WASHINGTON - At rallies prayer services and marches held in Washington on the 31st anniversary of the legalization of abortion in the United States, participants were encouraged to continue their fight against abortion.
During a Jan. 21 Mass celebrated as part of the National Prayer Vigil for Life, Cardinal William H. Keeler of Baltimore, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities, urged participants to take to heart Pope John Paul IIs words -uttered shortly after his elevation to the papacy: "Be not afraid!"
In his homily at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the cardinal prompted applause from the assembly when he said, "Roe supporters have become the forces of reaction, the forces of entrenched interests; as we see here again tonight, the pro-life movement has become the younger, more vibrant force in this great struggle.
"You who are our wonderful young people - young in fact, young in heart you have taken to heart the words of the Holy Father, 'Be not afraid."'
The cardinal then read a message sent by President Bush thanking them for their participation in the National Prayer Vigil for Life and for their "ongoing dedication to building a culture of life in America."
President Bush also addressed March for Life participants at a Jan. 22 rally at the Ellipse between the White House and the Washington Monument, telling them by phone from Roswell, N.M., that they must continue "to remind our fellow citizens that all life is sacred and worthy of protection."
He spoke of the abortion-limiting legislation passed during his administration, including the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act; the ban on partial-birth abortion, which is facing a court challenge; and restrictions on use of tax money in international programs that encourage abortion.
He also listed several other pieces of legislation he would support, including increased federal funding for abstinence education and passage of the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which would allow prosecution under homicide statutes for the death of fetuses killed during the commission of a crime.
The crowd gathered on the Ellipse for the March for Life rally resembled a high school pep rally complete with chaperones. People assembled in small groups to take pictures of themselves, eat a quick lunch or hold aloft banners before the speeches began, and they seemed more relaxed than in previous years, perhaps in part because of warmer temperatures.
At midday, the temperature reached 40 degrees, quite unlike years when marchers faced below-freezing weather or walked through snow.
Betty Herold, a parishioner at St. Augustine's in Barbertown, Ohio, has been marching for the past 25 years to protest the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton decisions legalizing abortion. This year, prior to the march she stood at the side of Constitution Avenue along with thousands of others, making the street look like a pre-parade gathering. She and other St. Augustine parishioners said the march invigorated them.
And a group of youths under the banner New Hampshire Teens for Life seemed equally invigorated.
"This is huge. I'm so glad I came," said Meghan McNamara, a freshman from St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Dover, N.H., at the Ellipse.
She and her friends said they had a mixed reaction from their friends back home about coming to the march, but hoped to get a pro-life group together when they got back.
After the rally speeches, participants walked along Constitution Avenue to the Supreme Court and then many continued to visit members of Congress and lobby for pro-life legislation.
Before heading back to their buses, hundreds of marchers stopped at Catholic parishes located on either side of the Capitol for drinks and snacks.
At the end of the day, when most marchers began their trips home, a few hundred remained in front of the Supreme Court for a another rally where at least 50 women held signs that read "I regret my abortion."
The rally was part of the Silent No More Campaign co-sponsored by the Catholic organization Priests for Life and the National Organization of Episcopalians for Life, known as NOEL. [NOEL was renamed Anglicans for Life in March 2007]
One of the first speakers was actress Jennifer O'Neill, who sat in a wheelchair because of a broken foot. O'Neill told the crowd that all speakers that night had different stories and different reasons for having their abortions but one common thread was that they all regretted the procedure.
"You can't kill your own young and be well afterward," she said, adding that she had nine miscarriages after her abortion.
She also said that she suffered emotionally after the abortion but pointed out that her faith in God enabled her to find "healing, hope and restoration."
Alveda King, the niece of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., told the crowd she too felt the emotional pain of having an abortion but also came to experience God's forgiveness.
"Women who don't admit to the pain of abortion are numb," she. said.
Rallies where women speak frankly about the impact of abortion on their lives have expanded the pro-life movement's emphasis, according to Georgette Forney, executive director of NOEL and co-founder of the Silent No More Awareness Campaign.
During a panel discussion on abortion and the American woman at Catholic University in Washington, Forney sand that as women begin to speak more openly about the physical and emotional pain they suffered from their abortions they will begin a new grass-roots movement.
Panelist Cathy Cleaner Ruse, director of planning and information for the U.S. bishops' Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities agreed, stating that society as a whole is beginning to understand the concept that abortion kills babies, but it "still embraces abortion saying it's good for women."
She described the women who are speaking out as "our new prophets who will bring us to the end of this. These women are the rest of the story."
In a press conference by the National Right to Life Committee, Wanda Franz, the organization's president, said that "the days of Roe are numbered: The number of abortions is down and the support for abortion rights has eroded."
At a separate press conference, the American Life League launched a new ad campaign with the theme "The Way of La Crosse," which it said "pays tribute" to letters sent to some Catholic politicians in Wisconsin by Archbishop Raymond Burke when he headed the Diocese of La Crosse, Wis., urging them to drop their support for abortion or not receive Communion at Mass. The league sand all bishops "must send a clear, unambiguous message" that "you cannot be pro-abortion and Catholic."
Across the country, dozens of Masses, pro-life rallies and prayer services took place to mark the Roe anniversary.