When she became pregnant as an unmarried college student 31 years ago, "I never considered that there was a life being nurtured inside of me," said the Rev. Peggy Means.
She had an abortion, which she thought of as "a clinical procedure that I needed to get on with my life."
But today she will tell her story to thousands of abortion protesters at a rally as part of the March for Life in Washington, D.C. Her goal is to urge other women not to have abortions and to reach out to those who have.
"I spoke last year, but this year I was asked to do so and to wear my [clergy] collar," said Rev. Means, assistant rector of Christ Church (Anglican) in Greensburg.
About 6,000 people from Greater Pittsburgh will travel to the march on 120 buses. More would go if more buses were available, she said.
The Park Police no longer estimate crowd sizes, but the March for Life is believed to draw six figures.
Although the march is normally held on the Jan. 22 anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in 1973, it skips weekends so that participants can meet with legislators, said Helen Cindrich, executive director of People Concerned for the Unborn Child.
The Silent No More rally at which Rev. Means will speak is one of several satellite events surrounding the main march.
Among the most popular is the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington's Youth Concert and Mass for Life, which packs the 17,000-seat Verizon Center. Thousands of young people had to be turned away each year, so a second site has been added at the 10,000-seat D.C. Armory.
Lauren Gates, youth minister at North American Martyrs parish in Monroeville, said that when tickets were made available online, "The Verizon Center sold out in less than three minutes."
After several weeks on a waiting list, her group obtained 53 tickets for the armory.
Rev. Means will speak in front of the U.S. Supreme Court building after the main rally on the mall.
The abortion "really began to trouble me about two or three years into my marriage, when it became pretty clear I couldn't get pregnant. I started to wonder if there was a connection. ... I asked every doctor that I went to during my fertility ordeal," she said.
She slowly came to the conclusion that she had taken the life of a child, who she now calls Samuel. Adopting a girl 16 years ago helped her to come to terms with her actions.
"It was a sin to end a life, and I had arrived at that decision out of pride and shame," she said. "I didn't want my family to know. I wanted to finish nursing school. I was the only one in my extended family who was off to college and leaving my little hometown. I didn't want to deal with that."
But she said nothing publicly until she began to explore ordination as an Episcopal priest. She told a priest who was her mentor, who asked if she wanted to make a sacramental confession.
That act, she said, compelled her to take action. Ordained in 2006, she became a chaplain to Rachel's Vineyard, a ministry to women who have had abortions, and those who urged them to have one.
"I think I'm a walking picture of God's grace and redemption, not only because of the abortion but for a lot of reasons. We are all miracles when we are on the other side of some things we have done," she said.
Ann Rodgers: firstname.lastname@example.org