Jeanne Mancini, leader of the March for Life in Washington, D.C., was to be a keynote speaker at a Jan. 5 pro-life fundraiser in Lincoln. COURTESY PHOTO

Living Mercy

March for Life leader recommends using divine tactics to fight proposed ballot initiative

“Fight like Heaven,” Jeanne Mancini urges Nebraskans this year as they face a proposed ballot initiative that would make abortion a constitutional right in the state.

Mancini – who is about to lead one of the largest annual pro-life events in the United States, the March for Life in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 19  – arrived in Lincoln for a Jan. 5 Pro-Life Gala to raise money for Nebraska’s 27 pro-life pregnancy help organizations. The event was organized by the Nebraska Knights of Columbus.

Mancini echoes the words of a bishop in her advice to Nebraskans. In a Q&A interview with the Catholic Voice, she addressed the ballot initiative and other topics.

She became president of the March for Life Education and Defense Fund in 2012 after the death of the march’s founder, Nellie Gray.

Mancini earned an undergraduate degree in psychology from James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, and a master’s degree in the theology of marriage and the family from the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

She previously worked for the Family Research Council on issues dealing with the inherent dignity of the human person.

The pro-life leader lives in northern Virginia with her husband, David. 

Q: How did you personally come to believe in the dignity of human life from conception until natural death?

Well, I did grow up Catholic and in a very social-justice-minded family. So we grew up knowing that that was the case. However, I was further confronted by that reality when after college I joined the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, and I worked in a youth crisis shelter where kids had lived some really difficult lives before they came there. Either they’d been victims of abuse or neglect.

In some cases, I began to wonder: Would it have been better if they weren’t born? And I started to grapple with that philosophically. But by God’s grace and through some wonderful conversations with friends, I came to realize: Who am I to judge the value of someone’s life?

I just realized in my mind and heart, in this particular working scenario, that every human being has inherent human dignity from the moment of conception to natural death. Of course, it’s the pillar of the Church’s social teachings that we all have inherent human dignity. We don’t earn it. It’s not by intellect or by efficiency. In other words, it’s not because of survival of the fittest, or what have you, that we’re the smartest, we’re the best, we’re the most powerful.

No, we have it simply because we’re made in God’s image and because we’re human beings. So it was really through that experience with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps that, I guess you could say, strengthened it in my heart.

Q: Since you’ve become a national pro-life leader, what are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned in your role?

Gosh. I’ve been at the March for Life now for almost 12 years, and it seems like every two or three years, there’s another thing that I’m growing through and learning a lot. I mean, there’s always a lot. But I’ve just learned a lot about how to run a nonprofit organization, which is not easy.

So for a few years, just fundraising seemed to be at the forefront. How do you actually get the money to be able to do the work?

Other years, it’s been very much about mission, and focus, and strategy, to stay laser-focused on a mission.

In recent years, in a post-COVID environment, much of it is about doing whatever you can to have a flourishing staff professionally and personally.

So, gosh, there have been so many different lessons. But probably for myself, just spiritually, the biggest lesson has been to lean radically on God.

He opens and closes doors along the way. I need to be as discerning as possible and to know at the end of the day, the pressure’s not on me to build a Culture of Life or to work within the March for Life. But really He’s doing it, and I’m his instrument.

Q: The late founder of March for Life, Nellie Gray, wanted to keep the march going until Roe v. Wade was overturned. Now that that has happened, what is the continued purpose of the march?

When Roe was handed down by the Supreme Court in 1973, it made abortion legal in all 50 states. But the overturn of Roe didn’t make abortion illegal, or even more importantly, unthinkable in our culture.

Sadly, we still have over 900,000 abortions in our country every single year. I mean, the bottom line is that we’re not done. We’re not done. So it would be foolish to stop the March for Life right now because we certainly haven’t made abortion illegal. But more importantly, we haven’t made abortion unthinkable.

So we have our work cut out for us.

Now we are in a new season, so the work is very different. Starting in 2018, we began a state march initiative, and that’s not to the detriment of the national march. We do both state marches and the national march.

In 2024 we’ll be in 17 states. Our plan is to grow this over the course of the next six years. And like I said, we’ve been doing this since 2018, so we’ve learned a lot in that time. And I’m sure we’ll continue to learn a lot. But we expect to be in all 50 states in the next six to seven years.

Q: In Nebraska, we have a Walk for Life in Lincoln the week following the national event. Would that be included?

In some of the different states we work alongside them. And in certain states … North Dakota is a great example, where we enter into an agreement with them where they’re using, with permission, the March for Life name. Then we help them with different media and social media, and what have you. But they’ve already started this march and they continue it.

So it depends on the state and the different aspects to it. But we are doing that in many states where we can just work alongside the ones that are already doing the work.

And actually in the states where we begin a new march, we partner with a state organization, so we don’t helicopter in and do a march. … For the most part, we work with the Catholic Conference. There are very few exceptions to that. And we’ve seen when they’re not involved, that it makes a huge negative difference. So it’s really important to have the buy-in of the Catholic Conference. And sometimes they are our direct partners.

Sometimes we work with an evangelical family policy council in the state, and sometimes we work with the Right to Life chapter in the state.

So those are typically the three groups that we work with as our primary partner. Then the other ones we work closely with as stakeholders. 

Q: There’s a campaign going on in Nebraska for a ballot initiative that seeks to enshrine abortion as a constitutional right. What advice would you give Nebraskans as we head into this battle this year?

Well, especially because I’m speaking with the diocesan newspaper here, I’ll give the advice that Bishop Earl Boyea (of the Diocese of Lansing, Michigan) gave to the people in Michigan on the anniversary of their negative ballot initiative.

There’s the temptation to fight like hell in moments like this – which is true because we’re really not doing well on these ballot initiatives.

But fight like Heaven, that’s what he said.

So use our tools as Catholics, which are the tools of charity, but being as strategic as possible. Give money to this – I mean, advertisements and getting the word out – and then joining, and canvassing, and doing everything that you can possibly do to get the word out about this will be critically important.

Because it’s a pretty massive loss if you do lose this in a very pro-life state. Because what happens then is that the Constitution has been changed. And it’s much harder to undo a constitutional amendment, much more grave, much more serious, than if a bad law had been passed or something along those lines.

Q: What can individuals do to help make abortion unthinkable?

That is a great question. And here’s what I’ll say: Everyone can do something and needs to do something. I don’t know what every individual should do personally, but God does.

So pray. First and foremost, pray just to know what is my role in building a Culture of Life.

I can give you a variety of different things, but really responding to the Holy Spirit and what God is particularly calling you to do is going to be the most efficacious and fruitful endeavor.

You can run for office, which has a massive influence on enacting pro-life laws. You can pray in front of an abortion center, which also has a massive influence.

You can come to the national March for Life. You can start a club at your university or your parish to educate people about life issues.

You can throw a shower for your local pregnancy care center or go volunteer at your local pregnancy care center.

You can give money to organizations like the March for Life, which desperately need it. I know right now we haven’t reached our year-end goals and we haven’t reached our sponsorship goals for the national march. … We need money to do good work.

So those are just a few ideas. 


Sign up for weekly updates and news from the Archdiocese of Omaha!
This is default text for notification bar