NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Thursday, January 28th. You’re listening to WORLD Radio and we thank you for that.
Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: the Olasky Interview.
Today, a conversation between WORLD editor-in-chief Marvin Olasky and Connie Marshner.
She’s a longtime conservative political activist and thinker, and she once served President Reagan on his Family Policy Advisory Board.
She’s been a pro-life advocate since the earliest days of the movement.
EICHER: Tomorrow is the 48th annual March for Life. This year’s event will be a bit different because the hundreds of thousands of people who normally converge on Washington will stay home and participate virtually. But Connie Marshner attended the very first March for Life in 1974 in person. In this excerpt, she reminisces about that milestone and a few other highlights.
MARVIN OLASKY: Well Connie, you and I are old timers at this point. It’s very good to see you again.
CONNIE MARSHNER: Same here, same here.
OLASKY: So we’ve had a lot of experience. You, especially in the pro-life movement. I’ve been coming at this as a journalist, you’ve been involved as really an activist, one of the leaders…
MARSHNER: Right, right.
OLASKY: If you’d had to bet in 1972, if you were told, one party is going to be the pro-life party, one party is going to be the party of abortion…
MARSHNER: If the question had come up, of course, it would have been the democrats would have been pro-life, because that’s where the Catholics were, right?
MARSHNER: The big issue at the time was population control.
OLASKY: Okay, so in Washington understanding at that point—of people on the hill—the abortion issue was a subset of the population control issue?
MARSHNER: Those who were paying attention to. And it was really only us who was paying attention to it. It wasn’t on anybody’s radar. I mean, at the time, the joke was, you know, “Congressman, what do you want to do about this abortion bill? Oh, pay it.” So nobody really took it very seriously. And so when Roe v. Wade came down, nobody paid much attention to it. Except for those who were religiously oriented.
OLASKY: Now you know that the Supreme Court was…
MARSHNER: Oh, no, not at all. No, there had never been, you know, there’d never been much of an argument about it. It was perceived as a procedural kind of thing. It wasn’t advanced on the issues. People didn’t talk about it ahead of time. It came as a surprise.
OLASKY: Was their awareness that there had been oral arguments on this?
MARSHNER: Probably, but nobody had paid much attention to them.
OLASKY: Okay. What was the first reaction of you and other people you were with?
MARSHNER: Well, Nellie Gray, took it upon herself…now she was a liberal, feminist, civil rights activist who worked for the federal government. She was from Texas. Very progressive minded sort of lady. And she took it upon herself to visit the people who she assumed would say, oh, my goodness, we got to fix this. And then do so. People with names like Kennedy. And she didn’t get the time of day. And then to her horror, she discovered that this republican named James Buckley, who of all things was a conservative, was interested in introducing a human life amendment, and she’d never talked to a republican her life, and had no use for them—certainly not a conservative one. But all of a sudden, she found herself with a new set of friends. So Nellie organizes the March.
OLASKY: This is March number one in 1974.
MARSHNER: Yeah, because in those days, that’s what you did. If you had a civil rights issue, you organized a march. And somehow or other, she made contact with a couple of guys in New York, and they were just, you know, the Long Island equivalent of good old boys. And they put together bus loads, and they brought a couple of buses down. I mean, these are the salt of the earth, blue collared, good Catholics, probably Irish. And they came and they marched. And, you know, those of us who were the conservative movement showed up and, yeah, it was very small.
OLASKY: So what’s really Nellie thinking about this, I mean, she’s a democrat, and so forth. And now she’s allied with these people.
MARSHNER: I don’t think she was ever comfortable with them politically. During that March, I mean, don’t forget, she had a full time job. And so the March was her hobby for a long, long time. Then when she retired, she did it full time. Then she got caught up in the circular firing squad of the 80s. The Republicans were saying, I guess it helps to be pro-life. So there there were still 40, 50, 60 pro-life democrats at that point in Congress,
OLASKY: When Reagan ran against Ford in 1976, was the abortion issue part of that?
MARSHNER: Well, Gerald Ford was always pro-abortion. Betty was very pro-abortion. Reagan had a good heart. But he didn’t have an instinct for power. He didn’t understand how power worked.
OLASKY: Was there frustration with Reagan as he talked a good game but really didn’t come through? And how did that emerge?
MARSHNER: From the very beginning with the nomination of O’Connor and the fact that he would never do anything for the March for Life. When people got disillusioned with Reagan, and there had been a huge grassroots movement who came in for Reagan because they thought he was going to be the pro-life Savior. When that didn’t happen, they dropped out of politics, but they didn’t drop out of the pro-life movement.
They went back to their communities. And they set up storefront CPCs (crisis pregnancy centers), worked with their churches, and had to start talking to their neighbors. And they became that infrastructure out there of citizens talking to other citizens. And that’s a huge thing. We don’t have a way of quantifying that. But over the subsequent years, when I would travel, I would meet people who would know my name because I had been visible. And they’d say, “Oh, yeah, I used to do politics. But now we do this.” And so it was interesting, you know, God writes straight with crooked lines. So He got them involved in politics, but then they went and really started changing the culture.
I think the pro-life trajectory changed forever when, God bless him, Jack Wilkie had some survey done, and I remember him coming to the forum and saying, “love them both is going to be our new thing. Love the woman. We haven’t been talking about the woman.” And thereafter, it’s about the girl. At the beginning, we should have said “we love the sinner. And we deplore the sin” in whatever language that needed to be communicated in and our side didn’t do that. And so we have what we have.
REICHARD: That’s Connie Marshner talking with Marvin Olasky. To read more of their interview, check out the January 30th issue of WORLD Magazine. We’ll include a link to it in today’s transcript at worldandeverything.org.