“The truth doesn’t stop being the truth just because it’s hidden.” —Fr. Paul Soper
The Archdiocese of Boston cancelled its buses to the March for Life in Washington, D.C. , bowing to the weather forecast. More than four hundred students who had planned to be marching to the U.S. Supreme Court with fellow pro-lifers found themselves spending January 22 at home.
Instead of shrugging and saying “oh, well…”, these students along with workers for the Archdiocese brought their March for Life to Boston. Here’s the three-minute video they made, showing how they turned a cancelled trip into an enthusiastic and peaceful Boston witness for life.
Are we out of our minds? I’m sure I wasn’t the only person on the National Mall with that thought as thousands of pro-lifers began to assemble for the March for Life last week. A blizzard warning was in effect. Not a watch, mind you – a warning, meaning it’s no doubt coming. The leaden-gray sky promised to deliver Winter Storm Jonas with a vengeance.
I traveled with about 250 other New Hampshire pilgrims – I use the word intentionally; we were united in our religious faith – in a six-bus caravan to the 42nd annual March for Life, coming on the 43rd anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Our particular group was associated with various parishes within the Diocese of Manchester. If you were passed on the Everett Turnpike the day before the March by a busload of rosary-praying Catholics, that was us.
My bus captain was Valerie Somers, who has been involved with bus trips to the March for more than 20 years. She was as close to unflappable as anyone could be with the word “blizzard” floating around. Our driver Ray (or ace driver Ray, as I will henceforth think of him) has been driving New Hampshire pro-lifers to the March annually for almost as long as Valerie’s been involved.
“I do this for you. I believe in what you’re doing,” Ray told us. He probably could have accepted another charter that day that would have kept him safely out of the path of Storm Jonas. He drove to the March for Life instead.
The March is nonsectarian, nondenominational, and as open to secular as to religious participation, as I have noted before. This year, I traveled with fellow Catholics, and our time together was heavily informed by our common faith. My notes here reflect that.
The March’s biggest story came after the March
I didn’t know when we set out that the most remarkable part of the March would come after it was over. As we were returning to New Hampshire, marchers heading home to other states were stranded in blizzard conditions. The response of some of the Catholic students and clergy to being stuck in the snow led to more reporting about the March than I’ve ever seen.
I mention this before recounting my own experiences at this year’s event, because what happened among the stranded marchers was more important than anything I did on the 22nd.
Snow began falling in Washington as the March began at 1 p.m. on the 22nd. By 4 p.m., our New Hampshire contingent had made it back to our buses, and we began creeping up the highway in slick, snowy conditions. Our route let us outrun the storm. Anyone traveling south or west or northwest of D.C. wasn’t so lucky.
On the Pennsylvania Turnpike, a vehicle collision caused a giant traffic backup that eventually became a standstill, in heavy snow. Among the stranded travelers were students from Franciscan University of Steubenville (Ohio), University of Mary (North Dakota), and several Iowa Catholic high schools, among others returning from the March. Their plight came to my attention via the Twitter feed of writer Kathryn Jean Lopez (@kathrynlopez), who was traveling with the North Dakota group.
Others on the scene took to social media, but none to my knowledge have anything like the following enjoyed by Lopez. She’s the one who drew attention to what was happening.
News organizations began paying attention to what was going on, mentioning that some of the stranded travelers were returning from the March for Life. There was more mention of the March for Life on the 23rd than on the 22nd, when it actually took place. (See links at marchforlife.org to some of the coverage.)
So now we know how to maximize coverage of the biggest pro-life gathering in the nation: get stuck in the snow on the way home. If the same news agencies do follow-up stories, they’ll be able to feature what these students do back home to promote and defend the right to life.
The Catholic students and their fellow pro-life pilgrims were stuck on the turnpike for more than 20 hours. The Catholic community of snowbound travelers redeemed the time. They organized an impromptu roadside Mass that was attended by students and chaperones and any other travelers, regardless of faith, who chose to brave the cold.
That’s when things really went viral. Catholics being pro-life is a dog-bites-man story. Young Catholics giving public witness to their beliefs and keeping their sense of humor about it shifts the story to man-bites-dog territory.
Deacon Greg Kandra at aleteia.com later snagged an interview with the principal celebrant of the roadside Mass, Fr. Patrick Behm of Iowa, who said, “[C]redit for the idea, and credit for building the altar, and credit for going around to the various buses inviting people to join them belongs completely to the pilgrims from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, particularly Mr. Bill Dill, their youth minister.”
The turnpike was eventually re-opened. Everyone in the traffic jam made it home safely, as far as I know.
Getting to hearings, witnessing outside an abortion facility, raising money to grow a pregnancy help center, providing respite care, visiting the sick: inconvenient? Hard? Not my thing? Those students on the Pennsylvania Turnpike have just shown us all what inconvenience looks like, and they’ve shown me how to meet it.
Thanks to them, the smallest March for Life crowd I’ve ever seen has had the greatest impact on media. Who saw that coming?
Still the nation’s largest pro-life event
While there are now annual pro-life marches in Chicago and San Francisco near the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Washington event is the March for Life. It’s not regional.
