Despite single-digit temperatures, thousands descended on Washington on Jan. 22 to declare their opposition to abortion. Most of the red noses and chapped lips belonged to faces under 25. "We are the pro-life generation," read signs carried by the marchers.
March for Life President Jeanne Monahan echoed that opinion. In her opening remarks, Monahan thanked millennials for understanding the devastation caused by abortion "more than any group."
Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., also showed faith in the young people present, saying: "Your generation will end abortion."
Schools across the nation had shipped busloads of students, many of whom wore bright-colored sweatshirts and scarves for easy identification. Many teens also sported stickers reading "Worth Waiting For." The message on the pro-chastity stickers had an extra meaning to those who had experienced travel delays because of the extreme weather.
Mary Peters, 16, drove for 11 hours with her classmates from St. Catherine of Siena Academy in Michigan. "It's amazing to be here with your peers, pepped up about something you believe in," she said.
Monica Stephens, a 17-year-old student from Grinnell, Kan., said it was worth "31 hours on a bus with smelly boys" to attend. "You have to stand up to help the babies."
The participants' energy was not dimmed by frigid conditions upon arrival. Andrew Redman, 25, from Notre Dame Seminary and Andrew Gutierrez, 20, from St. Joseph's Seminary came with 10 buses of students from New Orleans. "The snow helped unite us, all huddled together," Redman said.
"It's a great chance to pray with people!" Gutierrez added. "Then you aren't distracted by cold toes or frozen ears."
Logistics may have been part of the reason that March for Life attendees were especially young this year. Kelly Hanlon is the office manager of St. Joseph's on Capitol Hill, a parish that offers hot chocolate and snacks to shivering marchers. "We only had a few hundred stop by, much fewer than last year," she said. Though she had met visitors from as far as Canada and Minnesota, many expected groups had had their flights canceled because of the bad weather.
According to a 2013 Gallup poll, millennials are the group most likely to believe that abortion should be outlawed in all circumstances, and a majority believed in placing restrictions on abortion. Out of the 56 million abortions since 1973, the millennial generation has suffered the greatest losses. The number of annual abortions reached their peak of 1.6 million in 1990. Signs at the march read: "1/3 of our generation has been killed by abortion."
When asked about the shift in perspective about abortion, some think it is because to technology. Clara Milligan, a senior at Morris Hill Academy in Cincinnati, said that "we see the ultrasounds and know that life begins in the womb."
"Social media has given us the ability to spread the word about causes that are important to us," she added.
Her sister Grace Milligan, a sophomore at Morris Hill, believes that "this generation is more accepting of people, and that includes the unborn."
The desire for compassionate understanding was reflected in this year's theme for the March for Life: "Adoption: A Noble Decision." Few marchers carried posters depicting graphic abortions, and many simply asked mothers to choose life. Though full of hope for a culture of life, Generation Y activists face challenges on the issue unimagined in years past.
No longer limited to the abortion clinic, emergency contraceptives that can act as abortifacients are used in homes and dorm rooms. Dr. Donna Harrison, executive director of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, asked marchers to engage their peers on pro-life issues. "It is up to you to talk to your roommates and friends about what these drugs actually do."
It looks like Generation Y is up for the challenge.