Pro-life leaders find hope in the fact that 41 years after the Supreme Court was thought to have settled a controversy with Roe v. Wade, more and more Americans are unsettled about legalized abortion.
“We are waking up,” said Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life. “We are waking up to the extremism of our public policy on abortion…. We are waking up to the pain that abortion causes.”
The trial of Philadelphia abortionist Kermit Gosnell last spring, which exposed some gruesome practices that can go on in some abortion clinics, as well as a continuing focus on partial-birth abortion and the pain that babies can feel during an abortion have contributed to that awakening, pro-life activists said in recent interviews. Even the controversy over the HHS mandate of the Affordable Care Act has potential as a pro-life teaching tool.
“For two or three weeks we heard about all the atrocious things happening in [Gosnell’s] clinic,” said Jeanne Monahan, president of the March for Life Education and Defense Fund. “Americans were impacted by it. Similar to the partial-birth abortion debate in Congress, these kinds of things bring to light the reality of abortion and some of the people involved in doing abortion and some of the women who suffer at the hands of this industry.”
Father Pavone said that while the abortion industry is “trying to pass it off as a benefit,” abortion is “hurting the people it’s claiming to help.” Like a bad product, he said, it “needs to be recalled.”
“There is an awakening here—more and more people knowing others who have manifested that pain in their own lives, more and more people experiencing it themselves. So all of this for the movement overall is a step in the right direction as we wake up out of denial.”
Monahan will lead the March for Life and the rally preceding it in Washington, DC on Wednesday, January 22. Other speakers will include Dr. James C. Dobson of Focus on the Family.
Led this year by students from Benedictine University in Atchison, Kansas, the march will follow Constitution Avenue up to the United States Supreme Court building where, 41 years ago to the day, seven out of the nine justices struck down most state laws prohibiting abortion.
Since then, the annual gathering has spawned a number of related events, such as the Rose Dinner, a youth rally, and the Nellie Gray 5K Run/Walk, named in honor of the woman who led the march every year until her death in 2012.
In an interview, Monahan revealed that the 501(c)3 organization is growing its staff, adding the former head of legislative arm of the Family Research Council, Tom McClusky, to head up the new March for Life Action.
“We’re excited to activate our legislative branch,” she said. “Years ago we had a 501(c)4, and we’re reinstating our paperwork that allows us to have that political organization.”
The March for Life is also expanding its social media presence, with the help of Bethany Goodman, former senior staffer on life issues on Capitol Hill.
A very political year
The intersection between the pro-life cause and the political realm is sure to be heightened this year as the nation gears up for the 2014 mid-term elections. Rumblings for the 2016 presidential contest are already being felt, as well.
“Probably the most far-reaching activity or event this year will be the upcoming election,” said Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee. “One-third of the Senate will be elected for the next six years…. Under Obamacare we’re going to see the government promoting and subsidizing abortion. So who’s in the Senate could have a huge impact on the lives of unborn children.”
“What’s been critical this past year and will be critical in the year ahead is the rolling out of the HHS abortion-contraception mandate,” Monahan said. “A lot of organizations are being backed into a corner in being asked to cover drugs and devices that can cause abortion early in a baby’s development…. Educating the general public on how some of these drugs and devices work very early in a development is going to be a positive part of this, but of course we’re moving in an extremely negative place where we’re being forced into a corner to cover things that are absolutely objectionable.”
One effort that may see some traction in the Senate is a bill protecting unborn children from abortion after 20 weeks gestation, the point at which many argue babies can feel pain during an abortion procedure. A “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act” has been enacted in 10 states, and a federal version has been passed in the House of Representatives and introduced in the Senate.
“It’s something that is really the next step legislatively both on the state and federal level to start to rein in this extreme policy of abortion on demand,” Father Pavone said. “I’m really excited about this legislation; it is really the way to go…. If you look at recent federal legislative policy on abortion in terms of actually prohibiting the procedure rather than just regulating it, the partial-birth abortion ban was chapter 1. Chapter 2 is most definitely this Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.”
