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February 3, 2013

2013 March for Life: 'Know that we will never quit'

Saint Joseph’s College, Rensselaer, was represented by 22 students and a professor at this year’s march. (Photo provided)

Saint Joseph’s College, Rensselaer, was represented by 22 students and a professor at this year’s march. (Photo provided)

By Kevin Cullen

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Ryan Dillon, a junior at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, is back on campus ... but his heart is at the 40th annual March for Life, the world’s largest human-rights protest.

“The part I loved the most was coming from a small Catholic college and being right there in the march, among thousands and thousands of people, and seeing us all stand up for something,” said Dillon, a Wisconsin native majoring in sacred music. “I felt so much pride holding the Saint Joseph’s College banner and walking down that street, representing our school.”

Forty years have passed since the Jan. 22, 1973, Roe vs. Wade U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion at any time, for any reason. Since then, an estimated 55 million children have been aborted in the United States, a number equal to the population of England.

But the opposition — especially among younger people — keeps growing.

On a gray, snowy, 20-degree Jan. 25, several hundred thousand marchers attended a rally on the National Mall —not far from the Washington Monument — then formed a sea of life as they walked more than a mile up Constitution Avenue to the Supreme Court Building.

They chanted, prayed, waved flags and carried posters that read, “I Am the Pro-Life Generation,” “De-Fund Planned Parenthood,” “In Memory of Aborted Children” and “Thank God Your Mom Chose Life.”

Saint Joseph’s College was represented by 22 students and one professor, who teamed up with a group of clergy, faculty and students from a Chicago Catholic high school. They pounded drums and chanted, “We love babies! Yes we do! We love babies! How ‘bout you?”

At one point, police asked them to move away from a Senate office building. They were disturbing the senators.

“I thought, ‘Good! At least we were heard!’” Dillon said.

“I was excited to do something I believe in, and take a stand for those who have no voice,” he said. “I hope that by seeing the massive number of people that we changed the hearts of people who think abortion is OK. It clearly is not.”

Gayle Arend, a junior music major from Wolcottville, is president of the Respect for Life Club at Saint Joseph’s College.

“My favorite part was just the marching,” she said. “It is so surreal ... the cheers are high energy, but when you are walking it is so quiet, you are into yourself.”

She was dumbstruck as she saw the size of the crowd. It took 3½ hours for the group to reach the top of the hill.

Ending abortion, Arend said, “is an uphill battle, obviously, but you are making your presence known. I was there, being part of something, helping, getting to know other people who were out there. It was great to get Saint Joseph’s College recognized. Professors said, ‘We saw your banner on TV.’”

People of all faiths and ages attend the march, but Catholics have always played prominent roles.

The night before this year’s march, more than 10,000 packed into the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception for a Mass celebrated by Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley, archbishop of Boston and chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities.

The march is typically the largest protest of the year in Washington. Though often ignored by the media, this year it was featured on Fox News, and it made the front page of The Washington Post.

Nellie Gray, the event’s founder, died in August 2012 at age 86.

Forty-year-old Jeanne Monahan, the new president of the March for Life Education & Defense Fund, worked to increase exposure.

The social media presence was expanded via Twitter and Facebook. The official Web site was redesigned. More news outlets were contacted. The rally on the mall was shortened by eliminating dozens of repetitive speakers.

Monahan said that “abortion is THE human rights abuse today.”

Babies die and parents are scarred, she said.

“We are winning on many fronts,” Monahan said, including “the court of public opinion.”

She cited polls that show most Americans are pro-life. Two hundred pro-life bills have been enacted in the states since 2010 alone.

“We are winning with young people. We see it here in this march, in the polling,” she said.

She urged the marchers to use their political power and “give until it hurts.”

Twenty members of Purdue Students for Life made the long drive from West Lafayette to Washington for the event. The group is composed of Catholic and non-Catholic Purdue University students.

“I’m a senior so it may be my last chance (to march),” said Jonathan Manring, of Columbus, who is majoring in biomedical engineering. “We just hope our government sees how many people are here.

“We’re trying to change the culture, and that leads to political change,” he said. “Changing hearts comes first.”

Anna Lauer, a senior in nursing from Auburn, is president of the Purdue Students for Life.

The campus group is small, and it often faces opposition, she said, so it was encouraging “to see thousands of people who feel the same way we do. That gives us more motivation to do the things we do. We can’t change the results of the election, but we can keep doing what we do and not be demoralized. We’re making a statement that we’re not OK with the way things are.”

Another club member, Anna Helb, of West Lafayette, is a sophomore English major. Millions of members of her generation have been killed by abortion, she said, so speaking out is “a powerful thing.”

“To see this many people is awesome. You see you’re not the only one,” she said. “People will see us, and see us on TV, and hear about the issue.”

Michael Kuhn, of Fort Wayne, is a Purdue sophomore, majoring in animal science.

“I’ve always wanted to come,” he said. “As long as people are willing to march, there’s hope for change. I’m Catholic, but it’s good to see people of so many different religions. That’s encouraging.”

On the mall, for the first time, Jumbotrons were installed so that everyone could see and hear the rally speakers. They included Cardinal O’Malley, House Speaker John Boehner and several other members of Congress.

Patrick Kelly, chairman of the March for Life Education and Defense Fund, said that pioneers such as Nellie Gray laid the foundation for the “second generation” of life activists.

Looking out onto the crowd, he said, “I see ... the faces of tens of thousands of young people who bear witness to the truth that life is beautiful.”

U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, R-NJ, blasted President Barack Obama’s consistent support for the “right” of women to have abortions, while championing “equality for all.”

Equality for all, he said, must include the most vulnerable — and that includes unborn children.

“Know, Mr. President, that we will never quit,” Smith said. “... The pro-life movement is non-violent, and it’s on the right side of compassion, justice and inclusion. It is on the right side of religion, science and history.”

Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., she said she fought for life as a nurse, and now she’s fighting for it in Congress.

“Abortion on demand undermines the freedom and justice that generations of women have fought for,” she said. “... Abortion is the choice to take what is not ours to take. It is a mistake. A fetus is not a blob of tissue; it’s a human being, with a right to life, just like you and me.”

Every January, she said, the March for Life “remembers the tens of millions of babies who will never contribute their God-given talents to the world.”

Cardinal O’Malley said that 40 years ago, many thought that the public would come to accept abortion and that Gray’s pro-life movement would simply fade away.

That clearly hasn’t happened, he told the immense throng. In fact, the march grows stronger each year.

“Oh, God,” he said, “let us reverence our children ... (and) bless all those who defend the unborn, the handicapped and the aged.”

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