Quinnlyn Nelson said it took her a while Thursday to grasp the scope of the moment.
Nelson and fellow Trinity High School senior Brittany Berger were among a select few students from North Dakota Catholic high schools given the opportunity to lead the annual March for Life rally against abortion at the National Mall in Washington.
The march drew an estimated 750,000 pro-life supporters, something Nelson said she didn’t immediately understand as she held the March for Life banner and walked at the very front of the rally.
“We were marching and we were going up this hill, and we looked back and I couldn’t see where the line ended,” Nelson said. “Knowing there are this many people that are passionate about this cause, this issue, was unbelievable.”
Fargo Shanley High School was chosen by organizers to lead this year’s rally and included students from Trinity, Minot Bishop Ryan and Bismarck St. Mary’s by their side. Nelson and Berger represented Trinity at the front of the march, while 53 other students from the school and eight chaperones walked behind them.
“It’s a dream come true for me to be at the front,” said Berger, who attended the march for the third time. “Looking back and seeing thousands and thousands of people, I’ve never seen that many people in one place in my entire life.”
The March for Life began in 1974 as a small pro-life rally against the Roe vs. Wade ruling that established a woman’s right to have an abortion. The decision was issued Jan. 22, 1973, and Thursday marked the ruling’s 42nd anniversary.
Rev. Thomas Grafsgaard, Trinity’s chaplain, led the group and said not only was he pleased with the turnout, but also the level of support he saw from young people from across the nation.
“That’s what brought me the greatest joy today,” Grafsgaard said. “Young people love the church and they want to be challenged. They want to be challenged to the call that Christ has given them.”
Trinity’s students held signs that read “I am the Pro-Life Generation,” “Save the Storks,” and “Defend Life,” among others, and dressed in their school colors with matching red “March for Life” scarfs.
Berger said she was proud to see hundreds of thousands of people around her own age calling for an end to abortion.
“Every year, the pro-life movement gets bigger and younger,” Berger said. “Abortion has always been such a touchy subject. This generation, we want to do something good for the world. We’re taking a look at it and realizing that this is denying human beings the basic human rights to life. We want people to start thinking about it and what it actually does.”
Grafsgaard said not everyone marching in the rally was from a religious group, adding he saw feminist and atheist groups.
“There’s so many different cultures, so many diverse people here and then we have this one thing in common,” Nelson said.
Sierra Roshau, a Trinity graduate and president of Collegians for Life at the University of Mary in Bismarck, said about 40 students from her school attended the rally.
“We all just believe that it’s an important issue and we all are standing firm in it,” said Roshau, who made her fourth trip to the march. “I think just the fact that so many people are willing to come out, travel so far, to walk up and down and stand witness for this; a lot of people believe in it and there are lot of people willing to fight for it. And I think that it’s something that people need to listen to and it’s something we need to change.”
But the March for Life movement wasn’t the only one present in Washington. Pro-choice activists also took to the streets Thursday near the U.S. Supreme Court building to protest the march, and even blocked the anti-abortion group from continuing. Capitol Police detained several pro-choice advocates for attempting to block the march.
During the protests, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill permanently barring federal funding of abortions after Republican leaders dropped harsher anti-abortion legislation due to opposition from some of the party’s moderate lawmakers.
President Barack Obama said in a statement released by the White House that the House-passed bill “would intrude on women’s reproductive freedom and access to health care and unnecessarily restrict the private insurance choices that consumers have.”
The bill that was approved, on a mostly partisan vote of 242-179, prohibits federal subsidies for people using health insurance plans that cover abortions. It faces opposition in the 100-member Senate, where at least 60 votes are needed to clear procedural roadblocks.
In Dickinson, St. Patrick’s Catholic Church held a silent vigil on Third Avenue West, outside of the church.
The gathering drew a crowd of about 100, Rev. Todd Kreitinger estimated. He said people of multiple religious backgrounds were happy “to come out and just be able to show our support, knowing that some of the young people and the others were at the Washington, D.C., March for Life.”