Though it might have a difficult time getting out of the Senate as it is currently constituted, and President Obama is unlikely to sign such legislation even if it did pass, Father Pavone said “the goal right now is to get a vote on this bill and to start the ball rolling, so people go on record and the process is underway. We expect it will take at least a couple of years to get this thing enacted.”
A new event at the march this year is a law conference co-sponsored by Ave Maria School of Law and Americans United for Life in cooperation with the March for Life Education and Defense Fund.
The march has also given rise to a number of events around the country and overseas, notably the Walk for Life West Coast in San Francisco, which is taking place for the 10th time this year. Such events have given pro-life people, particularly in a place like San Francisco, courage to stand up for their convictions in public, said Dolores Meehan, lead organizer of Walk for Life West Coast. It hasn’t been easy for the Walk over the past 10 years, as the effort has faced criticism from the public and even city officials.
In fact, for the second year in a row, banners flying in the city’s main thoroughfare, Market Street, announcing the upcoming march became a source of controversy. A group called the Silver Ribbon Campaign to Trust Women charged that the banners contain a “false and hateful statement” and should be taken down. But a spokesman for San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee said that though the mayor disagrees with the banner’s message—“Abortion Hurts Women”—Walk for Life’s first amendment rights should be upheld.
Such controversies haven’t hurt turnout, though. Last year, 50,000 pro-lifers marched, according to Meehan.
In addition to abortion, pro-lifers have certainly embraced other concerns, including, with the specter of healthcare rationing, end-of-life issues.
“I think the pro-life movement has done a great job of raising the consciousness of the sanctity of nascent human life and the humanity of the unborn,” said Meehan, who is a nurse by profession. “Our next greatest challenge is to inculcate into people’s hearts the same importance of the dignity and worthiness (to live) of the elderly, infirm, and severely disabled, in other words, persons who otherwise are easy to dismiss as ‘better off dead.’”
The one thing necessary
Activists were happy about progress made on the state level over the past year. Fetal pain laws are one of several types of pro-life legislation that have made their way onto the books around the nation, said Tobias. Another is the prohibition of so-called “telemed” abortions, where doctors give women in underserved areas of the country instructions online on how to self-induce an abortion using specific medication.
But state-level legislative activity will be slower this year, Tobias said, partly because many state chambers will not be in session or will be focusing more on budgetary issues. National Right to Life plans to focus on the US Senate as it considers the federal “pain-capable” statute.
Legislative efforts are only part of the story, of course. As many in the movement have learned, helping to change the hearts and minds of fellow Americans, including women who are tempted to abort their children, is paramount. In spite of significant legislative progress made over the years in limiting and regulating abortion, Ann Scheidler, whose husband, Joseph, founded Chicago’s Pro-Life Action League, believes that there is still a major, largely unfulfilled need for people standing in front of abortion clinics, trying to save babies slated to be aborted, either through prayer or persuasion.
“Those babies who are brought to the abortion clinic today can’t wait for years for a law to change,” said Scheidler, a committee member for the annual March for Life Chicago, which will be held on Sunday, January 19. “Somebody’s got to stand there today and tell their mothers that there is some place where they can go for help.”
Make Your Voice Heard, Get Better Informed
A number of events are being held around the country to mark the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, not only prayer vigils and protest rallies but also educational events to strengthen and form the pro-life grass-roots. Here are just a few of the main events:
In Washington, DC
National Prayer Vigil for Life
If you’ve been to the March for Life and you thought Constitution Avenue was jam-packed with fervent pro-lifers, try getting into the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. If you’re not there a couple of hours ahead of the 6:30 pm start of the National Prayer Vigil for Life, you’re likely to have to sit on the cold stone floor, either in the huge main church or the undercroft, where you’ll need to follow Mass on closed-circuit television. And many do.
As is customary, Mass is celebrated by the chairman of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops Pro-Life Committee, currently Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston. The closing Mass takes place the next morning—the day of the March for Life—at 7:30. Throughout the night, the faithful can go to confession, take part in the National Rosary for Life, sing Night Prayer in the Byzantine Rite and participate in holy hours led by seminarians from throughout the country.
March for Life
Those attending the annual March for Life are encouraged to also pay a visit to their elected representatives in Washington. The March’s website has instruction and advice on how to plan ahead.
