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In planning Jan. 29 March for Life, officials mindful of health safeguards

073120MARCHFORLIFEPLANS

Students from the University of Mary in Bismarck, N.D., pose for a photo in front of the U.S. Supreme Court while they participate in the 2017 March for Life in Washington. (CNS photo/courtesy University of Mary)

 

By Kurt Jensen

Catholic News Service

 

        WASHINGTON (CNS) - In the midst of the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, organizers of the annual March for Life rally on the National Mall and march to the Supreme Court are still scheduled for Jan. 29.

        Beyond that, the details are in flux.

        "We will continue to discern throughout this year what steps should be taken for the 2021 March for Life, and will share subsequent updates on our website and social media," said Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life Education and Defense Fund, in a statement provided to Catholic News Service July 30. No other information was provided.

        The day before, Mancini had announced the march would move forward, "unafraid and ever encouraged in our mission to defend the unborn."

        This year's March for Life, which featured a speech by President Donald Trump, the first president to address the gathering in person, had one of the largest turnouts since the event began in 1974, with more than 100,000 participants at the Mall rally and march up Constitution Avenue past the Supreme Court. It's always held on a date near the anniversary of the court's 1973 rulings, Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, which legalized abortion on demand.

        Currently, the District of Columbia has in place an executive order issued by Mayor Muriel Bowser requiring residents to wear masks outside of the home. D.C. has also imposed a 14-day quarantine, through Aug. 10, for anyone traveling into the district from 27 states.

        Depending on the shifts of the pandemic - decisions by the district's health authorities also are influenced by the pace of the outbreak in Maryland and Virginia - those restrictions could stay in place or expand.

        The rally and march and lobbying of members of Congress are part of March for Life weekend events that also include the Rose Dinner at a downtown hotel ballroom, for which registration is scheduled to begin Sept. 14, and the Pro-Life Summit, a daylong training event for college and high school students, scheduled for Jan. 30.

        There also are satellite marches attended by thousands at state capitols, the oldest of which is the Nebraska Walk for Life organized by Nebraska Right to Life, held annually in Lincoln since 1974. The largest, which has drawn more than 10,000 participants, is in Austin, Texas. In Oklahoma, the march in Tulsa starts at Holy Family Cathedral. In Tennessee, the march in Knoxville goes past an abortion clinic. Massachusetts Right to Life holds a Father's Day march every June in Boston.

        The newest of the statewide events, in Richmond, Virginia, has drawn about 7,000 participants on the state Capitol grounds. Arizona March for Life announced that as many as 10,000 attended its January event in Phoenix, at which Gov. Doug Ducey was a speaker.

        But plans for any statewide events are uncertain as well, depending on state health department restrictions on crowd size.

        "The impact of the novel coronavirus is profound: half of my staff is working from home and our income has taken a 30% hit," Lois Anderson, executive director of Oregon Right to Life, wrote in a May blog post.

        March for Life is, at its core, a bus event for college and high school groups, and restrictions on that kind of travel are still an unknown factor.

        Ed Konieczka, assistant director of university ministry at the University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota, explained the hurdles to CNS.

        "We book our hotel a year in advance. This past year, we booked for two years in a row to lock in a good rate for the university. The buses are usually with the company that does the majority of our (bus travel) ... so we have some wiggle room. We usually discuss the March for Life in the spring, and have to finalize our bus count by September/October."

        He added, "One of our major obstacles will be travel. We usually have 200 students in four buses for 30 hours each way. Getting to D.C. and back with that many students while maintaining social distancing will be a major challenge."

        They're still planning on attending, Konieczka added.

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