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Marching since ‘73: Local events recall Roe v. Wade, present chance to educate public, lobby legislators


Staff reporter


To mark the 42nd anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision that made abortion on demand legal in the United States, the local pro-life community will be mobilizing again for activities in Delaware as well as in Washington, D.C.

On Friday, Jan. 15, Delaware Right to Life will hold its annual Wilmington March for Life beginning at noon at Rodney Square. Participants will walk past the federal buildings to Planned Parenthood at Seventh and Shipley streets. Right to Life will provide signs, or people can bring their own.

The following Wednesday, Jan. 20, is the Rally for Life in Dover. It will take place from noon-1 p.m. at Legislative Hall by the main entry doors on the steps. Participants are encouraged to bring signs that depict the theme, “Pro-Life, Pro-Woman Go Hand in Hand.”

Moira Sheridan, a spokesperson for Delaware Right to Life, said the Dover rally is intended to urge lawmakers “to support the investigation of all abortion clinics in Delaware for unsafe and illegal practices, as well as to defund Planned Parenthood of Delaware.” That organization, she said, gets hundreds of thousands of dollars from the state each year.

Young people walk with a banner past the U.S. Capitol during a past March for Life in Washington.  (CNS/Bob Roller)
Young people walk with a banner past the U.S. Capitol during a past March for Life in Washington. (CNS/Bob Roller)

The annual March for Life will take place in Washington on Jan. 22, the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision. Several parishes are sending buses to the capital for the march. The activities begin on the Washington Monument grounds with a musical opening at 11:45 a.m., followed by an hourlong rally at noon. The march begins an hour later.

At approximately 3 p.m., women will offer testimonies outside the Supreme Court, and marchers are encouraged to meet with their congressional delegations after that.

Several schools will be participating in either the march or in the Youth Rally and Mass for Life, which takes place at two locations beginning at 7:30 a.m. In both spots – the Verizon Center and the D.C. Armory – the activities include a rally, confessions and Mass.

Twenty-one students from Padua Academy will travel with the youth ministry from St. Catherine of Siena to the Verizon Center and the march. St. Elizabeth High School also is sending a contingent to the Verizon Center; Ursuline Academy will have a group at the march.

Sheridan said she’s been to almost every March for Life and she has seen the enthusiasm and numbers grow. Participants come from all over the country, and there is an international flavor to the marchers.

“The crowds are extraordinary, as is the number of young people and families who attend,” Sheridan said. The march, she added, serves as a catalyst to becoming more active locally.

One of those who is active in Delaware is Bill Gourley, a member of the Respect Life Committee at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Wilmington. Gourley said the emphasis of activists in Delaware is education. Women who may be going to a clinic for an abortion are offered sidewalk counseling, and a free ultrasound is always an option.

“The main thing is working constantly and prayerfully to help people see a different view, to see life instead of killing their unborn baby,” he said.

Gourley said he volunteers at events such as the Delaware State Fair to spread the pro-life message.

“As much as we can and as often as we can, we put forth material to church groups and the like so they are hearing this message that there are alternatives to abortion,” he said.

Sheridan said DRTL’s legislative agenda for 2016 includes a campaign against any type of physician-assisted suicide, and trying to educate people about the “growing and frightening trend” in the healthcare community “to coerce vulnerable patients into forgoing basic care by signing deceptive medical forms.”

Father Leonard Klein, the diocesan director of pro-life activities, said the issues facing the pro-life community remain largely the same entering 2016 but with new realities. Those include attempts to introduce physician-assisted suicide and “less obvious efforts at hastening death.” On the positive side, he said, the attention on Planned Parenthood generated by videos about the sale of body parts resulting from abortions has “helped expose Planned Parenthood as something other than the ‘women’s healthcare provider’ it pretends to be.”

Delaware and Maryland remain difficult for the pro-life movement, he said. Delaware, according to Father Klein, has a high rate of abortions and a dominant political culture opposed to any reform.

“I would hope that some progress could be made in inspection and regulation of abortion clinics, but even there resistance is strong,” he said.

As for the local and national elections set for later this year, Father Klein said the national picture is more encouraging than that of Maryland and Delaware. He noted that many state legislatures have pushed back against abortion over the past few years.