The first statewide March for Life since the overturn of Roe v. Wade in June of this year re-invigorated Pennsylvania’s pro-life movement on Monday, September 19, and solidified its commitment to witness to a culture of life and work to end abortion.
The second annual Pennsylvania March for Life was a spirited celebration for life that could not be ignored in its size, scope and message. A crowd of more than 5,500 filled the steps of the state Capitol in Harrisburg, spilling into the grass, streets and sidewalks of its complex.
“The pro-life movement is about our desire to love both moms and babies,” Jeanne Mancini, President of the March for Life, told a crowd of women, men, students, clergy and religious, families and children. “I want you today to show the truth about life and show the truth about the pro-life movement.”
“Life is not anything to be afraid of. Life is to be embraced and loved. That’s what we’re about,” Mancini said, her enthusiasm sparking the crowd into cheers and applause.
The event, sponsored by the Pennsylvania Family Institute and the March for Life, gave witness to the value of human life, called for the protection of unborn babies, and illustrated love and care for pregnant women and new mothers.
The passionate and prayerful day was fittingly bookended by the celebration of Mass in St. Patrick Cathedral, just steps from the Capitol. Thousands of worshippers filled the cathedral for both Masses, coming before the altar of God for a morning Mass celebrated by Bishop William Waltersheid, Auxiliary Bishop of Pittsburgh, and an afternoon Mass celebrated by Archbishop Nelson Pérez of Philadelphia.
Bishop Waltersheid called upon members of the pro-life movement to “be the light that shines in the darkness,” and to do so “with peace and love.”
“We must be the light that shines into the heart of those who are darkened by being bound for the destruction of other human beings,” he said. “And we must also see that while abortion is a terrible sin, while it is a grave offense against God and people, it is also woven into a culture of death that attacks the family, that confuses people about gender, and that wants us to think that everything is fluid and up for grabs.
“Not so for an instant,” he stressed.
“We are the ones who are the light. We are the ones who reach out to those in need who are confused, who are victims of circumstance in life, and victims of the propaganda of the culture of death. We say to them, ‘Do not be afraid,” he said.
Fresh from the march that encircled the Capitol complex that afternoon, Archbishop Pérez carried the energy of the event to the pulpit of the cathedral, beckoning a standing-room-only congregation into a chant of “Love life, choose life.”
“Today, we gather at this Eucharist to thank God for the many gifts he has given us, and the preeminent gift is life,” he said. On behalf of the Bishops of Pennsylvania – several of whom joined him at the altar – the archbishop thanked the day’s marchers for refusing to “put their light under a bushel basket” in championing the pro-life movement.
“God has been merciful. He has heard our prayers. A few months ago, we saw the reversal of Roe v. Wade,” Archbishop Pérez said. “It is a testament and a proclamation that, when we place things in God’s hands, watch out! Watch out, because when God acts…He acts!”
“But we remember that the job isn’t done yet,” he said. “But we know that faithfulness and steadfastness will continue to protect the unborn and protect the dignity of life from conception to natural death. We believe that, and we have seen that.”
The archbishop called for continued prayer, what he defined as the cornerstone of the pro-life movement.
“God has visited His people, He has heard our prayer. How blessed we are, but the work is not done,” he said. “Thank you, in the name of my brother bishops, for your passion for life, your passion for your faith, your love for Jesus Christ and your love for the Church. Know that your hearts transform the world.”
The Work Continues
Parish and school groups from across the state were among the sea of people rallying on the Capitol steps and moving along the march route. Most of them carried banners and signs, affirming the lives of women and babies or calling for an end to abortion.
Marching behind their high school banner, students from the Respect Life Club at Trinity High School in Camp Hill told The Catholic Witness they wanted to lend their voices to the pro-life movement.
“It’s very important to be here because I think that everyone should understand that every unborn child should have a chance,” said Mary Dye.
Jose Centenera spoke to the misconception among his generation that only adults should be concerned with abortion.
“There’s a misconception…that kids don’t have a voice in what’s going on. Despite the progress, it’s still important to affirm our values,” he said. “The message today is that, despite what might be said on social media and in the news, there is still this movement and it’s as strong as it has been.”
