Although they’re just 17 and 18, respectively, Marnie Lersch and Grace Robinson are already seasoned pro-life activists. Both high-school seniors have traveled at least once to Washington, D.C., for the March for Life, which is held annually in protest of abortion, and both recently received the diocesan Hands of Christ recognition.
Marnie attended the march in January 2003 and planned to participate again last year, but a blizzard struck the weekend before the march and she was forced to stay home. Barring another surprise snowstorm, however, Marnie plans to attend the 33rd annual march later this month.
Grace was in seventh grade when she participated in her first March for Life in 2001. She also marched in 2003 and 2004, and planned to march last year, until the snowstorm hit. This year the march falls during Grace’s midterm-exam week at her school, so she’s not sure she’ll be able to attend, but she’s still as passionate as ever about the pro-life movement.
The first March for Life was held exactly one year after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Jan. 22, 1973, decision in the landmark Roe v. Wade case, which legalized abortion in the United States. The march always takes place either on Jan. 22 or the next closest day when Congress is in session. This year the march will be held Jan. 23.
Each year the march draws tens of thousands of participants, and several hundred people from the Diocese of Rochester usually make the trip to the nation’s capital. Diocesan marchers usually fill several buses, which depart from different locations throughout the diocese the night before the march. Traveling through the night, the marchers arrive in Washington, D.C., the next morning.
Grace first decided to join the march after learning about abortion procedures and the harm they can cause to both mother and child, she said.
“I was just kind of disgusted. I feel bad for the women, too. They feel like it’s their only option,” Grace said, noting that she became involved because she feels even one single person can change the political realm.
Although Grace felt strongly about the pro-life movement, she sometimes felt alone, as if other kids her own age didn’t share her views or care about the issue. That all changed after her first March for Life, where she was shocked to see throngs of teens and young adults expressing their views.
“I felt empowered. There were so many of us,” Grace said. “I didn’t expect it at all. It seemed like the majority were young people in high school or college.”
When she was in 10th grade, Grace stood up in front of her fellow parishioners at St. Januarius Parish in Naples and talked about her experiences with the march and her pro-life views. Her mother, Katie, also speaks to parishioners each year, encouraging them to attend the march and support the pro-life movement.
“We try to build awareness of the issue, and the march is a really good vehicle to do that,” said Katie, who has participated in the march six times. “It is important for the youth to be involved in the march. They are the ones who will be shaping our country’s laws, and it is so good that they have a solid background in defending the sanctity of life.”
Marnie first became interested in the March for Life after hearing Katie speak at St. Januarius, where she is also a parishioner.
“It was the first time that I’d heard of it, so I was jumping at the chance to go. A couple of my friends were going, and I thought it would be fun,” Marnie said.
Each year, the marchers from St. Januarius travel to Washington with teens from St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Irondequoit. After arriving in the nation’s capital, participants attend an early morning Mass. Marnie said she was surprised to see so many teens at the Mass.
“It was packed. Seeing all the people there, it was amazing. I think there were 10,000 people, and they had all come for this one reason,” Marnie said.
After leaving Mass, the marchers head to the National Mall, where the march begins after a rally. From there participants proceed down Constitution Avenue to the Capitol and Supreme Court buildings, where the march ends. Marnie said she really enjoyed marching past so many of the city’s landmarks and historic buildings.
“It was really cool to be marching through Washington, D.C.,” Marnie said, noting that many people stopped to watch the marchers pass. “We were blocking the streets. It was really interesting for me to inform (bystanders) about it. I had one person who asked me what made us decide to drive all the way from upstate New York down to D.C. I was like, ‘This is my faith; this is what I believe in. There’s no other place I’d rather be.'”
Marnie said she would belong to the pro-life movement even if her faith didn’t encourage it, simply because “it’s the right thing to do.”
“Life is something important. I would never want to take something like that away,” she said.
After reaching the end of the march route, the marchers usually head back to the bus and arrive back home by about 11 p.m. or midnight, Grace said. Participants usually don’t realize how tired they are until they get back on the bus and realize they have to go to school or work the next day, but the march is a very worthwhile activity nonetheless, she said.
“It’s a really good experience. If you have the opportunity, you should go,” Grace said.