The 14th annual Walk for Life West Coast will be held Saturday, January 27, 2018. The event begins with a kick-off rally at the Civic Center in downtown San Francisco, followed by a 1.8-mile walk down Market Street to the Embarcadero along San Francisco Bay. The three-fold goal of the event, according to its website, is: “To be a vocal and visual message that people of the West Coast stand for life. To reach out to women harmed by abortion. To inform society of the damage done to women by abortion.” Tens of thousands of pro-lifers are expected to participate, demonstrating both their respect for unborn human life and a call for an end to abortion.
The Walk begins with a 10:45 am Silent No More Awareness Campaign, coordinated by Georgette Forney and Father Frank Pavone of Priests for Life. The pair will introduce women and men who have been personally involved with abortion, Forney said, “to share what their abortion experience has been like. They will talk about the consequences of their decision, how they have found healing, and offer advice to young people not to make the same mistakes they did.”
This will be Forney’s ninth time participating in the Walk for Life; her first was in 2005. She recalled that at the first Walk she attended, “we had more protesters than people walking with us.”
“However, it’s been a fascinating change, watching our numbers grow to the tens of thousands while the number of protesters has dwindled,” she explained. “Today, you see a lot of families with children. It’s become a family event, which makes it a lot of fun.”
Eva Muntean, co-founder of the Walk and marketing manager at Ignatius Press, believes 14 years of the Walk “have raised awareness about the evil of abortion, and has led many to have a change of heart on the issue.”
The morning will also include an Info Faire beginning at 11 am, followed by a rally from 12:30 to 1:30 pm. Rally speakers will include Terry Beatley, a Catholic “re-vert” who founded the Hosea Initiative to carry on the work of abortionist-turned-Catholic pro-lifer Dr. Bernard Nathanson (1926-2011); Dr. John Bruchalski, another former abortion provider, and Rev. Clenard Childress, a Baptist pastor who has promoted the pro-life message within the African-American community.
Beatley will touch on material contained in her book What If We’ve Been Wrong? Keeping My Promise to America’s “Abortion King.” She met Nathanson in the final years of his life when he was terminally ill with cancer; he related how the pro-abortion lobby deceived Americans into accepting legalized abortion in the 60s and 70s. Beatley said, “I made a promise to Dr. Nathanson to share this story of deception, and I plan on traveling from the West Coast to the East Coast to do it.”
Childress is a repeat speaker at the Walk, which he calls “the most invigorating pro-life event of the year.”
Joseph Scheidler of the Pro-Life Action League will receive a St. Gianna Molla Award acknowledging his lifetime of pro-life advocacy. Scheidler is perhaps most famous for the National Organization for Women v. Scheidler case, ultimately decided in his favor by the US Supreme Court and described by his lawyer, Thomas Brejcha, as a “transparent attempt to gag pro-life activism at abortion clinics nationally through the blatant misuse of federal antitrust and racketeering statutes.”
Scheidler quipped, “I don’t deserve the award, but I’ll take it. Besides, St. Gianna’s is a beautiful pro-life story and I’m pleased to be associated with it.”
Catholic clergy, seminarians, and groups
The Walk itself begins at 1:30 pm.
While groups and individuals representing different religious traditions have always participated in the Walk, Catholic clergy, seminarians, and groups are prominent among the participants every year. Muntean noted that the Walk has also attracted increasing numbers of young people each year.
One of the young people planning to attend the Walk is Joe Daly, a junior at Thomas Aquinas College (TAC) in Santa Paula, California. Daly is helping coordinate participation by students and staff from the college, who turn out annually in large numbers. This will be his third Walk; he calls his previous experiences at the event “fantastic.” He expects about 200 students to come this year, more than half the TAC student body.
TAC students have an important role at the Walk, according to Daly. “Our students hold the perimeter in order to prevent protesters from breaking into the Walk and causing chaos,” he explained. “There are always dis-unified clumps of protesters lining parts of the sidewalks who wave signs and angrily shout and chant ugly things at the people walking.”
Students also help “set the tone,” Daly said. “We do that through song.” In response to angry shouts and chants from counter-protesters, he said, “we unite the front of the Walk through songs like Amazing Grace, Battle Hymn of the Republic, and God Bless America. We don’t let ourselves get distracted by the protesters, and we focus on our mission in prayerful and musical unity.”
His motivation for participation in the Walk, Daly said, is to “give voice to the voiceless and bear witness to the monstrosity that robs children of life in the place they should be most protected, most cherished.”
“We participate in the Walk because we are the pro-life generation, and we are wrestling our culture and our society back from the pro-abortion profiteers who have commandeered it for far too long,” Daly added.
Reggie Littlejohn, founder and president of Women’s Rights Without Frontiers, was a speaker at the 2017 Walk for Life. She noted that one of the many benefits of the Walk is getting to know your fellow walkers. Last year she shared the stage with Pam Tebow, mother of Christian professional athlete Tim Tebow, and with abortion survivor Melissa Ohden, and then walked the nearly two-mile route with them. She said, “It is one of the unexpected delights. I have a photo of the three of us together there that I’ll always cherish.”
In addition to the rally and Walk, there will be a variety of related activities that weekend. St. Dominic’s Church in San Francisco will host a Walk for Life Prayer Vigil on Friday, January 26, from 5 to 7:30 pm. Also that evening there will be a 40 Days for Life Walk for Life Gala at JW Marriott Union Square in San Francisco, featuring a presentation by Alan Keyes. The iconic Saints Peter and Paul Church will host an all-night Eucharistic Adoration for Life as well.
On the morning of the Walk, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone will con-celebrate Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral; following the Walk, the National Shrine of St. Francis will offer a High Mass in the Extraordinary Form beginning at 5 pm. Star of the Sea Parish will present a free BBQ with a presentation by the Sisters of Life followed by a Holy Hour.
There are also events that weekend organized by Anglicans for Life and by Orthodox Christian communities, as well as Students for Life of America’s West Coast National Conference.
The Walk for Life will be televised live on EWTN, or it can be viewed afterward on the EWTN YouTube channel. A team from EWTN will travel to San Francisco for the event, including Father Mark Mary of the Franciscan Missionaries of the Eternal Word, who will be covering his 13th Walk for the network. Coverage will include the rally, interviews on the street, and a remote camera offering a view of the entire Walk route.
Reflecting on the history of the event, Father Mark Mary said, “The Walk has really established itself from the first year, when the mayor of San Francisco, Gavin Newsom, organized a counter demonstration.”
While the first years had an older crowd, Father Mark Mary said, he has noticed a larger number of young people and families in more recent years. He also pointed out that the event has become more ethnically diverse over time.
He says he is grateful for the opportunity to attend each year. “It’s always a big shot in the arm for me to cover it,” he said. “San Francisco is an icon of liberalism and libertine morality; to have a big pro-life march there is a great sign of hope.”