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Nellie Gray

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Founder of annual March for Life

WASHINGTON Nellie Gray, who left a government career to start the March for Life, the annual antiabortion demonstration that for nearly four decades has drawn tens of thousands of activists to Washington to speak out on one of the most polarizing of American social issues, has died. She was 88.

Her death was announced by the March for Life Education and Defense Fund, of which Miss Gray was president. Gene Ruane, a colleague, said that he found Miss Gray dead Monday in her Washington home and that the chief medical examiner will determine the cause and date of her death.

The March for Life held each January on the anniversary of the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion is reported to have drawn as many as 70,000 activists in any given year since its inception in 1974. The figures do not include the counterprotesters who often converge on Washington at the same time.

March for Life protesters traditionally wear red and carry red roses a symbol of what is known within the movement as "the pre-born child" and sometimes refer to the event as "Nellie's March," in honor of its founder.

"This is the land of the free, the place to come for advancement. How is it that a country built on this would kill babies?" she told The Washington Post in 1993. "I don't understand slavery. I don't understand the Holocaust. I don't understand abortion."

Miss Gray, a career woman and a Democrat, was working as a Labor Department lawyer when the Supreme Court handed down the landmark abortion ruling in Roe v. Wade.

Horrified by the decision, she left work at 48 a decision that cut her retirement benefits in half and began a second career in the forefront of the abortion debate.

___As she told the story, she and about 30 other activists gathered in her home on Capitol Hill in the fall of 1973 to plan a demonstration for the following January.

"We just thought we were going to march one time and Congress would certainly pay attention to 20,000 people coming in the middle of winter to tell them to overturn Roe v. Wade," she once told the Religion News Service.

The March for Life celebrated a significant victory with the passage in 1977 of the Hyde amendment, which banned federal funding for abortions. But Miss Gray regarded the victory as incomplete, arguing that it ultimately suggested that "killing babies is all right if you have the money to pay for it."

Nellie Jane Gray was born June 25, 1924, in Big Spring, Texas., the daughter of a mechanic and a homemaker. She never married and had no immediate survivors.

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