LONDON — An estimated 4,000 pro-lifers took to the London streets May 5, marching from the Covent Garden area of the capital past Trafalgar Square and 10 Downing Street to the front of the British Parliament, in solidarity with the unborn and as witnesses to the dignity of life.
Unlike last year, there was no repeat of the scenes witnessed in Birmingham. There, a pro-abortion counterdemonstration disrupted the march, causing long delays while pro-lifers were forced to stand in torrential rain, during which the West Midlands police appeared unwilling to do anything.
The chief steward for this year’s march, Francis Carey, told the Register before this year’s event that he did not expect the same problems.
“We will get aggravation, but we are confident that the Metropolitan Police will keep them at bay.” His prediction proved correct, as this year’s counterdemonstration was corralled to prevent its blocking the path of the march.
Now in its fifth year, the march had originally been the initiative of pro-life groups in England’s second-largest city, Birmingham.
March organizer Ben Thatcher told the Register that its central point is to “create awareness of the hurt and damage of abortion.” He added that the march was unique, in terms of gathering all U.K. pro-life groups under “one simple slogan: ‘Life from conception, no exception.’”
John Smeaton, the director of the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child, told the Register: “This is all about pro-life people coming together with an unequivocal slogan in defense of human life to celebrate the gospel of life.”
Calling this year’s new venue “a sign of confidence,” he commented, “In spite of intense opposition, we are here in the heart of London to say we exist and we won’t stop until abortion stops.”
Anne Scanlon, the director of education and media for the charity Life, told the Register that although there are “numerous pro-life groups, this is the one event we [U.K. pro-life groups] all come to and are proud to be pro-life.”
Similarly, Robert Colquhoun, 40 Days for Life’s director of international campaigns, described the event as “a great opportunity to equip and empower people for the pro-life cause.” And Joseph Clovis, the director of the International Helpers Operation (IHOPE), saw the march through the streets of London as “an occasion to demonstrate love for those who need it most in our society.”
The day started at a central London hotel with what was billed as “Lifefest 18” — a pro-life festival featuring stalls from various pro-life groups, and various presentations and speeches were made. All the time, the venue was ringed by a heavy security presence paid for by the march’s organizers.
Before the march took to the streets, marchers were addressed inside the hotel by, among others, Bishop John Keenan of Paisley, Scotland, and Auxiliary Bishop John Wilson of Westminster, England. Despite the significant current challenges, Bishop Keenan urged pro-lifers to enter public life.
“You have no idea of the galvanizing effect your courage will have if you stand up before the British media courageously, even under attack, and be pro-life,” the bishop told the marchers. He added, “We will win this battle by truth, but we will win it even more by courage.”
Speaking to the Register, Bishop Keenan saw the march’s move to the capital as significant, “bringing together the pro-life movement from across the British Isles [so as to eventually] compete with the U.S. March for Life.” He also told the Register, “We need to open up a new front, a spiritual front [in the battle for life]. We will overcome.”
The march comes just after the 50th anniversary of the implementation of the Abortion Act 1967. It also follows last week’s decision to ban pro-life groups from praying and offering support outside a London abortion center.
This is the first time that the march took place in the U.K. capital, and the organizers noted the increase in media attention — the BBC and other media outlets were present.
More than ever, this year’s March for Life had a notable contingent from Britain’s Irish community. There were banners and flags calling for a “No” vote in the May 25 Irish referendum on whether to retain the Eighth Amendment of the Irish Constitution, which prohibits abortion.
Laoise Ní Dhubhrosa of the group London Irish United for Life told the Register, “We wanted to take part in the March for Life UK to highlight that Ireland is due to vote on the constitutionally protected right to life at the end of May and to encourage eligible Irish citizens in the U.K. to go home to vote ‘No.’”
She added the response from all at the march was “really positive. … Lots of people attending the march told us they will spread the ‘Home to Vote No’ message throughout the U.K. to help Ireland ‘Save the 8th.’”
The march, when assembled on Parliament Green opposite the Houses of Parliament, heard from U.S. singer-songwriter Joy Villa, who emphasized her pro-life commitment and solidarity with those in the U.K. She described the march through London as taking place in the “belly of the beast.”
Also speaking to the assembled march was Good Counsel Network’s founder, Clare McCullough. She spoke, in particular, of the threat posed by the recent legal moves to block pro-life witness.
Speaking to the Register, McCullough said that, despite the recent decision about “buffer zones” — which is currently being challenged in the courts — “the tide is turning — just look at the number of abortions each year.” She cited U.K. government figures that record a fall in such procedures every year since 2006.
McCullough described the annual March for Life as one of the hopeful signs in helping to create a culture of life in Britain and hailed the annual March for Life as “a witness that brings us together, makes us united.”
Register correspondent K.V. Turley writes from London.