WASHINGTON (AP) -- Nellie Gray, the founder and chief organizer of an annual anti-abortion march in Washington and a leader in efforts to overturn the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, has died. She was 86.
Gray was found dead Monday morning in her Washington home, where she had lived alone, and her death appeared to be from natural causes, said Gene Ruane, an administrator with the March for Life Education and Defense Fund. Ruane said Tuesday that he found her body when he arrived at her home for a meeting.
An autopsy was being conducted to determine how and when she died, Ruane said.
Gray was a lawyer and former federal employee who devoted herself full-time to the anti-abortion movement after the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.
The first March for Life was held the following year on the anniversary of the ruling. Despite the January date, it's consistently one of the largest protests of the year in Washington, and leading anti-abortion politicians frequently address the crowd.
Gray was the primary organizer of the march throughout its 38-year history. She used the phrase "no exceptions, no compromise" to sum up her belief that life begins at conception and abortion should be illegal.
At this year's march, she referred to abortion as genocide and the Roe v. Wade decision as "an evil imposed upon our country."
"The government must understand that they are participating in a crime against humanity which cannot be made legal," she said.
Born and raised in Big Spring, Texas, Gray joined the Women's Army Corps during World War II and served in Europe. After the war, she worked for both the State Department and the Labor Department and earned a law degree from Georgetown University.
She was one of a few dozen abortion opponents who organized the first march in 1974, and shortly thereafter, she founded the nonprofit March for Life Education and Defense Fund. She served as president of the group until her death.
"Nellie Gray was a pro-life pioneer who will be dearly missed," said Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee. "The indelible mark she has left in this world can be seen in the generations of lives saved as a result of her dedicated work on behalf of the unborn."
Gray, who was single and had no children, was a longtime parishioner of St. Mary Mother of God Catholic Church in Washington.
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