ST. PAUL, Minn. — Chants of “United” followed by “for Life” echoed in the Minnesota Capitol Feb. 28 in St. Paul as pro-life advocates gathered by the hundreds in the rotunda and then fanned out to visit with lawmakers considering abortion measures such as allowing infants to die after attempted abortions.
“My first words to you this morning are, ‘Peace be with you,'” said Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis, joined by three other Catholic bishops in the state, as he addressed those gathered and asked them to remind legislators to welcome life and protect it in law.
“It is impossible to live in a peaceful society without peace in the womb,” the archbishop said. “We want peace with justice. We are here advocating for prenatal justice.”
Bishop Daniel J. Felton of Duluth and Bishop Chad W. Zielinski of New Ulm and his predecessor, retired Bishop John M. LeVoir, joined the archbishop. Religious sisters and brothers, lay women and men in the Catholic Church, people from other denominations and all walks of life filled both floors of the rotunda.
People held signs proclaiming, “I am human,” “Let her live,” and “Pregnancy centers support women and their families.” Many held Capitol maps and lobbying materials as they prepared to meet with lawmakers in their offices.
Across the country at the Maryland Statehouse in Annapolis, pro-life marchers called on their lawmakers to respect life from the moment of conception to natural death.
The Maryland General Assembly is considering a host of bills including a constitutional amendment that would enshrine a right to abortion through all nine months of pregnancy and a measure that would legalize physician-assisted suicide.
After the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization in June 2022, overturning the high court’s previous abortion-related precedents in Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the issue of abortion returned to the states, where lawmakers have moved to either restrict or expand access to abortion.
For both Minnesota and Maryland, it’s the latter.
In St. Paul, Renee Carlson, general counsel of public-interest law firm True North Legal and Minnesota Family Council, emceed the rally and led the United for Life cheer. “Good morning, pro-life Minnesota,” Carlson greeted the crowd. “Welcome to the first-ever United for Life day at the state Capitol.”
“We’re here to stand for life,” said Brother Conrad Richardson, a Franciscan Brother of Peace dressed in black robes and cincture and holding a sign backing pregnancy resource centers. “Each life is worth inestimable value at any stage.”
Only a month earlier, Jan. 27, advocates on both sides of the abortion issue gathered in great number in front of the Senate chambers as that body prepared to debate the Pro Act, which passed the House Jan. 19 and the Senate Jan. 28, and Gov. Tim Walz signed into law Jan. 31. The act places into state law a right to abortion in Minnesota for any reason and without limit on viability.
Archbishop Hebda warned in his “Only Jesus” column in the Feb. 9 edition of The Catholic Spirit, the archdiocesan newspaper, that the Pro Act marked “just the tip of the legislative iceberg this term.”
He urged people to come to the Feb. 28 rally as members of the House and Senate debate HF91 and SF70, companion bills that among other things would remove protections for babies born alive after an abortion.
The bills also would eliminate parental notification as women seek an abortion, including minors, and the Woman’s Right to Know pre-abortion informed consent law. The proposals would eliminate state abortion data collection, the 24-hour waiting period before an abortion and limits on state funding for abortion. Still another bill, HF289, would require pregnancy resource centers receiving funds under a state Positive Alternative Grant program to refer for abortions, undermining their mission of offering alternatives to abortion.
Days before the rally, MCC and other organizers helped people schedule meetings with lawmakers. After they rallied, many pro-life advocates paid their visits.
Barbara Herzog, 59, of St. Peter in Forest Lake, and a friend, LeLe Jurek, 70, of St. Patrick in Oak Grove, said they met with Republican Sen. Michael Kreun of Blaine to argue against HF91 and SF70.
“When we rally together, it shows we have a presence,” Herzog said of the meeting and the rally. “We need to be active now,” Jurek added.
In Annapolis, keynote speaker Gloria Purvis said she was troubled by how some framed the impact of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs ruling on poor Black women.
In places where abortion is restricted, the narrative went, Black women would not have access. Wealthy white women, on the other hand, could pay to travel elsewhere to obtain abortions. Black women were essentially told they need abortion as a matter of equality and empowerment, said Purvis, a nationally known Catholic, African-American pro-life activist.
“I say, if you want to make us equal to these wealthy white women, why don’t you look at the things they have that we don’t — access to clean water, access to good schools, access for our husbands to have good jobs — for us to have good jobs — for us to live in communities that actually have grocery stores,” said Purvis, the keynote speaker at the Feb. 27 Maryland March for Life in Annapolis.
“The answer to equality is not to remove the pre-born child from the difficult situation,” Purvis said to cheers and applause. “It’s to remove the difficult situation.”
More than 1,000 people braved a cold, steady rain at the Maryland March for Life, which began at St. Mary in Annapolis and ended with a rally on Lawyer’s Mall in front of the Statehouse.
The Archdiocese of Baltimore and the Archdiocese of Washington were among the sponsors of the 44th annual event, which featured several participants carrying signs with messages such as “Love Life — Choose Life” and “Equal Rights for Every Body.”
Erin Younkins, director of the Office of Life, Justice and Peace in the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s Institute for Evangelization, said more than 25 parishes from the Archdiocese of Baltimore participated in the march this year. Several schools were also represented, including Mount de Sales Academy in Catonsville, whose “Guardians for Life” student group was honored by Students for Life of America with its group of the year award.
“We need to make sure people understand the legislation being considered this year in Annapolis,” Younkins told the Catholic Review, the Baltimore archdiocesan news outlet.. “Enshrining abortion in the constitution for all nine months — for any reason — is beyond extreme.”
Sponsored by House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones and Senate President Bill Ferguson, both Democrats, the proposed constitutional amendment is supported by Gov. Wes Moore, also a Democrat. It would set up a 2024 referendum for Maryland voters to decide whether to codify abortion into the constitution.
Scott Oesterle, a parishioner of the pastorate of St. Agnes in Catonsville and St. William of York in Baltimore, participated in the march with his 12-year-old daughter, Kateri, who carried a sign saying, “NO ASSISTED SUICIDE.”
“We need to witness not just to the people, not just to our legislators and to the community,” Oesterle said. “We need to witness to our children what we stand for and what we believe.”
Father Michael Triplett, pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Ellicott City, attended the march with more than 50 of his parishioners. While pro-life supporters often struggle in a state that already has some of the most permissive abortion laws in the country, he sees signs for optimism.
“I see momentum shifting,” Father Triplett said. “Even in this state where we’re sometimes faced with frustrating laws, I think overall we are making headway in the culture.”
He added that building a culture of life “all begins with facing our own need for conversion.”
Jonathan M. Alexandre, an attorney for the Maryland Family Institute, told marchers that Maryland is proud of Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, historic figures who fought against slavery in the 19th century.
The time has come to “free Maryland’s babies from the shackles and the chains of abortion,” he said.