“This might be our last March,” some declared, on a not-too-cold January 23, 2006, on the streets of Washington, DC. They meant that we are closer than ever to victory over abortion. The crowd at the March for Life (for which reliable size estimates were not given) had a special note of confidence, building on the sense of accomplishment that permeated the event last year because of the pro-life election victories. This year, people were feeling the effects of those election victories as they witness before their eyes the changes on the Supreme Court. Many of the speeches at the March for Life rally and on other occasions throughout the day echoed that theme. I also noticed this year that more people than ever told me it was their first time at the March for Life. We seem to have had a large new wave of recruits this year.
I believe that one reason for the large wave of new recruits was the Terri Schiavo tragedy of last Spring. Terri’s murder was the last straw for many people who have been sitting on the sidelines of the pro-life battle. They saw the connection between that and abortion, and decided to get involved. Many of them marched.
Among the marchers were Terri Schiavo’s mom and dad, Mary and Bob Schindler, and her brother Bobby Schindler. They thanked the crowd of marchers at the Rally. They were also present with me in the US Senate in the morning when we had a prayer service in the prestigious Senate Caucus Room in the Russell Building. I presented them with the “Pro-life Recognition Award,” on behalf of the National Pro-life Religious Council. Clergy from dozens of denominations, and activists from across the nation, filling the room to overflowing, rose to their feet to acknowledge the courage and fidelity of the Schindler family despite the vicious attacks and legal disappointments they faced as they tried to save Terri’s life. In my remarks before presenting them with the award, I mentioned that while people often get awards for what they do, this was especially an award for who they are. They did not seek the spotlight – it came to them by circumstances beyond their control. And yet when that spotlight landed on them, it revealed a family united in love, and ready to go to great lengths of sacrifice to defend their daughter and sister. The Schindlers simply showed us what we are all supposed to do. This stands in stark contrast to the misguided and deceived “loyalty” on the part of those who, claiming they were following Terri’s wishes, killed her. Killing a person is always contrary to love for that person, even if the person requests it (which Terri did not).
Senator Sam Brownback
At that same prayer service, I presented the Pro-life Recognition Award to United States Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas. The Board of the National Pro-life Religious Council had voted to give Senator Brownback this award, because he is one of the pro-life movement’s best friends in Washington, DC. I said in my remarks that he is not one who can simply be counted on to vote with us when the pro-life battles come. Rather, he goes forward pro-actively to seek the battles and to work to advance the cause. He does not simply wait “for the right time;” rather, he knows that the time is always right for justice. His remarks at the confirmation hearings for Chief Justice John Roberts, and for Judge Samuel Alito, zero in on exactly what the pro-life movement has to say about Roe vs. Wade. In fact, last Spring, Senator Brownback led hearings on Roe vs. Wade itself, probing its negative impact on women, families, society, and law.
It was a special joy during the Rally before the march to hear from President Bush, who addressed the marchers by telephone. He said something about the pro-life movement that he has not said about other movements. He called it “noble”. He said we must especially protect unborn children, and pledged to continue to work with us to build a Culture of Life.
Silent No More
As usual, I marched with the women of the Silent No More Awareness Campaign, at the front of the march. They were holding their signs saying “I Regret My Abortion.” The Washington Post ran a front page photo of those signs, hence showing all our government officials this dimension of the movement and the message: What harms the baby harms the mother, too. (The Silent No More Awareness Campaign is a project of Priests for Life and NOEL.)
When we reached the Supreme Court, the women and I took up our position as a group on the corner, facing the marchers who were behind us. As the tens of thousands of marchers came by, so many came up to us, and thanked the women for their courage in speaking up publicly so that other women – and our whole society – will not be deceived by the suggestion that abortion somehow helps women. After the entire march filed by, the women then assembled directly in front of the Supreme Court and offered their testimonies, one by one, over loudspeakers to an assembled crowd of several hundred people. Some men spoke as well of the grief they endure for having had their children aborted. Various radio outlets called in to get some of the women to share their testimony on the air. One woman gave her testimony in Spanish. All the listeners were moved, and renewed in their determination to speak out about the devastation caused by abortion.
These women want to share their testimonies. They see it as the best thing they can do to praise God for his healing power, and to invite others to repentance. They long to counteract the destructive lies of those who promote abortion. In sharing their stories publicly, in fact, they do what for many years and decades they have longed to do, but never had the strength because they were locked in the silence of shame. Their testimony itself is a victory for life, for grace, and for truth.
A Distant Thunder
Many other things took place surrounding the most visible events of the March for Life. For example, there is always a March for Life Convention that takes place in the days immediately before the March. This convention occurred at the Hyatt Regency hotel on Capitol Hill, and consisted of educational seminars led by various speakers, additional testimonies of women who had abortions, and exhibit booths from various pro-life groups. One of the highlights of the convention was the airing of the new film “A Distant Thunder.” This film, written by Jonathan Flora, brings the expertise of Hollywood to the pro-life message. It is an intriguing story revolving around a court case about a partial-birth abortion that went wrong. As the drama unfolds, the viewer is brought through some of the most striking legal and medical facts surrounding abortion, and the contradictions it introduces into our society. The film shows the supernatural dimension of the struggle between life and death, as well as the psychological storms that take place in the mind of someone who has an abortion. Without a doubt, this film – which is 35 minutes in length – will become one of the most powerful tools to make people think and wrestle with the abortion issue.
Thirty years ago I participated in my first March for Life – January 22, 1976. That is when my own pro-life activism began. The enthusiasm I felt that day for the cause of justice for our unborn brothers and sisters has only grown. As I marched, I rejoiced in the knowledge that so many of the students there would be inspired the same way. As always, the most enjoyable aspect of the march for me was the opportunity to greet in person a continuous stream of pro-life people from across the nation who are part of this great movement. So many had the opportunity to thank me for the work we do at Priests for Life. I say “You’re welcome” and “Thank you for the work you do as well!” Together, we will celebrate the victory!