You know of the abortion debate but how many of you know of a feisty woman from Texas who, when Roe v. Wade was decided, wouldn’t 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 the fund’s main activities was organizing the March for Life in Washington, D.C., held every Jan. 22nd since 1974.
Nellie was a very determined individual who wanted to see Roe v. Wade overturned and protection to the unborn restored. She was a no exception, no compromise advocate for the unborn. Some may still feel that exceptions should be made for pregnancies conceived through rape and incest, but not Nellie. She said no exceptions and she meant it. Last year I was with Rebecca Kiessling, who was conceived in rape, and Nellie in Washington and Rebecca said, “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 percenters 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 the March for Life in D.C. for the very first time. I was on a bus that left my parish, St. Charles on Staten Island, led by our parish priest, Fr. Frank Pavone.
When we arrived in DC our first event was the rally that precedes the March. It was a very cold and windy day. Standing in the freezing cold I heard, for the first time, Nellie Gray speaking to the crowd that had gathered. 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 women. In 2003, I co-founded the Silent No More Awareness Campaign with Georgette Forney. The Campaign gave a platform for women who regretted their abortions to speak publicly about the physical and psychological damage they suffered as a result. In 2005, Nellie embraced our Campaign and invited the women to lead the March for Life carrying their “I Regret My Abortion” signs. We have been leading the March for Life ever since.
Last year, 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.
On the first anniversary of your passing from this life to your rich reward in heaven, where you are joined by other pro-life warriors like John Cardinal O’Connor, Rep. Henry Hyde and others, I salute you again. 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!’ ” Certainly that chorus of voices was raised for Nellie Gray.
Nellie, we will never forget you, we will not compromise and we will march on until we bring an end to abortion. I and many other promise you, we will not let abortion survive in our lifetime.
Rest in peace, dear Nellie.