March Team member Cam White explained the signs “were intended to represent Notre Dame’s support for pro-life causes in each state” and to “reflect [the university’s] commitment [to life] at the state level as well as the national level.” Although the signs exhibited some structural difficulties—with one sign holder observing they were “not particularly well-constructed”—the message they conveyed was of central importance to White. “Our Right to Life club has members from [nearly] all fifty states and beyond,” he shared, “so it is in a pretty unique position” to represent the pro-life movement’s continued commitment to ending abortion, even at the state level.
Despite boasting nationwide representation, Notre Dame’s attendance at the march was the lowest in recent history. The roughly 500 pilgrims in attendance pales in comparison to the university’s peak years of over 1,000. Arbuckle speculates that the “unprecedented circumstances” surrounding this year’s post-Roe, post-COVID march may account for the disparity. Regardless, she shared she was “happy” with the attendance and hopes the March Team has “restarted a tradition so that the number will get back up to a thousand.”
Although fewer in number, this year’s pilgrims still managed to achieve the personal formation characteristic of the march. Perry remarked, “I loved being at the march because I felt like I was part of this watershed moment in American history—a turning point for pro-life advocates across the country—and hope to continue attending the march to support this movement in the future.” Olohan further asserted, “There is no greater cause than the fight for life,” ensuring her commitment to attending the march “as long as there is [one].”
The future of the national march remains uncertain, but Arbuckle maintains the importance of Notre Dame’s continued presence “in whatever form the national march takes” though recognizing the importance of being “present at state marches as well.” In the aftermath of Roe, the mission of the pro-life movement is evolving, but this year’s march demonstrates its continued presence on a national scale. “The importance of this issue is paramount to today’s cultural and political landscape,” Austin asserts. “A culture of life is worth fighting for.”
Mattie Lossing is a sophomore studying political science and theology. When she’s not complaining about how cold it is in Indiana, you can find her reading on the beach in her hometown of Savannah, Georgia, which she will definitively tell you is the best city in the Union. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo Credit: Notre Dame Right to Life