Meadville Tribune

January 23, 2014

Crawford Countians among thousands who brave cold for abortion protest in D.C.

Staff and wire reports
Meadville Tribune

WASHINGTON — A hundred and forty-five marchers from the Meadville area were among thousands of abortion opponents who confronted wind chills in the single digits Wednesday to rally and march on Capitol Hill.

The annual “March for Life” is held every January on the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark 1973 decision that declared a constitutional right to abortion. The event draws many Catholic high school and college students from across the country for a series of events and prayer vigils that led up to a rally and march on the snow-covered National Mall.

One bus sponsored by Meadville’s St. Mary of Grace, St. Brigid and St. Agatha Roman Catholic churches arrived at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in the nation’s capital around 6 a.m. After attending Mass and several hours devoted to staying out of the cold weather, the travelers were dropped off at the Mall.

“There was a beautiful, blue sky — a sunny day,” said Barb Burkett, who has been organizing the annual pilgrimage with her husband, Ed, for nearly a decade. “It was beautiful.”

The two buses carrying 101 marchers sponsored by Garth Valesky of Valesky’s supermarket in Meadville also arrived in good order. “We made it down there in good time,” Valesky said late Wednesday afternoon. “The roads were good, considering the weather forecast we had.”

A Catholic group in Linesville scheduled a bus to make the trip to D.C., as well.

Pope Francis, who has emphasized a broader focus on poverty beyond divisive issues, sent his support for the anti-abortion march. “I join the March for Life in Washington with my prayers,” the pope tweeted. “May God help us respect all life, especially the most vulnerable.”

President Barack Obama also issued a statement Wednesday, saying the 41st anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision is a chance to “recommit ourselves to the decision’s guiding principle: that every woman should be able to make her own choices about her body and her health.”

The president also said the nation should resolve to protect a woman’s access to health care, her right to privacy and to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies.

The theme of this year’s march is “Adoption: A Noble Decision,” as an alternative to abortion, organizers said.

“One of the speakers commented that abortion is something that really attacks motherhood,” Valesky said. “I thought it was kind of neat the way she put it.”

Abortion protesters came from Georgia, Missouri, Pennsylvania and beyond. The crowd included many young people, including high school and college students from Chicago, Cleveland and elsewhere. Many held signs that read “#TeamLife.”

Burkett was thrilled by the large number of young people present. “Organizers estimate that more than 50 percent of the participants are under 18, which is consistent with our observation,” she said. “My husband and I have been coming to this march for 30 years. We’re part of the gray-haired crowd, but we see more and more young people every year.”

While there were mostly cheers and upbeat chants, the crowd booed when House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia said there had been an expansion of abortion coverage in the nation’s health care overhaul.

Beverly Miller, 39, of Mankato, Minn., made her first trip to join the march with her 15-year-old son Joseph and youth from their church. Her local diocese rented buses and drove 20 hours to the nation’s capital.

“When we get together in a group like this and we see that there’s hundreds of thousands of other people like us, it gives us strength and courage and hope that we aren’t alone. If we stand together, we really can make a difference,” she said.

“This is a young movement that cares about life,” Burkett said. “It’s a second-generation movement and they want to be heard and seen in favor of reversing Roe vs. Wade. It’s an important cause. Every year we hope and pray that it’s the last year, but we’ll keep coming until we don’t have to come anymore — and then we’ll come for a year to celebrate.”

The march began on the National Mall with a rally. Then protesters marched along Constitution Avenue to Capitol Hill and the Supreme Court before dissipating.

“The crowd is a very uplifting, happy, joyful crowd,” Burkett said. “There’s no tension. No antagonism. We don’t see any (pro-choice) protesters anymore — we think they’ve given up. People are pleasant, joyful. They’re singing, chanting and praying as they march along. We brought two young grandchildren (ages 6 and 8) and we weren’t worried a bit about what they might be exposed to.”

The Meadville Tribune’s Mary Spicer and The Associated Press contributed to this report.