The weather forecast kept attendance down, but “down” is relative. In other years at the March, I’ve been in the midst of hundreds of thousands of people, when just getting off the Mall to start marching can take over an hour. No such delay this year, although the crowd was still impressive. Look at this panoramic photo from LifeSiteNews.com, taken at this year’s event.
As our bus left Nashua southbound, my fellow passengers and I exchanged news reports about cancelled buses. I heard about night-before panicky texts and phone calls among New Hampshire’s trip organizers. Larger groups, such as the Archdiocese of Boston, cancelled their buses. I knew this was going to be a down year in terms of numbers.
More than fifty students from Northeast Catholic College (Warner, NH) made it down to D.C., though, as did students from Thomas More College of Liberal Arts (Merrimack, NH). Our caravan included people from Nashua and Woodsville and Rochester and many points in between. There’s no telling how many Granite Staters went to the March on their own or in groups unrelated to the Diocese.
I knew only a few of my fellow passengers before we started out. It was great to meet and talk with new acquaintances. While this is the first year I’ve been to the March with a diocesan group, it was obvious that many of my companions had traveled together before.
Rally before the March
The morning of the 22nd, I looked uneasily at my watch as the pre-March rally kept going on and on. Free unsolicited advice to the March organizers: when the National Weather Service says “blizzard warning,” it’s time to shake up the schedule: less talking, more marching.
But where to cut? Would I have wanted Jewels Green to get the hook? No, no, no. Would I have cut Carly Fiorina, the only presidential candidate to speak? Nope. And I sure wouldn’t have wanted to miss Sue Ellen Browder, for whom I cheered as she said, “Prolife pro-family feminism is the authentic women’s movement of the twenty-first century.” (That’s from a formerly pro-abortion writer. Note to self: find her new book, Subverted.)
Of course, the rally is the time to look around the National Mall and check out the banners held by other marchers: Secular Pro-Life. Lutherans for Life. Churches from too many states to list. New Wave Feminists. Students for Life. And Then There Were None. Plenty more, reflecting the breadth of the pro-life movement.
Also worth checking out, from NewBostonPost: “‘Pro-life, pro-women’: #MarchforLife hits D.C.” (Storify post, aggregating photos, tweets and social media posts from several sources)
This was the first year I actually had time to visit the expo associated with the March, held at a local conference center. Unfortunately, some exhibitors took down their displays early in a rush to get out of town ahead of the blizzard. It was worth the walk anyway, especially in the company of three other Granite Staters who were likewise seeing the expo for the first time.
I brought a bag with me, knowing I’d probably pick up books and pamphlets and what-have-you. By the time I was done, I had enough reading material for a week (and I probably have the makings of a post or two in there somewhere.)
My favorite discovery was the information table for Brazil 4 Life International, staffed by the mother-daughter team of Ina Silva-Sobolewski and her daughter Rebecca Sobolewski. Ina spoke about the crisis pregnancy centers she has worked to establish in Brazil, where abortion is illegal but also not uncommon.
Vigil Mass at National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
By longstanding tradition, there’s a Mass the night before the March at the Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in northeast Washington, D.C. All are welcome, but it’s primarily a youth Mass – and it’s packed, every single year.
This is one event on which the forecast had no effect. It’s been years since I attended one of these vigils, and I was bowled over then and now by the turnout.
The basilica has one of the most beautiful interiors I’ve ever seen in a church or indeed in any public building. It’s worth a visit for that alone, with or without a Mass.
Back to work
No kidding here: I hate traveling when words like “blizzard warning” are flashing on highway signs. I wouldn’t have ventured anywhere near the March for Life this year without the aid of an experienced professional driver. I almost bailed out anyway.
And would that have mattered? In the greater scheme of things, no. Pro-life work is fundamentally local, one-on-one, built on relationships and not on rallies.
But oh, what I would have missed had I done the prudent thing and stayed home! Local, one-on-one work can too easily devolve into a siege mentality: I’m all alone here. I’m not getting anywhere. Nothing ever changes. What I do makes no difference.
There’s solidarity and strength in meeting other people with the same commitment to the value of human life. There’s refreshment and inspiration in finding myself in a sea of pro-life people a generation younger than I. It’s good to hear from other people about what they’ve done in their own areas, learning what has worked and what hasn’t. I learn new things from listening to people whose background and beliefs are different from mine in every respect except being pro-life.
And then there’s the reason Nellie Gray founded the March in the first place, back in 1974: to put the Supreme Court and the Washington politicians and the news media on notice that Roev. Wade settled nothing.
I’ll be back. An annual trip to the March for Life is financially out of reach for me. An occasional trip is essential. It really is a pilgrimage. We said a prayer to that effect on the bus, with a simple antiphon: whatever happens, help me remember that I’m a pilgrim, not a tourist.
Norma McCorvey and Sandra Cano rejected the Supreme Court decisions that were supposedly made in their favor. Their identities obscured in the 1973 Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton cases, they ultimately went public with their dissent from those decisions, reclaiming their own names and proclaiming their support of the right to life.
