With national March for Life behind them, pro-life advocates plan for state marches, rallies

Melissa Coles, a national pro-life advocate, speaks to a crowd of more than 1,000 pro-life advocates at rally on the Indiana Statehouse steps in Indianapolis following the Indiana March for Life Jan. 23, 2023. Coles' decision to reject abortion and choose life and find an adoptive home her son is told in the 2018 documentary "I Lived on Parker Avenue" and in the 2022 movie "Lifemark." (OSV News photoNatalie Hoefer, The Criterion)

WASHINGTON (OSV News) -- With the national March for Life in the nation's capital marking the Roe v. Wade anniversary behind them, pro-life advocates are gearing up for March for Life events in a number of states in the months ahead.

With its Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization ruling June 24, the U.S. Supreme Court returned the issue of abortion to the states in overturning its 1973 Roe ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.

Roe "was an act of judicial activism -- stealing the rights of the states to democratically decide the issue of abortion," the March for Life organization in Washington said in a statement. "With the end of Roe, comes a return of power to the states. By marching in our states, we show our local leaders that we the people want protective, life-affirming laws for both the unborn and their mothers."

To date, marches have been planned in these state capitals: Richmond, Virginia, Feb.1; Phoenix, Feb. 23; Sacramento, California, March 6; Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Oct. 16; and Lansing, Michigan, Nov. 8.

In Washington Jan. 20, tens of thousands of pro-life advocates gathered for the 50th March for Life -- the first national march since the Supreme Court overturned Its Roe ruling, which initially prompted the annual demonstration.

Standing on the event stage at the National Mall, with the U.S. Capitol visible in the background, Jeanne Mancini, March for Life president, told attendees at a rally prior to the march that "the country and world changed" when Roe was reversed in June 2022. But she said the annual March for Life would continue in Washington until abortion is "unthinkable."

Across the country, rallies and marches were held to mark the Roe anniversary too.

In Indiana, roughly 1,100 Catholics and other pro-life advocates of all ages processed through the streets of Indianapolis to the Statehouse, joyfully calling out pro-life chants and carrying life-affirming signs. The crowd included participants from central and southern Indiana, which comprises the Indianapolis Archdiocese; others came from the neighboring Diocese of Lafayette, Indiana.

With students from many Catholic schools in attendance, it was a predominantly young crowd. Joining the march for the first time were 120 high school students and chaperones from the Diocese of Evansville, Indiana -- along with their shepherd, Bishop Joseph M. Siegel.

"This isn't the 50th year of the pro-life movement," said Right to Life of Indianapolis executive director Marc Tuttle at a rally on the south lawn of the Indiana Statehouse in Indianapolis on Jan. 23. Rather, he said, "This is the first year of the pro-life movement being able to actually stand for the babies, stand for the women, and be able to bring about a day when abortion is completely unthinkable in our state."

The rally followed a Mass with three Indiana bishops and the Indiana March for Life.

Any mention of the overturning of Roe brought jubilant cries from the rally participants. "Where were you when you heard that Roe v. Wade was overturned?" Mike Fichter, president and CEO of Indiana Right to Life, asked the crowd. "What an electric moment in the nation's history!"

U.S. Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., agreed. "I think (pro-choice defenders) thought we would go away" with the reversal of Roe, he said from the Statehouse steps. "But we're still here in what we're all proud to call the post-Roe era!"

"The reversal of Roe was not the end of the battle -- it was chapter one of the new phase of the battle," said Fichter.

Rally speaker Mary Carmen Zahrajsek echoed his statement. "Every year for 49 years we had Roe v. Wade as a stumbling block," said Zahrajsek, Indiana regional coordinator for Students for Life. "I'm sorry to break it to you -- that was the pre-season. The fight for lives starts now."

That fight is a matter of human rights, she said, noting that "human rights should not kill other humans, that is plain and simple. Human life begins at conception, and human rights begin at conception."

Mark Hublar believes that human rights begin in the womb. But some believe that right does not extend to those with disabilities.

"When I was born in 1964, the doctor told my mom and dad, 'Mark has Down syndrome. Don't take him home. Put him in an institution,'" the member of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in New Albany, Indiana, told the crowd at the rally. "I am not broken. I don’t need to be fixed. I have a purpose."

In fact, Hublar went on to earn a college degree in public speaking. With the help of his family, he created a business that takes him around the country advocating for meaningful employment for those with disabilities.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 6,000 babies are born with Down syndrome each year. But a March 18, 2022, report by the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee points out that an estimated 60% to 90% of preborn children diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted annually.

"God loves all of us," Hublar told the crowd. "God gives each of us purpose. I believe that all life has value."

Across the country, Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila celebrated a memorial Mass at Cathedral Basilica of Immaculate Conception on the 50th anniversary of the Roe ruling. The same day the Catholic Church observed the Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children.

"Even if people do not believe in God, science shows us when a sperm and ovum unite it is the beginning of human life, a unique repeatable human life and that gift always deserves respect and dignity," he said in his homily Jan. 22. "And we are called to be those who give witness to that."

"Our hearts and minds must be conformed to the heart and mind of Jesus Christ," the archbishop said, urging the faithful to listen to the voice of God and not the voice of the world. "Whenever we listen to the voice of the world or the voice of man, things go radically wrong as we can see today."

The people of God, he said, "are not called to have rivals," whether that be political parties, ideologies like transgenderism and critical race theory, "or this or that philosophy."

"We belong to Jesus Christ," Archbishop Aquila said. "The reason we are living in a post-Christian culture is because we have failed to belong to Jesus Christ. We have failed to stay attached to the vine. The only way you and I can bear fruit is if we are attached to Jesus Christ and our hearts and minds are formed by him. … We wonder why our churches are empty."

Jesus recognizes the dignity of every human being and so calls us to love them all, the archbishop said, "whether it be the homeless, the immigrant, the woman who is pregnant outside of wedlock, the prostitute, the imprisoned, the murderer. We are called to see their dignity because they themselves do not see that, nor does our culture promote that, especially for women."

He urged women, especially young women, not to pay attention to how popular culture defines beauty, because "my daughters, you are beautiful. Do not listen to the lies of the culture that take away your dignity as a woman."

"And we as men must examine our lives for how we treat women and how we look at women because our society says they are nothing more than sex toys," Archbishop Aquila added.

The church "must continue to proclaim" the truth about abortion and the dignity of every human being, he said. "We must be those who help women in crisis pregnancies. We are called as a church and a people to care for women, not to condemn them but to treat them with love and respect no matter what they have experienced."

In the Diocese of Lake Charles, Louisiana, a crowd gathered in downtown Lake Charles Jan. 22 for the Louisiana Life March, which had as its theme "Everyone Deserves a Birthday."

"For the past 27 years, we have gathered on the steps of this courthouse to pray, light candles, and sings songs of worship. Seven months ago on June 24, 2022, our Father in heaven answered our prayers," said Tabitha Dugas, executive director of New Life Counseling Pregnancy Center, referring to the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe.

For Louisiana, this meant the three abortion facilities in the state had to close their doors.

"Thousands of women and babies have been spared of the lie of abortion over these past seven months," Dugas said. "However, we know that with victory comes much responsibility. Our work is not done."

Dugas pointed out that Louisiana is leading every other state in online requests for abortion pills.

"The landscape of abortion is much different. We must remember our mission of making abortion unthinkable and unwanted," she added.