(OSV News) – Against gray skies and falling snow, thousands of people flocked Jan. 19 to the nation’s capital for the national March for Life, gathering them under the theme “With every woman, for every child,” showing their resolve amid the piercing cold to make abortion eventually “unthinkable” in the U.S.

“If not us, then who? If not now, then when?” Miguel Ángel Leyva, 21, a Catholic and third-year college student from Detroit, told OSV News.

Pro-life demonstrators carry a banner towards the U.S. Supreme Court building while participating in the 51st annual March for Life in Washington Jan. 19, 2024. (OSV News photo/Leslie E. Kossoff)

The March for Life began in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, which once legalized abortion nationwide, and gathers pro-life advocates from across the U.S. This year’s march — its second year since the Supreme Court overturned Roe in 2022 — took place as winter weather put much of the U.S. in a deep freeze, snarling transportation and canceling flights.

While the crowds appeared smaller than in years past, this year’s march showed a movement eager to up its game to help American society embrace a culture that affirms and supports the dignity of all human life, and not just for the unborn.

Levya said the presence of so many people amid the punishing weather conditions “shows there are many who are willing to serve God and stand up for what is right.”

Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life Education and Defense Fund, and others emphasized during the March for Life Rally that not only was the national march there to stay, but pro-life marches would be multiplying throughout all 50 states in the coming years.

“We will keep marching every year at the national level, as well as in our states, until our nation’s laws reflect the basic truth that all human life is created equal and is worthy of protection,” Mancini told the thousands gathered on the National Mall.

Speaker after speaker at the march rally emphasized its theme of making abortion “unthinkable,” in particular by emphasizing the culture-changing and life-saving work of pregnancy resource centers and related efforts.

House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., addressed the crowd and shared that he himself was once an unplanned pregnancy for his parents, just teenagers at the time, who chose life.

Johnson said the U.S. House of Representatives passed two important pieces of legislation right before the march: the Pregnant Students’ Rights Act for colleges and universities to follow and another bill that prohibits the Health and Human Services Department from excluding pregnancy resource centers from obtaining federal funds.

Johnson criticized President Joe Biden for his administration’s efforts to prevent pregnancy resource centers from accessing these grants under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.

However, speakers at the march acknowledged that the end of Roe came with both successes and setbacks for the pro-life movement. Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., a Catholic lawmaker and co-chair of the House Pro-Life Caucus, told those gathered that they should remain “undeterred.”

“We will never quit in our defense of the weakest and most vulnerable,” he said.

Aisha Taylor, author of “Navigating the Impossible: A Survival Guide for Single Moms,” took to the rally stage and reminded the crowd, “It was people like you who helped people like me to choose life for my unborn twins.”

“I am eternally grateful for that pregnancy center,” she said, adding that her presence among them was part of her pledge to “pay it forward” for all the support she had received to choose life.

But March for Life speakers also indicated strongly that changing the culture for life did not just affect the unborn, but extended to all human beings. Rallygoers watched on the screens a preview of the movie “Cabrini” — a film about St. Frances Xavier Cabrini who cared for immigrants, orphans and people of all races — which Mancini said exemplified the march’s theme.

A voiceover in the “Cabrini” trailer reflected that New York, where Mother Cabrini ministered, is a city “built on immigrant bone.”

It said, “Is this bone not ours as well? Did we not all arrive as immigrants? Do we not owe these children, our children, a life better than a rat’s?”

Benjamin Watson, a former NFL tight end, said pro-life advocates must embark on “a new fight for life” that also addresses the factors behind abortion, and he connected those efforts to the wider struggle for peace and justice in society.

“Roe is done, but we still live in a culture that knows not how to care for life,” Watson said.

An unrelated incident underscored Watson’s words. As the March for Life was going on, the District of Columbia’s law enforcement and emergency personnel were responding to a teenager who had been shot just a few blocks from Capitol Hill.

The national march also showcased organizers’ determination to mobilize the thousands gathered for immediate and effective action. At one point, Mancini invited the crowds to pull out their phones and told them to text MARCH to 73075 and “send a message to Congress that you want to protect pregnancy resource centers.”

“We want to make sure Congress hears you are pro-life and we support pro-life policies,” said Mancini. She pointed to the large screens, which featured a map of the U.S. with “pins” showing in real time how many people were texting the number. As pins filled up the map, Mancini cajoled people from states lagging behind in pins.

“I think California needs a little love,” she said. “Come on, Texas!”

More pins popped up on the screens. Marchers also were encouraged to take the time to visit their members of Congress in person and ask them to affirm life-affirming policies.

Thousands of Catholics participating in the march came from prayer vigils and Masses held that day or the evening before.

At the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington, Virginia, preached to a crowd of 7,000 gathered for a vigil Mass that was followed by a National Holy Hour for Life.

At the morning Mass in the basilica Jan. 19, Bishop Earl K. Fernandes of Columbus, Ohio, encouraged Catholics not to get discouraged by setbacks in the pro-life movement but to recall how Jesus Christ “fell three times under the weight of his cross but he got back up.”

“Even after defeats we get back up and we march for life in radical solidarity with women and children,” he said.

Sarai Gonzalez, 18, a public school student from Detroit who was attending the national march for the second time, said she was touched by Bishop Fernandes’ homily during the Mass, calling it inspirational and moving.

“I felt at peace and loved. I felt the fire of the Holy Spirit within me,” she said.

Braving the freezing temperatures of the early morning were nearly 6,000 youth and adults who joined the March for Life Rally coming from the second annual Life Fest at the D.C. Armory, where they had fortified themselves listening to inspiring music and personal testimonies, and engaged in Eucharistic adoration and Mass.

As the snow continued to fall, thousands of marchers took to the streets to march between the Capitol and the Supreme Court buildings as the song “God bless America” rang out through the loudspeakers.

Before she went to the rally stage and on to march, Mancini told OSV News what she hoped people take away from the March for Life — besides “a lot of snowballs.”

“I hope that they take away that the pro-life movement is about the full flourishing of both mom and baby,” she said.

Ashley McGuire of The Catholic Association told OSV News that the march demonstrates that even with the end of Roe “there’s still a lot of work to be done.” In fact, the theme of the next day’s 25th Annual Cardinal O’Connor Conference on Life at Georgetown University focused on this pro-life challenge: “Discerning the next 25 years.”

“But I think we still have that same kind of youthful energy that we need to finish the work that was started,” she said.

It was a point Gonzalez emphasized as well. “This march shows everyone — women, men, children and politicians — that we do not support abortion,” she said.

“We can’t let peer pressure hold us back,” she added. “We can’t be mediocre. We must fight for life.”