The 16th annual Walk for Life West Coast will be held this Saturday, January 25, in downtown San Francisco. The event coincides with the 47th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s January 22, 1973 Roe v. Wade decision striking down the nation’s anti-abortion laws, and it draws tens of thousands of walkers from the Bay area and surrounding regions who will turn out to peacefully and publicly demonstrate on behalf of life.
There is no charge to participate and additional walkers are always welcome; participants are asked to register on the Walk for Life West Coast website. The purpose of the Walk, as articulated on the Walk for Life West Coast 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.”
Events at Civic Center Plaza
Saturday events at San Francisco’s Civic Center Plaza begin at 10:45 a.m with a Silent No More Awareness Campaign led by Fr. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life and Georgette Forney of Anglicans for Life. The duo 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.”
Beginning at 11 a.m., there will be an Info Faire featuring information for participants on services and issues related to Life. The Faire will also include a table where participants can register to vote, so that they may help elect candidates who reflect their pro-life views.
The main event begins at 12:30 p.m., a rally followed by a walk through the city. Rally speakers include Fr. Pavone, who attended his first March for Life in Washington, D.C. in 1976. He has been director of Priests for Life since 1993 and is a prominent Catholic voice on behalf of life.
Fr. Pavone said he intends to offer the crowd an “election pep talk” stressing that “victory is in our reach if we can make this election in November turn out the right way.”
The two oldest justices on the U.S. Supreme Court are pro-abortion, he noted, so a pro-life president appointing pro-life replacement justices could mean “that in a year or two we could have a 7-2 pro-life majority on the court.”
The prominent presence of a voter registration table at the rally, he believes, will underscore the importance of pro-life Catholics voting their pro-life convictions.
The current state of the pro-life movement
Fr. Pavone noted that he was “not surprised, but grateful” that President Donald Trump has agreed to speak in person at Friday’s Washington, D.C. 47th annual March for Life, the first time in the history of the March. “The president,” says Fr. Pavone, “has gone out of his way to help our movement … his involvement shows the great progress of our cause.”
Referencing actress Michelle Williams’ advocacy of abortion at a recent Golden Globes award ceremony, Fr. Pavone said, “Her remarks reinforce what we say, that abortion is not an act of freedom, but one of despair. Women standing at the doors of an abortion clinic believe that they have no freedom, no choice but to choose abortion.”
He continued, “That actress said that it was her right to decide when she had children and with whom. But her decision was not about when to have children, but to kill a child who already existed in the womb.”
There has been a change in the leadership of those advocating for abortion, he believes. He recalled his early days in the moment, when some attendees at pro-abortion rallies held orange signs that read “Abortion on Demand and Without Apology.” He continued, “These are the folks with this message who have moved front and center to leadership. The current Democrat candidates for president do not believe there is a single reason to limit or restrict abortion. The American people have never taken this position.”
He pointed to self-described Catholic candidate for president, Joe Biden, who once favored the Hyde Amendment which restricted federal funding for abortion. He abandoned his support for the amendment early in his presidential campaign, Fr. Pavone noted, “which shows how disconnected he is from the people he wants to represent.”
Fr. Pavone believes the state of the pro-life movement is stronger than ever, and has been bolstered by the testimonies of those who have suffered pain as a result of their decision to have an abortion. He said, “Pro-life people are more motivated, and young people are getting involved in the movement, realizing that they are abortion survivors.”
He also noted that the number of facilities providing abortions has declined, as has the rate of abortion. He added, “We’ve also seen state legislation and court decisions more often going our way.”
The U.S. Supreme Court, as well as lower courts, have re-visited the Roe decision many times, and “every time the court takes a step away from Roe, it gives states more leeway to legislate on abortion, and we see more action taken against abortion by the states. Roe has its ‘finger in the dike,’ holding back a lot of legislative activity that would have occurred if the legislators felt like they could act.”
