Marches for Life Go Global
1/1/2018by Corinna Turner
Undaunted by challenges, the international pro-life movement grows in strength and solidarity
The March for Life began in the United States, but it’s now a global phenomenon, with marches in countries as diverse as Mexico, Poland, Nigeria, France and Australia, to name just a few.
According to Niamh Uí Bhriain of Rally for Life in Dublin, “The March for Life in the U.S. has definitely inspired many people throughout the world to come together and stand up for life.”
Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life Education & Defense Fund in Washington, D.C., noted that pro-life leaders from numerous countries have attended Washington’s march.
“They go home and, in an enculturated way, build something that’s unique to their local community,” she said.
Inspiration and enculturation make each different prolife march unique — from the bagpipers and impromptu Irish dancing in Dublin, to the joyous and peaceful, but comparatively sedate, “LifeFest” in Birmingham, U.K., to the full-on pop concert atmosphere in Lima, Peru.
This growing international movement is also notably youthful.
Paul Forget, a pro-life leader from Belgium, observed, “March for Life in Brussels is organized by young people, really young. The average age of our organizers is 23, like me. We represent a new generation that believes life must be defended.”
John Smyth of the Pro-Life Campaign in Ireland agreed. “It is such a youth-driven movement,” he said. “It’s going from strength to strength.”
And it’s the same phenomenon everywhere — with the exception of Africa, where the young are indeed pro-life, but so is the older generation.
Obianuju Ekeocha is the founder of Culture of Life Africa, which helps organize pro-life marches throughout the continent.
“Our groundbreaking marches attract many people: young and old, strong and frail, rich and poor,” she said. “With remarkable African vitality, verve and vigor, they sing, dance and pray, witnessing to the sanctity and dignity of life, motherhood and marriage. Our marches are a powerful testimony of the unanimous pro-life stance in the typical African society.”
As Bishop Emmanuel Badejo of Oyo, Nigeria, put it, “In Africa we have a saying: There is always room for one more child!”
Nevertheless, while many African countries have laws against abortion, they are coming under immense pressure from Western organizations.
“The enemy of life has financial means to achieve a great success in the Western world,” said Virginia Coda Nunziante of March for Life Italy. “Now they are striving to ‘colonize’ Africa in this way. Indeed, we are in a globalized world and this is a global fight.”
One of the blessings brought by the spread of the March for Life movement is the feeling of unity and solidarity, both nationally and internationally.
“It is one family — a united voice in different countries across the world,” said Ben Thatcher, one of the directors of March for Life U.K. “We can help each other, we can learn from each other and we can achieve more together.”
In the United States, to be vocally pro-life is not unusual, but in many countries — even pro-life nations such as Ireland, Poland and Peru — people who believe in the right for life often feel alienated or even threatened.
At the 2016 March for the Sanctity of Life in Warsaw, Archbishop Henryk Hoser of Warszawa-Praga described attending the march as “an act of bravery.”
Carol Maraví, spokesperson for the March for Life in Lima, also described the pressure pro-lifers feel: “We are under attack and need a march to be the face of our prolife movement.”
A march shatters the lie that pro-lifers are alone. It also encourages networking and new friendships, sending participants away buzzing with excitement, new confidence and a heightened commitment to help women and unborn babies.
In France, despite an atmosphere of aggressive secularism, a pro-life or pro-family march has taken place in Paris every year since 2005, with the exception of January 2016, when the march was canceled due terrorism. Last year, the march was back and bigger than ever, with more than 50,000 turning out to support life — making it the largest march in continental Europe.
Still, the pro-life movement in France is facing unprecedented levels of opposition. In February 2017, the French Parliament approved a bill criminalizing various forms of pro-life witness as “obstruction to abortion,” shocking observers around the world.
“The purpose of this law is to punish any information that might dissuade women from having an abortion,” explained Nicolas Sévillia of the Jérôme Lejeune Foundation, which helps organize the Paris march. “This law is a scandal, since any objective information about the reality of abortion is by nature dissuasive!”
Thierry de la Villejégu, executive director of the Jérôme Lejeune Foundation, asked, “Will all the marchers for life be condemned for illegal interference against abortion?”
Regardless, preparations for the Jan. 21, 2018, march are well underway.
“This year, the theme will be light — the light of life, in opposition to the darkness of death,” said Sévillia. “To see the light means to be lucky enough to live.”
CORINNA TURNER is a Carnegie Medal-nominated British Catholic author.
The Walk for Life pro-life marches, spearheaded by the Knights of Columbus in the Philippines, began in Luzon in 2009 and have since spread to Visayas and Mindanao. The 2017 marches in Quezon City, Antipolo City, Iloilo City, Davao City and Bacolod City drew an average of 5,000 participants each. Abortion is illegal in the Philippines; the marches serve to affirm human dignity and promote Catholic teaching.
The Mexico City March for Life began in 2012, and the 2017 event drew some 13,000 people. In 2007, elective abortion up to 12 weeks was legalized in the federal district of Mexico City. The legality of abortion varies in the other states of Mexico.