But many senators and congressmen and women—those who espouse pro-life principles—may already be at the march and the rally that precedes it. People like Rep. Chris Smith, R-NJ, chairman of the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, are regular speakers at the rally, which takes place on the National Mall. Other speakers regularly include religious leaders, pro-life activists, and ordinary people who share testimony about their experience with abortion.
This year for the first time, there will be a pre-rally event with live music beginning at 11:30 am.
Marchers filing past the Supreme Court will have a chance to stop and pray, or listen to testimony from members of the Silent No More campaign, men and women who regret their past involvement in abortion.
“People will stop by, listen and learn how to use these testimonies in their own work back home in their communities, schools and churches,” said Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, which organizes Silent No More.
The first March for Life Law Conference will be held on Tuesday, January 21, from 9 am-2 pm at the Hyatt Regency Capitol Hill. The conference will feature a symposium on “The New Frontier in Reversing Roe,” presented by Americans United for Life.
Students for Life of America
The group’s 2014 National Conference will take place on Tuesday, January 21, from 9:30 am to 9 pm, at the First Baptist Church of Glenarden. Topics will include “Revolutionary Campus Tactics,” “Changing the ‘I am personally pro-life but…,’” “Why abolishing abortion is the first step to achieving social justice,” and a discussion of “myths,” such as “You need abortion to protect women’s health.” Speakers will include Steve Mosher of Population Research Institute, Kathryn Jean Lopez of National Review, Ryan Bomberger of the Radiance Foundation, Cathy Ruse of the Family Research Council, Jesuit Father Joseph Koterski of Fordham University, and Pat Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition.
National Memorial for the Pre-Born and their Mothers and Fathers
The 20th annual national prayer service will bring together about 100 clergy from dozens of Christian denominations at the DAR Constitution Hall on Wednesday, January 22, 8:30-10:30 am. “People should take advantage of seeing this kind of gathering. It’s not something one sees every day—so many Christian leaders coming together on one issue, particularly, abortion,” said Father Pavone, whose Priests for Life is a co-sponsor. The service, which takes place during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, is preceded by Mass at 7:30 am.
Youth Rally and Mass for Life
Sponsored by the Archdiocese of Washington, this event has been so popular that it regularly overflows the 20,000-seat Verizon Center. Entertainers this year include the Ike Ndolo Band, the Full Armor Band, and Chris Stefanick and DJ Bill.
Cardinal O’Connor Conference on Life
Princeton Professor Robert P. George, who became the chairman of the US Commission for International Religious Freedom this past year, will keynote the 15thconference named in honor of pro-life lion Cardinal John O’Connor. Other speakers at the daylong event, to be held at Georgetown University on Monday, January 20, include Hadley Arkes, the Amherst professor and Catholic convert who is one of the architects of the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act; Charmaine Yoest, president and CEO of Americans United for Life; and Thomas Farr, director of the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown. Bishop Michael Barber, SJ, of Oakland, California, is scheduled to celebrate Mass.
In San Francisco
Walk for Life West Coast
The largest US pro-life demonstration outside of Washington has been hitting the streets of San Francisco for 10 years, and many activists who take part in DC events head out west for this one. This year, it will be held at San Francisco’s Civic Center on Saturday, January 25, beginning with a rally at 12:30 pm. Speakers include actress Shari Rigby, who played the birth mother in October Baby.
Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco will offer Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral on the morning of the walk at 9:30 am.
In addition to the walk, there are events scheduled on the day before and day following, including a sidewalk counselor training session with Abby Johnson, author of Unplanned and former Planned Parenthood employee; the Law of Life Summit, sponsored by the Life Legal Defense Foundation, Ave Maria School of Law, and the National LIFE Runners; and the first Students for Life of America National Conference to be held on the West Coast.
Smaller events to mark the Roe anniversary have been springing up in many cities around the country in recent years. The annual March for Life Chicago has been growing year by year, and the 9th annual march will be held on Sunday, January 19, at 1 pm at Federal Plaza, 50 W. Adams in Chicago. More than 1,000 people are expected to hear Cardinal Francis George and US Reps. Dan Lipinski, D-IL, and Peter Roskam, R-IL.