Classmate Elizabeth Brida said even though the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health and ruled that the Constitution does not confer the right to abortion, the fight against abortion is not finished.
“Abortion is still an ongoing problem; it’s not over,” she said. “We have to keep doing what we’re doing. As long as we stick with that, we’ll make progress.”
Celebrating the Supreme Court’s Dobbs ruling in June, speakers at the rally prior to the march called upon the crowd to keep up their efforts. Among those taking the podium, after an opening prayer by Archbishop Pérez, was Michael Geer, President and CEO of the Pennsylvania Family Institute; and Amy Scheuring, Executive Director of Women’s Choice Network in Pittsburgh.
Senator Judy Ward (PA-30), Senator Ryan Aument (PA-36) and Representative Bryan Cutler (PA-100) thanked the crowd for their overwhelming turnout and spoke of pro-life measures proposed for Pennsylvania, where abortion remains legal up to the 24th week of pregnancy. In July, the state’s General Assembly passed a proposed amendment to say that the state’s constitution grants no right to a taxpayer-funded abortion or any other right relating to abortion.
“Our work to build a culture of life is not over; it’s just moving into a new season where the states are even more important,” said Mancini.
Women Deserve Better
Headliner speaker Ann McElhinney, journalist and author of “Gosnell: The Untold Story of America’s Most Prolific Serial Killer,” gave a stunning account of the trial of Kermit Gosnell, a former abortionist who was convicted of the murder of three infants after they were born alive in his clinic in Philadelphia.
In addition to her book, McElhinney has worked to release a movie and a podcast series on the horrors of Gosnell’s practice, where women also died.
“Journalists tried so hard to cover up this story because they don’t want people to know the truth about abortion, because when you know the truth, you’re not the same afterwards,” she said. “It’s easy to talk about Planned Parenthood; it’s not easy to talk about arms and legs being pulled out, but that’s the reality.”
“If Gosnell can happen in Pennsylvania, Gosnell can happen anywhere. It’s illogical to believe there isn’t a Gosnell in California, in Illinois, in New Jersey,” she said.
Women deserve so much more than abortion, McElhinney and fellow speakers said.
Kathy Barnette, who was conceived when her mother was raped, captivated the crowd with her impassioned speech about the love and right to life that all human beings deserve.
“I was conceived in rape when my mother was 11 and my father was 21, and I am grateful that my grandmother had enough sense to know that what was growing in my mother’s womb was not some inanimate clump of cells, but a human, a life,” Barnette said. “I am grateful that there were adults who came alongside my very young mother and saw value in my life.”
“Never did anyone look at me and call me a victim. Never did anyone look at me and say ‘Your life does not matter.’ I had nothing to do with how I was conceived. I took no part in how I was conceived. I have never once glorified that my mother was raped. And yet, there I was,” she said, her voice cracking with emotion.
“I went on to get multiple degrees and work in finance and all because someone looked at my young mother and saw what was growing in her womb and said, ‘We love her and we’re going to raise her.” … I am so grateful for people like you who see values in the lives of people like me and fight for some of the most innocent people on our planet,” Barnette said.
Pro-life OBGYN Dr. Monique Ruberu offered answers for women who think abortion is the answer to a crisis pregnancy, or who say that not having access to abortion is harmful to them.
“I would like them to know that every single day, in my GYN office, I encounter women who have been wounded through abortion access – women who have recurrent nightmares, anxiety, depression, infertility,” she said. “They are far from shouting their abortions…they are trying very hard to not remember them.”
“But God, who is the greatest source of love and compassion, offers something new,” she remarked.
Dr. Ruberu called on members of the pro-life movement to continue to provide resources, compassion and care for pregnant and post-abortive women, and to be God’s hands and feet. She spoke of pro-life pregnancy centers, ministries for post-abortive women, and hospice programs that offer a place for babies to be loved and mourned instead of aborted because of a poor prenatal diagnosis.
“Jesus wants every one of us, and every one of them,” Dr. Ruberu told the crowd.
“For those of us that at any time sat on the sidelines and have been personally pro-life but failed to speak up, now is the time,” she said. “Now we stand, now we speak, now we pray. But most importantly, now we love.”
(Mass photos by Chris Heisey, march photos by Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness.)
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness