SAN FRANCISCO — Many in the pro-life movement have been energized by legislative and policy successes in the past year. But while Roe v. Wade remains the law of the land, their work continues, and so do the mass protests against abortion.
More than 50,000 pro-life demonstrators marched through the heart of San Francisco Jan. 27, waving signs, holding banners, singing and praying, to highlight the dignity of life and illustrate that abortion is not the only choice available to women and their families. The walk was broadcast live on EWTN.
At the pre-walk rally at Civic Center Plaza, Eva Muntean, a co-founder of the Walk for Life West Coast, told the crowd: “We’re here to proclaim that abortion hurts women, we’re here to take back the narrative that abortion is a right, and, personally, I’m here to ‘take back pink.’”
After the Most Rev. Benjamin, archbishop of San Francisco and the West of the Ortthodox Church in America, gave the invocation, several speakers took to the podium to encourage and energize the crowd. Terry Beatley, president of the Hosea Initiative, took the podium to highlight the deception and falsehood involved in creating and legitimizing the abortion industry in America.
Rev. Clenard Childress, a Baptist minister and a longtime speaker at the Walk for Life, told the crowd, “We are the antidote to this nation’s ills, and it’s God that has come now to give you your victory. You’re now moving into the place where we are going to see abortion end, and we are going to see it in our day.”
Joe Scheidler, national director and founder of the Pro-Life Action League, received the “St. Gianna Molla Award” for pro-life heroism from the Walk for Life West Coast. The iconic pro-life leader, in his black trench coat and flat-brimmed hat, joked that with the warm weather, he would take off his coat, but not his hat.
“People don’t know me without the hat,” he said.
And Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco delivered a moving homily at St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral in San Francisco before the Walk for Life.
“We live in an age that tells us we can compartmentalize, even with the truth: Take what you like; leave what you don’t. But it doesn’t work that way, not if you want to live by God’s order, which makes us capable of giving and receiving love, which in turn orients us toward life. To affirm the dignity of the human life in the womb is to affirm every other single aspect of this order; to set aside any one aspect unravels the entire order, bringing back chaos and all that goes with it — death and mourning, wailing and pain.
“In our Blessed Mother, we have the counter-sign: Mary reflects the order with which God originally created the universe, and re-creates it through her Son. This is what it means to be pro-life: to recognize, accept and live out this entire order. It means to organize our whole lives around respect for this ingenious divine order, living it out in our bodies as well as in our minds and hearts, our attitudes and our values.”
A Day for Families
Prior to the speakers, Civic Center Plaza had gradually filled with families, parish groups and other marchers.
Muntean told the Register she thought the turnout this year was among the largest ever. She noted that while the Walk for Life has always turned heads, this was the first year the city’s major media outlets had covered the walk.
California, and San Francisco particularly, has been unquestionably friendly to legal abortion, but Muntean said the walk lets people understand “there is help out there.”
Muntean said that the family atmosphere, and the joyful singing and music throughout the event, had been a goal of the organizers.
Several groups had brought musical instruments, and bands of musicians sang and danced in different parts of the plaza before the speakers took the stage.
“We want this to be a joyful event,” Muntean said. “We want to be where people see that there are so many others who think like them and they can be happy about that, about what we’re accomplishing and how we’re standing up for life.”
Shawn Carney, executive director of 40 Days for Life, told the Register that the walk “reflects the momentum we see in the pro-life movement across the country.”
Calling the walk “a huge shot in the arm” for the pro-life movement, Carney said that if 50,000 people show up to walk for life in San Francisco, “It should encourage people to go out and pray in front of their local abortion facility no matter where they live.”
Abortion Industrial Center
Now in his 10th year of attending the West Coast Walk for Life, pro-life advocate David Daleiden told the Register he loves how the walk “brings the pro-life movement into the heart of the abortion industry.”
Not only is much of the city vociferous in its support for abortion, but the city also acts as a training ground and laboratory for the national abortion industry, he said. Daleiden contrasted the continuous growth of the Walk for Life with the decreasing presence of pro-abortion protesters. While 10 years ago, the walk was “like running the gauntlet,” he said, now abortion advocates can’t turn out significant numbers of people to support taxpayer-funded abortion.
“These marches feel like victory marches now, for the first time, because we’re winning,” he said.
Daleiden said the Walk for Life had a “very humble, spiritual core.”
“We don’t have political power in San Francisco,” he said. “All we have is the power of the spirit that comes through in an achingly beautiful way. That’s what I Iove about the Walk for Life.”
Daleiden, whose undercover footage of abortionists and medical executives led to investigations of Planned Parenthood and some of its business partners, said that pressure on Planned Parenthood needs to continue until the organization closes down.
“Planned Parenthood provides political firepower and legal support for the national abortion industry,” he said. “Without them, the rest of the abortion industry is adrift.”
Colorado to California
More than 40 Catholic students from the University of Colorado-Boulder attended the Walk for Life, accompanied by several Sisters of Life from Denver and Franciscan Friars of the Renewal from Harlem, New York. Father Peter Mussett, the pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Center at CU-Boulder, told the Register that the current generation of students, many of whom marched at the front of the walk, are “deeply aware of the profound need for healing” because so many of their peers’ lives had been lost.
Sister of Life Maris Stella told the Register she was always “struck by the amount of joy” found at the walk. She said one of her favorite moments of this year’s walk — this was her fifth year attending — was when they prayed the Rosary in English and a nearby Spanish-speaking group prayed the Rosary, as well.
“We were all united with Mary, the Mother of Life, watching over everything,” she said.
CU-Boulder students Molli Nava and Danny Anderson told the Register that on a campus where so many of their peers were participating in marches and other activism, it was important to participate in a public demonstration of their beliefs. Nava added that while many of their peers appeared to disagree with them about abortion, many also hide what they really believe.
“I hope our generation has a lot of potential to change the culture around the perspective on life,” she said.
Carrying the Walk Forward
Robert Byrd, a member of Pro-Life Future of San Francisco, told the Register it was his third time attending the Walk for Life.
Byrd said the “die-in” protest at the end of the walk was important to see. Participants in the “die-in” laid down in the fetal position and were outlined in chalk, each person representing more than a million lives lost to abortion.
“Sometimes, when you get to the end of the street, you feel like it’s done and over with. But there’s still more work to be done, in terms of visible outreach and activities we can do throughout the year,” he said.
It is a reminder, he said, that “even though the walk is over, our work to end abortion isn’t over.”
One of the most important lessons Byrd said he took from the walk is that “making ourselves visible is really important.” While private conversations can bring about a conversion to a pro-life view, he said that large street demonstrations directly can “lead to a lot of conversations, which can lead to changed minds.”
Nicholas Wolfram Smith writes from Oakland, California