Pro-lifers offer largely silent witness at march

Mark Pattison

Document Publication: Catholic News Service - Washington, DC

Publication Date: April 01, 2004

Vastly outnumbered by the hundreds of thousands taking part in the April 25 March for Women's Lives in Washington, pro-life groups conducted a largely silent witness along the march route.

Even the group Silent No More Awareness, which urges its members to speak publicly about their abortions; decided to stay quiet at its locations along the route of those marching to keep abortion legal.

'Today we're being silent," said Georgette Forney, the group's co-founder. "It won't do any good to engage them. This is not the forum."

About 90 members of the organization, including many members of American Collegians for Life, lined one sidewalk near the start of the march route bearing signs and wearing T-shirts with a pro-life message.

Annie Banno, Connecticut State Leader of Operation Outcry: Silent No More, told Catholic News Service she was in denial for 20 years after her abortion. She said in the five years since she has gotten to the point that "I can stand here and talk about it without crying my eyes out."

Luz Marina Tomayo of Miami, also holding an "I Regret My Abortion" sign, said her husband coerced her into an abortion 13 months ago. "I've been depressed ever since," she told CNS.

At a second location along the march route, close to 100 pro-lifers lined the curb at an intersection.

There, Andrea Staargaard, 19, a student at Penn State University, talked about the abortion she had when she was 16. "This isn't the first time I've done this," Staargaard said, referring to talking about her abortion. "But it has to be done," she continued, "because there are millions of women who think this (that abortion is OK), and millions of children who have been lost."

Staargaard said her boyfriend found an abortion clinic in New Jersey and drove her there. Because Staargaard was a minor living in Pennsylvania, state law required parental consent, and Staargaard wanted to avoid telling her family.

"A doctor even suggested that I use a fake name," she said. At the clinic, she added, "I remember a nurse telling me that if I were her daughter, she would have me do the same thing."

In the three years since the abortion, "I never stop thinking about it," Staargaard said. One source of solace after her abortion was joining the Catholic Church. "I was pretty much an agnostic before," she said. "If I didn't have Jesus in my life, I'd probably be dead. I know it sounds cliched and dramatic, but it's absolutely true."

The March for Women's Lives drew, by an estimate of its leaders, 1.15 million people to the National Mall.

U.S. Park Police arrested 16 members of the Christian Defense Coalition for demonstrating without a permit when they left the area for which the group had obtained permits and moved to an area reserved for the march.

Earlier, before marchers passed by, 60 members of the group had engaged in, literally, street theater at a different location. Participants first knelt in a blocked-off intersection, then lay down and curled into the fetal position in the street as others drew chalk outlines around them in the style used for homicides. The action moved Forney to tears.

Between counter demonstrations, Jenni Nelson, 23, of the Detroit suburb of Ecorse, Mich., said she seriously considered aborting her daughter, Liberty, now 3. Her parents, Nelson said, were pro-life "but I didn't want to disappoint them" by having them know about her out-of-wedlock pregnancy.

"I didn't know there were resources out there," she said. "I thought I was going to have to give up on college. I almost went to Planned Parenthood for a pregnancy test" But with support from her parents and Liberty's father, Nelson was able to complete college. "I own a house," she said. "I'm doing better than a lot of my friends who haven't had children - and better than my friends who've had abortions."

As about 50 members of Feminists for Life headed past the group, Nelson told them, "You guys are so awesome, so brave, so courageous. I really idolize you guys."

On April 24, about 200 members of Catholics for a Free Choice took part in a brief demonstration outside the Vatican Embassy in Washington to protest church teaching on abortion. Kept at a distance were a group of pro-life counter demonstrators less than half that size.

Also that day, Jeff White of Twin Peaks, Calif., was arrested by District of Columbia Police for carrying a fetus in a jar during a protest in front of a Planned Parenthood office in downtown Washington. He was charged with illegally exhibiting a dead body, which is a misdemeanor carrying a possible penalty of 90 days in jail or a $200 fine.

Protest organizers said White got the fetus from a California doctor and that it was from a miscarriage, not an abortion.

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