January 24, 2013

Nellie Gray and the March for Life

By William Devlin

A local Newtown, Connecticut woman was interviewed on a radio news program a couple of days after the killing of twenty first-graders. The woman said she couldn't understand how anyone could slaughter innocent children. She said "they were just babies". Almost 40 years ago Nellie Gray said something similar at a meeting which resulted in the formation of an ad hoc committee to plan a demonstration to protest the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision. She said she couldn't understand how any American could sit by idly and accept the court's decision to allow the killing of pre-born babies.

Nellie had just retired as an attorney for the U.S. Department of Labor. She planned to start her own private law practice in DC. She postponed her professional plans in order to work on planning for an overturn of the court's decision. She never did get to open the private practice. She spent the rest of her life as full-time president of the March for Life Committee (no longer ad-hoc), without any financial compensation. She spent a greater portion of her life guiding the March for Life than any other project in her life, as student, soldier in the Women's Army Corps during World War II, or as a government attorney.

Nellie Gray won't be at the podium at the 39th annual March for Life on Jan 25th, 2013. At the age of 88 she died in August of 2012.

A new leadership will assume responsibility for the March's continuing growth and success.

Nellie didn't live to see the accomplishment of her long time objective: the enactment of a human life amendment to the U.S. constitution. In some respects her goal seems more difficult to achieve now than it did 39 years ago. The war on life has opened new battlefronts, such as embryonic stem cell research, cloning, partial birth abortion, and assisted suicide.

Nevertheless, Nellie has been a major force in keeping the pro-life movement alive and growing in the United States.

She may not have achieved her political goals, but she has performed another important function in the development of public policy. Both kings and prophets influence culture and governance. Athens and Jerusalem are often in tension with one another. Historically, wielders of political power have often been confronted and challenged by prophetic witnesses. Nellie was a prophet for our day. Year after year, for almost 40 years, she continued to challenge the presumption that some humans can be denied the right to live. Her legacy is the "Life Principles", which express the requirements for a human life amendment. Every human being, from conception to natural death, must be protected by law - without exception. In the words she used year after year at the March for Life, "not even a little bit of abortion" is acceptable.

Working for the right to life was something Nellie was called to do. It was her vocation - for which everything she had previously done, as student, soldier or lawyer, was a phase of preparation.

May the new leaders of the March for Life be inspired by Nellies steadfast courage. and continue the growing participation of young Americans in the pursuit of policies that will make a culture of life a reality in America.

William Devlin was a member of the original ad hoc committee that formed the first March for Life, and was a member of the committee for a number of years. He also served as vice chairman of the New York State Right to Life Committe and co-chairman of Life Lobby.

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