The excitement rippling through the thousands gathered for the first Pennsylvania March for Life was electric on Monday, Sept. 27. A peaceful yet exuberant public demonstration supporting the right to life drew between 3,000 to 5,000 people to the Capital steps in Harrisburg. Catholics and non-Catholics stood side-by-side with pro-life legislators and dignitaries as they let everyone know that there is strong pro-life support in Pennsylvania.
Prior to the 11 a.m. rally and 12 noon march around the Capital, Most Rev. Ronald Gainer, Bishop of Harrisburg, celebrated Mass at the Cathedral of Saint Patrick to kick off the event.
“As we gather for this Mass, we are united. United by an urgent need to respond to and undue to culture of death that has spawned a radical disregard for human dignity and the sanctity of all human life. This deadly and evil culture was nurtured by an event that took place over 48 years ago. You know it well. On January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court issued its infamous Roe v. Wade decision. That decision of our nation’s highest court codified a type of morality that gives a legal license to eliminate a human life when that life is subjectively judged to be unwanted because of its inconvenience, its bad timing, or almost any other reason,” said Bishop Gainer.
“The purpose of today’s Pennsylvania March for Life is to bolster our pro-life witness and strengthen each of us supporters as the battle for life moves to the states’ level. I’m confident that all of us here are very concerned about our nation. The unity and future of our nation, the need to foster a better mutual respect and harmony among all our citizens; however, when the teaching Church and some believing members of the Church as well as many in our society at large are so radically divided on such a fundamental issue regarding human life, we are certainly in need of prayer,” he added.
The bishop continued that there are sentiments and public comments throughout our society stating that we are only pro-birth. To be pro-life we should also focus on suicide prevention, ending the death penalty, fighting poverty and hunger, combating the opioid epidemic and ending wars.
“Such rhetoric is objectively, demonstrably false and needs to be called out as such. Catholics make up a significant portion of the pro-life movement and for centuries our Church has ministered to men, women and children suffering from these very tragedies. It’s a fact that we originated hospitals and healthcare. The original great universities of Europe began in the Church, and Catholic Charities in our country reaches out to people in these very situations to help and to heal, while Catholic Relief Services reach is worldwide,” said Bishop Gainer. “And many other churches and pro-life movements care for the whole spectrum of human needs. Let’s not be blind. The pro-life agenda is what actually saves lives.”
Testifying to Life
Before the march, the crowd heard from multiple guest speakers, including Toni McFadden, Jeanne Mancini and keynote speaker, Abby Johnson.
McFadden recounted her personal experience with abortion and how she is now “unapologetically pro-life.”
“I think it’s interesting that Planned Parenthood and abortion supporters say they care so much about women, because that is one of their biggest lies. I remember being at the abortion clinic and the nurse had me lay down to take a sonogram, and I noticed that the screen was faced away from me. I asked the nurse if I could see it, and she tried to persuade me not to see it, but I insisted. And when she turned it around, before I could say a word, she said ‘See, it’s nothing.’ I was seven weeks along. She didn’t tell me that my baby’s heart had already started to beat. She didn’t tell me that at conception, my baby had its own unique DNA that would never be created again,” said McFadden. “Abortion is a lie. Abortion did not make my circumstance better. That abortion will always stay with me, and I will always regret taking the life of my child.”
Mancini, president of the national March for Life, said that while there may be differences in those who march for life, we are all united in our common understanding that every life is precious, demands respect and the ability to live. Since the Roe v. Wade decision, 62 million Americans have been lost to abortion, she said.
“The truth of the matter is that anyone who has been impacted by an abortion has a heart that has been wounded and needs hope and healing. We know that women and men deserve better than abortion. That’s why we march. That’s why you are so urgently needed…If you think your voice doesn’t matter to the people in that building (the Capital), you are wrong…Each of you have something critical and irreplaceable to contribute to the march for life. You’re here today, tomorrow don’t stop, you are desperately needed,” said Mancini.
Abby Johnson, who founded the ministry And Then There Were None, which helps abortion workers leave the industry, recounted her own journey as a former employee of Planned Parenthood.
“This is an emotional week for me because yesterday, September 26, is a pretty important day for me. September 26 marks the day every year that I watched an ultrasound guided abortion take place and it was the day that I watched a child loose his life to an abortion. I watched a 13 week baby struggle and fight for his life against the abortion instruments, and ultimately that child lost that battle,” Johnson said. “I had been told by Planned Parenthood that babies in the womb, they didn’t feel anything, that they were just tissue, it was just nothing. I had been taught abortion science. And abortion science is that if a pregnancy isn’t wanted, it’s just tissue. But if the pregnancy is wanted, then that pregnancy magically turns into a baby. And the amazing thing is that that pregnancy can turn back and forth. And, yet the pro-abortion movement says that we are the one that are unscientific.”
She added that she believed the lies told to her from the abortion industry.
“I believed so many lies of the abortion industry because, you have to believe the lie. When you support abortion, when you are a pro-abortion person, you have to believe the lie. Because if you actually allow yourself to know the truth, to see the truth, then you can’t support abortion anymore,” Johnson said. “But when I saw this 13-week-old baby right in front of my face, when I saw this 13-week-old baby fighting and struggling for his life, when I saw his arms and legs flailing, trying to move away from that instrument, I knew I could no longer believe that lie anymore.”
Johnson explained that is has been almost 13 years since she left the abortion industry and nine years that her ministry has helped others just like her.
“We have helped 600 abortion clinic workers to leave their jobs. And not just that they left their jobs. They have left their jobs and they have found hope and salvation in Jesus Christ,” she said. “Friends if you have experienced an abortion, there is hope for you. Men, if you have taken someone for an abortion, there is hope for you. There is no sin too great for God to forgive.”
The march was hosted by the Pennsylvania Family Institute and heavily supported by several organizations, including the Pennsylvania State Council of the Knights of Columbus.
“It is very exciting to be a Knight and it is great to be with such enthusiastic people and thousands of people here who are Pro-Life,” said Ken Grugel, state deputy of the Pennsylvania Council of the Knights of Columbus. “It is exciting also to see so many people of different faiths here – that is truly an important thing. This is just not a Catholic thing as many Catholics believe. This issue is important to many people of faith.”
“I am proud to be a Knight and to be a part of the pro-life movement. Hopefully, those in political office will hear us and see us today. Perhaps we can sway their minds to choose life,” said Wayne Freet, past state deputy. “The Knights totally support life. We have sponsored some 57 ultrasound machines in Pennsylvania and have invested millions of dollars to support this technology that works in saving the unborn.”
Mark Jago, the immediate past state deputy for the state council and a member of St. Patrick Parish in Carlisle, has attended the national march in Washington D.C. for 48 years. He said the state march is significant as the fight for life turns to the state level.
“We have been working on this for two years, and it is exciting to see this all come together finally. Hopefully this is the inaugural March for Life in Pennsylvania,” said Jago.
Dave Spacht, the director of life activities for the state council, traveled to the march from Erie with his wife, Kelly.
“We are very excited and yes a little anxious because there have been so many preparations for this day and night in the past several months. But everything is falling into place and all has come together nicely,” he said. “We frankly must change the hearts and minds of a few people who frankly need changing when it comes to the life issue. I think by working on these state marches for life we can affect change on the local level. That is where the change is happening.”
To learn more about the March for Life, visit marchforlife.org.
(Photos by Rachel Bryson and courtesy of Trinity High School.)
By Rachel Bryson, The Catholic Witness