Beginning in Warsaw in 2009, marches for life in Poland are now organized in 140 cities. Last year, some 200,000 people participated across the nation to promote teachings on family, love and responsibility and to affirm the value of human life. A 1993 act banned abortion in Poland outside of extraordinary circumstances, replacing Soviet-era legislation broadly allowing abortion.
The second pro-life march affirming the importance of the family took place in Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, in 2017. Organized by the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations with aid from local Knights, the event drew several thousand participants. The cities of Khmelnytskyi and Ivano-Frankivsk also host marches.
The All-Ireland Rally for Life and the National Vigil for Life take place in Dublin in alternating years. Both have focused recently on protecting the Eighth Amendment of the Irish constitution, which recognizes the right to life of preborn children. The 2017 rally drew some 80,000 participants.
The National March for Life and Family takes place annually in Prague. The 2017 march drew more than 5,000 participants and was accompanied by an appeal by the prime minister for the state to offer more support for families, rather than offering abortion. Elective abortion was legalized in 1957, when the former Czechoslovakia was under Soviet control
March for Life UK first took place in Birmingham in 2012, aiming to revive the pro-life marches and rallies that took place in the United Kingdom in the 1970s and ‘80s. Abortion up to 24 weeks gestation was legalized in the United Kingdom by the Abortion Act of 1967.
The annual Marcia Nazionale per la Vita in Rome protests the 1978 legalization of abortion in Italy. The march draws 15,000- 20,000 participants.
The March for Life in the Netherlands first took place in 1992 in Amsterdam. The march was moved to The Hague, the Netherland’s primary seat of government and one of the host cities of the United Nations. The 2017 march drew 15,000 people. Abortion is included the Netherland’s national health coverage
Switzerland’s first Marsch fürs Läbe took place in 2009. The annual event, which draws several thousand participants, was banned in 2017, but organizers plan a 2018 march in Bern, the Swiss capital. Elective abortion up to 12 weeks gestation was legalized in Switzerland in 2002.
Annual pro-life marches take place across Spain, including in the capital, Madrid. In 2017, some 100,000 people took part nationwide. The marches occur at different times every year, adapting to current political and social events. In Spain, abortion is legal in some circumstances up to 22 weeks gestation.
The first national Romanian march for life (Marşul pentru viaţă) took place in 2011, and in 2015, the event became the March for Life Romania and the Republic of Moldova. By 2017 the march included 287 cities across the two nations, with 110,000 participants in Romania alone. Abortion was legalized in Romania by the communist regime in 1958, restricted in 1967-1989 and reinstated in 1990.
The March for Life Brussels had its start in 2010 and draws some 4,000 participants. The march affirms human dignity from conception to natural death in the face of national policies that increasingly encourage a materialist view of the person. It is meant to reopen the debate on abortion, as well as on euthanasia, which was legalized in 2002.
The first March for Life in Germany took place around 2000. Since taking the name Marsch für das Leben (March for Life) in 2010, the event has grown. The 2017 Berlin march drew some 7,500 people. Abortion is technically unlawful in Germany, but broad exceptions in the law made it widely accessible.
The Catholic Archdiocese of Owerri organized the country’s first pro-life march in June 2013. Led by Archbishop Anthony Obinna, it was devoted to the theme Protecting Human Life from Conception to Natural Death and attracted thousands of participants. In June 2014, 11 bishops led a larger march in Abuja, with similar events multiplying across the country since that time.
Regional pro-life marches began in 2010, organized with assistance from Human Life International. The first march in Budaka attracted 2,000 participants, with similar turnout in subsequent marches in Arya, Soroti, Mbale and Tororo. The most recent march in 2016 drew 3,000 participants in Wakiso, near Kampala. Abortion is illegal except for medical reasons, but international population control groups are exerting pressure on the government to loosen restrictions.
Since 2002, the annual Marcha por la Vida in Lima has been held March 25, the Day of the Unborn Child. The Archdiocese of Lima has organized the march since 2013, each year welcoming more than 100,000 participants. The most recent march in 2016 attracted over 750,000 — the largest event in Peruvian history. The event was canceled in 2017 due to catastrophic flooding. Peru permits abortion in cases where the mother’s life or health is at risk.
Beginning in 1994, annual marches have been held in Seoul. Other pro-life marches and events take place throughout the year, with the next large event slated for March 8. Abortion is illegal in the Republic of Korea though not uncommon; since 1973, there have also been legal exceptions.
An annual pro-life rally (now March for Life) in Brisbane and the March for the Babies in Melbourne both developed in 2009. Four thousand people took part in the 2017 Brisbane March for Life, coinciding with the vote on an abortion decriminalization bills, which were withdrawn. In Australia, abortion laws are determined by state governments.
The first March for Life in Tokyo took place in 2014. Initially spearheaded by a single individual, the Tokyo March is growing in a country largely unaware of the pro-life movement, and in 2017 the march drew 150 people. Laws enacted in 1948 and 1949 legalized abortion in Japan.