Wednesday, January 26, 2011

2011 March for Life in Washington D.C. -- Part I

On Monday, January 24th, I traveled to Washington D.C. to observe the annual March for Life, a event that draws anti-abortion advocates from across the country. The 2011 event featured a rally at 4th Street and Madison Drive, followed by a march in the vicinity of the Capitol building. The March for Life coincides with the 38th anniversary of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion. Abortion has long been a cause of the Religious Right in this country, and the signs and rhetoric I observed at the rally reflected the conservative Christian flavor of the anti-abortion movement.

Signs at the rally

On Monday morning, I took the Washington Metro to the National Mall, where the rally was to be held. While riding the metro, a fellow traveler caught my eye: a young lady carrying a Guy Fawkes mask (a la V for Vendetta) and wearing a vinyl jacket that read "PRO-LIFE ANARCHIST." There's something you don't see everyday, I thought.

When I got off the Metro and came out from the station, the first thing I saw outside were anti-abortion adovcates handing out signs that read "Defund Planned Parenthood" and "Abortion Kills." Anti-abortion advocates were making their way across the National Mall to the rally site, and as I walked, I observed their signs. Many signs simply featured words, while others featured gentle pictures of babies, Jesus, or crosses. The contrast between these visually tame signs and the graphic signs I saw back in December at the Germantown press conference was striking. Was it because the Germantown protesters were more extreme than the March for Life attendees? Was it because the Germantown protesters wanted to convert others to their anti-abortion stance, whereas there was no need to convert attendees at the March for Life? I wasn't sure.

Captain America and flags
Once I arrived at the March for Life rally, I saw countless groups carrying signs and banners from Knights of Columbus, regional Catholic dioceses, and various anti-abortion organizations. Here and there, I noticed someone carrying a wooded cross or flowers. A man dressed as Captain America carried a large American flag and U.S. Marine Corps flag. The crowd of thousands was mostly white, with a strong youth presence of teenagers and young adults.

On the rally stage, a row of men and women stood silently held signs that read "I regret my abortion" and "I regret lost fatherhood."After a musical performance by the Sounds of Liberty, March for Life president Nellie Gray opened the rally by laying out the foundations of anti-abortion activism.
"We're reminding our officials that an estimated three thousand innocent preborn children are being killed every day in America ... This is an evil in the same country which has in our Declaration of Independence that we have an inalienable right to life endowed by our creator. Also we learned from the Nuremburg trials that the genocide of a crime such as this is a crime against humanity and cannot be made legal. And we ask our government, we come to our government in Washington D.C to overturn Roe v. Wade now."
Next, Archbishop Joseph Fred Naumann of Kansas City, KS introduced the various Catholic bishops in attendance who would be marching that afternoon. In the opening prayer, Archbishop Naumann prayed for the ascendancy of a "culture of life" in America, asking God to help people "never to see others as burdens." He implored God to awaken the hearts of judges, guide elected officials "to defend each and every human life through just laws," and inspire listeners to bring their faith into public life.

Leading the Pledge of Allegiance was John Marrella, Supreme Advocate of the Knights of Columbus. Before the pledge, Marrella reflected on the words "under God," reminding the audience of the Knights of Columbus' role in a campaign to have those words officially added to the Pledge of Allegiance in the 1950s. He repeated the claim, commonly heard at conservative events, that God is the supposed basis of rights and just government.

"No, these words are not a prayer, nor are they an establishment of religion. Rather they reflect the idea held by our founding fathers and understood by most Americans for most of our history that just governments must conform their laws and policies to natural law and objective truth. The words "under God" represent an accurate summary of this country's political philosophy and an understanding of our historical national identity that has been reaffirmed thousands of times by courts, legislators and presidents that our rights come from God, not from the state, and that governments are accountable to nature and nature's God, as our founding fathers expressed it."
After the Pledge of Allegiance, Janet Morana, associate director of Priests for Life and co-founder of Silent No More, spoke briefly on how abortion is allegedly bad for women. The other co-founder of Silent No More, Georgette Forney, claimed that abortion hasn't helped people solve problems, but rather has caused problems. Referencing the men and women standing behind her on stage, Forney asserted that they had received forgiveness from Jesus for "the guilt and the pain" of abortion.

The rally was not about abortion alone, but tried to link abortion to other issues. Before introducing Bobby Schindler (brother of the late Terri Schiavo), Brother Paul O'Donnell made some unusual claims about abortion, euthanasia, and the Obama administration.

"Euthanasia follows abortion just as night follows day. Our current administration is going to actively try to promote the killing of our sick and elderly, disabled brothers and sisters. We need to let them know America does not want death panels!"

To read Part II, click here. To watch the March for Life rally on C-SPAN, click here.

For additional news and commentary on the March for Life rally, visit these links.

CNN: Thousands rally against abortion on Capitol Hill

Pennlive: March for Life draws midstate abortion opponents to Washington, D.C.

Politico: Mike Pence, Michele Bachmann attend anti-abortion events

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