He sees the future of restricting abortion as a combination of action by courts and legislatures, which “emphasizes the importance of elections.” He welcomes the public to follow the work of Priests for Life at www.priestsforlife.org, and stressed that the organization’s work was not just for priests, but lay people as well.
Fr. Joseph Fessio: “We have to stand up for life”
Other speakers include Kathleen Folan, Director of Family and Youth Ministry at St. Dominic Church in San Francisco, and Clenard Childress, a black Baptist pastor who has promoted the pro-life message to the inner city community. Dr. Pat Castle, founder and president of LIFE Runners, will present a Saint Gianna Molla Award.
Returning for his 16th walk this year is Fr. Joseph Fessio of Ignatius Press, which owns and publishes Catholic World Report. He has seen the number of participants grow from 3,000 to 50,000, and is praying that rain won’t depress the number of walkers this year.
He wants to participate in the walk, he said, “because as people of God, we have to stand up for life. As a priest, I want to be out there with the lay people, raising awareness and offering my support.”
While the event received scant media attention in its early days, as media has increasingly covered the event, the public can see that pro-lifers “are not violent people, are people of different ages and races, and otherwise a fine group of citizens.”
He notes that the media will not show images of aborted babies, however, so that the general public can better understand what abortion is. He said, “The media will show gruesome photos of war scenes or assassinations, but not a baby mangled by abortion. If the public saw it, they’d be repulsed by it.”
Like Fr. Pavone, Fr. Fessio was pleased that President Trump is participating in the March for Life. He said, “I’m very happy to see President Trump supporting the cause of life. A cynic might say he is just playing to his political base, but there are other presidents who could have done it that did not. I think it’s a great thing.”
A variety of parish and school groups will be participating in Walk for Life West Coast this year. These include Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, which will be bringing 260 people, nearly all of whom are students. It is the largest group of students ever to turn out for the walk, and represents 75% of the student body.
Junior Stephen Cyr is a student organizer of the school’s participation in the walk, and will be participating in his 3rd walk. He said, “This is a highlight of the year for me, and gives me the opportunity to speak out for one of the biggest things I believe in.”
He is active in a variety of causes, including helping at homes which care for the disabled, but he sees abortion as the most important cause of all. He explained, “Since 1973, 63 million babies have died from surgical abortions, not counting those chemically aborted, making it the biggest social injustice in history.”
Abortion has been legal during his whole lifetime, he noted, and a third of his generation has been aborted. He said, “I see myself as a survivor. I have a responsibility to fight on behalf of those who were aborted, and to stop this injustice from continuing.”
The length of the walk is 1.8 miles. At 1:30 p.m., walkers will leave the Civic Center Plaza to head down Market Street to the Embarcadero Plaza. Organizers encourage participants not using public transportation to park by either plaza and use the shuttle buses or public transportation to return to their vehicles. And, while there are sometimes protesters along the route, there has always been an ample police presence to secure everyone’s safety. See the Walk’s Code of Conduct for information on responding to protesters. See the website for suggestions on parking and for directions.
There are a variety of companion events to the West Coast Walk for Life. A Walk for Life Prayer Vigil will be held at St. Dominic’s Church, San Francisco, on the Friday before the walk from 6:30 – 7:30 p.m., and an All Night Eucharistic Adoration for Life at Ss. Peter and Paul Church, San Francisco, beginning at 8 p.m. Friday. On the day of the walk, at 9:30 a.m., Archbishop Alexander Sample of Portland, Oregon will offer a special Mass for walk participants at St. Mary’s Cathedral.
Following the walk, at 6 p.m. Saturday, there will be an Extraordinary Form Mass at the National Shrine of St. Francis of Assisi celebrated by Fr. Michael Rocha. Fr. Francisco Nahoe, OFM, will be the homilist. Star of the Sea Parish will host a BBQ dinner after its 4:30 p.m. Vigil Mass; an all night Eucharistic Adoration will follow. Check the walk schedule for additional details and other events.
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