McCorvey was “Jane Roe,” the plaintiff in a challenge to Texas abortion law that culminated in Roe v. Wade, overturning most abortion restrictions and regulations nationwide. Cano was the anonymous plaintiff in Doe v. Bolton, an abortion case decided the same day as Roe, which resulted in an expansive definition of “health of the mother” as justification for abortion on demand. Ironically, neither woman had an abortion pursuant to the decisions.
McCorvey supported the Roe decision for about twenty years before renouncing it and becoming pro-life. In a one-minute 2010 video, she summarized her position. “I realized that my case, which legalized abortion on demand, was the biggest mistake of my life….but now I’m dedicated to spreading the truth about preserving the dignity of all human life from natural conception to natural death.”
Asked in a 1997 interview what she thought people could do to stop abortion, McCorvey said, “[I]t doesn’t make any difference what religion you are, or how young you are or how old you are, I think if they get up and go to these abortion mills, and stand there – and they don’t have to do anything, they can just stand there and pray, I think that would make a lot of difference. We have to be seen in numbers.”
Sandra Cano came to be the Supreme Court’s “Doe” after she went to an attorney for help with matters relating to divorce and child custody. As she told a Congressional committee in 2005,
“I was very vulnerable: poor and pregnant with my fourth child, but abortion never crossed my mind. Although it apparently was utmost in the mind of the attorney from whom I sought help….Please understand even though I have lived what many would consider an unstable life and overcome many devastating circumstances, at no time did I ever have an abortion. l did not seek an abortion nor do I believe in abortion. Yet my name and life is now forever linked with the slaughter of 40-50 million babies. “…I feel like my name, life, and identity have been stolen and put on this case without my knowledge and against my wishes….One of the Justices of the Supreme Court said during oral argument in my case ‘What does it matter if she is real or not.’ Well, I am real and it does matter.”
Cano died in 2014, with Doe v. Bolton still standing. To the end of her life, she told her story far and wide. She knew that the truth and her experience were too important to hide.
McCorvey has noted how as with Doe, disregard for truth played an important part in the Roe decision. “I was persuaded by feminist attorneys to lie; to say that I was raped, and needed an abortion. It was all a lie. Since then, over 50 million babies have been murdered. I will take this burden to my grave. Please, don’t follow in my mistakes.”
Every time I see a “Trust Women” sticker or meme or hashtag in the context of abortion advocacy, a question springs to mind: trust women to do what? Makes about as much sense to me as wearing a “Trust Men” sticker. Trustworthiness is not a gender-linked trait.
There are women I trust, of course – not because they’re women, but because they affirm life while they speak with authority born of experience. Those voices deserve to be heard.
Beginning on December 22 and running until the anniversary of Roe v. Wade on January 22, I’m going to feature posts about women who came through a variety of experiences to find themselves – sometimes to their own astonishment – opposing abortion and Roe v. Wade.
Some but not all of the stories will be familiar to you. The women whose voices we’ll hear come from varying backgrounds and faith traditions. There are Granite State neighbors and people of national renown. Some have led quiet, straightforward lives; others have survived profound disorder and have refused to surrender to it.
This won’t be a compendium of storybook saints. Life can be a hot mess, and these women have been in the thick of it, some with more serenity than others.
Their callings have all to one degree or another been about abortion. Some of the women have had abortions or have provided them. Others work with abortion-vulnerable or post-abortive women. There are women who were born alive after attempted abortion, or who were conceived in circumstances that made them “exceptions” to abortion restrictions. Finally, there are the women whose pseudonyms are on the Roe v. Wade decision and its companion case, Doe v. Bolton.
The Voices to Trust series begins here December 22. Links to the posts will be added below as they’re published.
The New Hampshire Union Leader brings us another entry in the annals of cognitive dissonance among civil libertarians. The library in Lebanon, New Hampshire has withdrawn from a pilot program that allowed patrons to surf the Web anonymously on library computers. Law enforcement isn’t thrilled with the program. The American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire takes a different view. Devon Chaffee of ACLU-NH said, “The bottom line is that we can’t shut down public parks because sometimes crimes are committed in public parks and we can’t stop selling ski masks because sometimes crimes are committed by people wearing ski masks.”
This follows by only a few days the news that ACLU-NH may sue the city of Franklin over a curfew for people under 16 years of age. From the Union Leader’s coverage: “The ACLU’s primary complaint against the curfew, [ACLU-NH attorney Gilles] Bissonnette said Wednesday, is the potential for children to be scrutinized for their conduct in situations ‘that have nothing to do with criminality.'”
In jarring contrast to all this, ACLU-NH lobbied for New Hampshire’s buffer zone law, the now-enjoined statute that would allow private business owners who perform abortions to define where and at what hours public sidewalks are actually open to the public.
Personally, I think we can’t shut down public sidewalks because sometimes crimes are committed on public sidewalks. And I’m not a big fan of scrutiny of conduct in situations that have nothing to do with criminality.
Maybe ACLU-NH is teetering on the edge of defending the civil rights of peaceful pro-life demonstrators. Consistency might exert just strong enough a push. That’s more optimistic than thinking that some sincere civil libertarians are hopelessly lost to Roe-v.-Wade Derangement Syndrome.