Washington — Hundreds of thousands turned out to march for the pro-life cause Thursday, gathering on the National Mall to pray, sing, mingle and remember the millions of children lost since abortion was legalized in 1973.
A massive number of people gathered for the 36th annual protest of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion under the banner of the right to privacy.
“There is no moderate position on abortion,” said March for Life founder Nellie Gray at the protest. “[That’s] because there is no moderate position between the decision to kill or not to kill.”
Former president George W. Bush proclaimed National Sanctity of Human Life Week shortly before leaving office, summarizing his position on human life issues as he bid farewell to a movement that helped him win election.
“The most basic duty of government is to protect the life of the innocent,” wrote Mr. Bush in his proclamation. “My administration has been committed to building a culture of life by vigorously promoting adoption and parental notification laws, opposing federal funding for abortions overseas, encouraging teen abstinence and funding crisis pregnancy programs.”
Mr. Bush highlighted the pro-life movement’s grounding in compassion.
“America is a caring nation, and our values should guide us as we harness the gifts of science,” he said. “In our zeal for new treatments and cures, we must never abandon our fundamental morals. We can achieve the great breakthroughs we all seek with reverence for the gift of life.”
Cardinal Justin Rigali, Archbishop of Philadelphia and chairman of the Pro-Life Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, led thousands of people from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia at the March. The four auxiliary bishops of Philadelphia joined the cardinal, as well as priests, religious men and women, seminarians from St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, students and parishioners.
“We have to be consistent,” Cardinal Rigali told The Bulletin. “We’re trying to promote peace throughout the world, whether that is on the international scene in Iraq or on the streets of Philadelphia, justice must be for everyone. Everybody is created by God; everybody is created in the image of God; everybody is worthy of respect from the beginning. [The youth] belong now to a trend of young people who realize that this makes a great deal of sense, because this is a reasonable thing to do. There’s something in our hearts that tells us this is right, and that the human being cannot be violated without turning everything upside down.”
The marchers had a more outspoken tone than in previous years, as President Barack Obama took up the reigns of the most powerful nation in the world this week. Pro-life leaders have criticized Mr. Obama as the most pro-abortion president in the U.S history. Mr. Obama promised Planned Parenthood during his campaign that he would sign the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA), legislation that would enshrine abortion as the right of every mother. FOCA would abolish any restrictions on abortion, including term limits and parental consent requirements. Recent surveys showed that fewer than 10 percent of Americans favor totally unrestricted abortion.
Cardinal Rigali has been an outspoken critic of FOCA, warning of the dangers to society that FOCA would present.
“It’s proposed to make [abortion] into a right, so that everybody must be constrained,” he said in an interview. “It’s freedom of choice, only to have the abortion, and to compel other people to support this. [FOCA] would entail that the American taxpayers would have to pay taxes for abortions, whether they agree with it or not, because there’s no freedom of choice in the Freedom of Choice Act.
“We remember that Sen. Obama had pledged to sign this bill if it were presented, but we also remember that he said he wanted to bring people together, not to divide America,” Cardinal Rigali continued. “If he would try to divide America over this issue, it would be a terrible setback. We would be totally divided. You cannot force people to be united in the destruction of human beings.”
Being scheduled so closely to the most expensive and well-attended inauguration in the country’s history, the march drew its own counter-protest from abortion advocates in Washington.
Rabbi Yehuda Levin, an orthodox rabbi from Brooklyn, led a contingent of rabbis in the March. The rabbis marched near the front of the March, stopping and standing at the end of the March to talk, take photos with marchers and be a beacon for Jewish contribution to the pro-life movement.
“We might not have the quantity I would like to see in the Jewish community [at the March], but in quality, we contribute, as a people living according to and in affirmation of the roots of the pro-life movement, which is in Gen. 9:6, a command God gave before there was a Jewish people.”
Genesis 9:6 reads, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.”
Politicians came to show their support for the unborn, braving the January weather to let the marchers know that they are committed to the battle for life in a Congress dominated by a party in favor of abortion.
U.S. Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Kan., told The Bulletin in an interview that the abortion debate is still relevant in America.
“The tragedy of abortion is still very much alive today,” he said. “Politically, it comes and goes, but we still consider it an issue in Wichita Kansas, where we still have a doctor who performs late term abortions.”
Mr. Tiahrt said that abortion represents a great loss of potential for the country and the world.
“Who knows what song would have been written, or book,” he said. “Or [what] cure for disease that would have been given from that young mind. We lose that through abortion. I think we just push it to the back of our mind under the false pretence that women have the right to choose.”
Fr. Frank Pavone, national director for Priests for Life, held an interdenominational prayer service before the March for over 20 religious faiths. Fr. Pavone said that the pro-life movement is a great tool to unify those who differ in faith.
“I always think back to 1995, when Pope John Paul II issued the encyclical, ‘The Gospel Of Life,’” he said. “Three months later, he issued his encyclical on Christian unity. How much that was planned, I don’t know, but they do in fact inform one another. He said that Christians must come together to stand up for the oppressed. Christians in the pro-life movement are getting to know each other, because they’re in the trenches together: they witness together, they sometimes get arrested together. It’s one of my greatest joys to interact with these various religious groups. This is about bringing the whole world to Christ.”
John P. Connolly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org