You know of the abortion debate but how many of you know about the feisty woman from Texas who, on the passing of the Roe v. Wade decision, refused to take it lying down. She put aside what could have been a very successful career as an attorney and founded the March for Life Educational Fund. One of its main activities was the March for Life in Washington, D.C., held every year on Jan. 22, the date of the infamous decision. The first march was in 1974, the one-year anniversary.
Nellie was a very determined individual who wanted to see Roe V. Wade overturned and protection restored to the unborn. She was a no-exception, no-compromise advocate for the unborn. Many of you who are otherwise pro-life might think that abortion should remain legal for victims of rape and incest. Not Nellie; she would say “absolutely not.” Recently I was in D.C. with Nellie and Rebecca Kiessling, a pro-life activist who was conceived in rape. Rebecca told us, “I am the exception. I am that 1 percent of abortions. Isn’t my life worth saving?” She thanked Nellie for her tireless, fearless service for protecting all the unborn babies, even the 1 percent exceptions like herself.
I got into the abortion battle much later than Nellie. In fact, there was a time when I was clueless about the issue. But in 1989, I went to Washington, D.C. for the March for Life for the very first time. I was on a bus that left my parish, St Charles in Staten Island, led by our parish priest, Fr. Frank Pavone.
When we arrived, our first event was the March for Life rally. It was a startlingly cold and windy day when I heard Nellie speak for the very first time. It was an inspirational moment for me. When the rally was over, we marched all the way from the Ellipse up Constitution Avenue to the Supreme Court. I have never missed a March for Life since then.
Nellie stood up for the unborn but she also was an advocate for the women victimized by abortion. In 2003, I co-founded the Silent No More Awareness Campaign with Georgette Forney. The Campaign offered women who regretted their abortions an opportunity to speak publicly about the damage done to them, both physically and psychologically. In 2005, Nellie embraced our Campaign and invited the women to lead the March for Life carrying their “I Regret My Abortion” signs and we have been leading the March for Life ever since.
When I learned of Nellie Gray’s passing, at the age of 88, I felt like a member of my family had passed away. Thank you, Nellie, for your vision and determination. Thank you, Nellie, for embracing the Silent No More Awareness Campaign. And thank you, Nellie, for giving me the determination to fight the fight to bring an end to abortion.
It saddens me that you will not be with us this year as we mark the 40th memorial of Roe v. Wade in January. But I know that you have gone on to your rich reward where you are joined by other pro-life warriors like John Cardinal O’Connor and Rep. Henry Hyde and others.
And as the late Henry Hyde said,” “When the time comes, as it surely will, when we face that awesome moment, the final judgment, I’ve often thought, as Fulton Sheen wrote, that it is a terrible moment of loneliness. You have no advocates, you are there alone standing before God — and a terror will rip your soul like nothing you can imagine. But I really think that those in the pro-life movement will not be alone. I think there’ll be a chorus of voices that have never been heard in this world but are heard beautifully and clearly in the next world — and they will plead for everyone who has been in this movement. They will say to God, ‘Spare him, because he loved us!’”
So dear Nellie, as the angels lead you into paradise, know that we will march on!