Tens of thousands of anti-abortion activists and supporters held a spirited and vociferous rally to show their support for the right to life on the National Mall on the 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision.
They came despite raw and bitter cold and snow that began while they marched to the U.S. Supreme Court. The vast majority of those who marched from the Mall to the steps of the Supreme Court were young people from Catholic high schools and church organizations and other religious groups and seminarians representing the next generation poised to wage battle against a law they consider illegal and onerous.
Leading many of the young people – adorned in neon greens, reds, oranges and other bright colors to distinguish one group from another – were an assortment of priests, lay ministers and church volunteers.
"I'm here to fight for life. It's a great concern because I ask where we're going," said Father Adam Urbaniak, a member of a Diocesan Order based in Orchard Hills, Mich. "The nation is killing itself and unborn babies. Without the young generation, where will we go? What have we become?"
"I get the sense that many people are beginning to think about it, especially young people," said Urbaniak, a Polish native. "People are waking up, waking up and have come here to fight for children who cannot fight for or protect themselves."
Demonstrators carried large and small banners, crosses, flags and placards saying "I'm the Pro-Life Generation,"; "Defend Life,"; "Michigan Loves Life: Protect the Unborn,"; and "Defund Planned Parenthood." Marchers chanted as well, saying "Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho, Roe v. Wade has got to go!" among other mantras. Speakers included former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J) and Jeanne Monahan, the newly appointed head of March for Life. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) fired up the crowd via video and vowed to work tirelessly to pass a bill that bans abortions paid by taxpayers.
SuvedaThiagaraj, a 40-year-old Rochester, N.Y. resident and a native of India, traveled to the District with a group of 10 adults and children.
"We have to defend life through prayer, action and fasting," she said. "Together we're praying for the president, like St. Paul, to experience a conversion. When a leader leads, it will move the nation. This is a very important cause: to have and defend life. We can't turn away from God and expect blessings."
Cheryl Vignola also accompanied a group of 10 high school-aged girls from St. William Catholic Church in Naples, Fla., to the rally and march. In all, she said, 50 girls made the trip.
"We're here to say that we believe in the dignity and value of every human life regardless of their age, or color. I believe we live in a culture of death and God calls us to be His disciples. It's the 40th anniversary ... and we pray that the law will be overturned. Fifty-five million babies have been aborted in the last 40 years. I imagine that some of them might have made great medical discoveries, for example, made great contributions."
"People do this [have abortions] out of fear but we hope that people understand that there are a lot of other alternatives."
The abortion debate has raged on unabated for the past four decades. It is an issue that stirs deep and heartfelt emotions, rancor and is divisive in a manner akin to the political divide that has torn this country asunder.
President Barack Obama, in a statement released on Friday, Jan. 25, restated his position.
"On the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, we reaffirm the historic commitment to protect the health and reproductive freedom of women across the country and stand by its guiding principle: that the government should not intrude on our most private family matters, and women should be able to make their own choices about their bodies and health care."
Several surveys indicate a noticeable shift in support for the right to have an abortion, with support for the legal right to end a pregnancy increasing. That shift has come largely from Latinos and blacks. In addition, a new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found that for the first time a majority of Americans support abortions in all or most cases.
Nine percent of pro-life supporters believe that abortions should be illegal without exception and 35 percent said they should be illegal with some exceptions. By a 70-24 percent margin, those asked said they would oppose Roe v. Wade being overturned, while 57 percent said they feel strongly that the law shouldn't be overturned. Also, a new poll by the Pew Research Center documents that 63 percent of Americans are opposed to overturning the law.
Some marchers spoke of their concern that Planned Parenthood and abortion supporters target black and Latino women so that the numbers of these women who have abortions is disproportionately higher. But reproductive justice advocates have fought back saying that while the abortion rate for black women is almost five times that for white women, that disparity can be traced to a range of social, economic and health disparities.
"Black women are not alone in having disproportionately high unintended pregnancy and abortion rates. The abortion rate among Hispanic women, for example, although not as high as the rate among black women, is double the rate among whites," said Susan A. Cohen of the Guttmacher Institute headquartered in New York. "Hispanics also have a higher level of unintended pregnancies than white women. Black women's unintended pregnancy rates are the highest of all."
"These higher unintended pregnancy rates reflect the particular difficulties that many women in minority communities face in accessing high-quality contraceptive services and in using their chosen method of birth control consistently and effectively over long periods of time," according to a report that was originally published in the Guttmacher Policy Review in 2008.
Cohen said the issue is framed within the "larger context in which significant racial and ethnic disparities persist for a wide range of health outcomes ..."
Jose Funes, an 18-year-old teacher's assistant at Capitol City Middle School in Northwest, said he and a group of teenagers waited outside the doors of the Verizon Center at 6 a.m., where they attended Mass and a concert, and then staged a protest at Gallery Place, blocks from the Mall.
"I feel really strongly about this issue. I saw what happened in Newtown," said Funes. "Our president talked about defending the life of children. I see innocent kids dying with no ability to defend themselves."