Participants in the annual March for Life always have two identical memories: the brisk January chill on the streets of the nation’s capital, and the long bus ride.
For some, such as the 600 marchers affiliated with the University of
Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota, the march will be a culmination of
successful organizing and youthful enthusiasm in addition to substantial
Other groups though, struggle with raising money for
just a single busload of about 50.
Pro-life groups and Catholic parishes have organized the bus journeys
for most of the of the 44 years of the march, which marks the 1973 U.S.
Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion virtually
This year’s rally Jan. 27 on the Washington Monument grounds followed
by a march up Constitution Avenue to the U.S. Supreme Court will be the
first for St. Clair County Right to Life in Fort Gratiot, Michigan.
“We hope for a full bus, which would be 55 people, but are expecting
about 45,” said Roger Thomas, the organization’s treasurer. “This is the
first year we’ve actually run the bus, so we’re still learning. A party
from a neighboring county has been running a bus every January for
years, and that seems to be the way it works, at least here in Michigan.
Parishes, Knights of Columbus councils, right-to-life groups and such
will sponsor the buses and word gets around that the bus is going, so it
Right to Life of Michigan in the past sponsored buses from venues
around the state, but when it ran short of funds, “the initiative was
thrown back on the local affiliates,” Thomas said. That’s when he
learned of the many challenges involved in getting even a single busload
“The vendors with whom you contract need payment, or firm commitment,
by a certain date. But that date is usually well before the trip
itself, sometimes as much as six weeks. We’re finding out that a good
number of people don’t even think about registering for a bus until
after Christmas,” Thomas explained.
So if the sponsoring organization is counting on registration fees,
“they won’t have enough in time, and will have to cancel, just before
people start calling to ask, ‘Are you still sending a bus?'”
For this year’s march, St. Clair County Right to Life raised enough
money to fund the full trip in advance and do not have to worry about
canceling the trip unless the weather conditions are too severe — like
last January, when a snowstorm stranded dozens of buses on the
Pennsylvania Turnpike on the return journey.
The Venango County chapter of Pennsylvanians for Human Life, based in Oil City, faces a similar struggle.
“We have been taking a bus from the Oil City area for 36 years,” said
Judy Anderton, who heads the chapter. “We used to fill two buses, which
included students from Venango Catholic High School. We are down to one
bus and it is getting harder to fill.”
The cost of the bus, she noted, “has gone from under $1,000 to about
$2,600 this year, and it is getting harder to cover the cost with low
passenger numbers. This may have to be our last bus.”
Many bus trips from Midwestern states are nonstop drives of nearly 24
hours, but that usually depends on the average age of the group, Thomas
said. “Because we’re trying to accommodate an older base of
registrants, we’re doing a double-overnight stay, driving down the day
before, spending the night, participating in the march on Friday,
spending the night again, and driving back the day afterward. Ours is a
very sparse trip — no sightseeing tours, no extra time for shopping,” he
The University of Mary group is making a nonstop trek. And they will
be proud to do so, because march organizers selected them to hold the
banner and lead the parade in their orange and blue knit caps.
“I think they noted the faithfulness of the University of Mary
pro-life movement and our effort to support that,” said Anne Dziak, a
Chicago native and recent graduate of the university who now works as an
admissions counselor at the school.
Last year, the university sent 100 marchers. This year, the number
swelled with additions of pro-life groups from Bismarck-area high
schools and groups from Fargo and Minnesota. It will take 14 buses to
hold them all.
This will be Dziak’s 12th march and the seventh time the university, which has an enrollment of about 3,100, has sent a group.
“We have a lot of practice staying warm,” she said. The caravan will
leave the morning of Jan. 25 and ride through the night to arrive in
Washington at 3 p.m. the following day, giving them just one overnight
She concedes that nonstop trips aren’t for everyone, but said there are benefits.
“It’s a good opportunity to allow the students to grow to know each
other and make it more of a pilgrimage for us,” Dziak said. She advised
students “to take it all in. Some of the best conversations I’ve had are
on the bus at 2 or 3 a.m.”
March organizers do not announce attendance estimates, preferring to give the number only as in the tens of thousands.