SAN FRANCISCO — The annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., has become one of the largest protest gatherings in the United States. Marking the anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision, the march brings people from all over the country to show their support for protection of the unborn.

Some people on the other side of the country want to express their solidarity with the march in the nation's capital and bring to light pro-life issues on the West Coast. Womenwho regret their abortions, feminists who reject the shibboleth that abortion is liberating and black activists who see their community targeted by population controllers will join together in San Francisco on Jan. 22, 2005, for the inaugural Walk for Life West Coast.

The Washington event and a pro-life march in Sacramento will take place on Jan. 24, a Monday, coinciding with lawmaker'’ office hours. The San Francisco march, however, will beon the previous Saturday, the 32nd anniversary of the decision that struck down most state laws protecting unborn human life.

Groups sponsoring the West Coast walk include the Silent No More Awareness Campaign; the Life Education and Resource Network; Feminists for Life of America; Priests for Life; Catholics for the Common Good; the California Pro-Life Council and United For Life.

The event begins with speeches at 11 a.m. at the Ferry Building in Justin Herman Plaza, a large, open-air site near the city's financial district. The two-mile trek starts at noon and wends its way through the city past Fisherman's Wharf to its final destination, Marina Green, for closing activities.

An ecumenical prayer service is scheduled for the evening before, led by Auxiliary Bishop Ignatius Wang of the Archdiocese of San Francisco. Both Archbishop Wang and San Francisco Archbishop William Levada are expected to join the walk.

Inclusive Event

Walk for Life West Coast organizers say they made an effort to include feminists and minorities.

“We didn't want to make this just a Catholic event or just a religious event, because the people in the pro-life movement cut across all of society,” said Vicki Evans, Respect Life coordinator in the Archdiocese of San Francisco. “The more broad-based support for the walk, the better are our chances of showing society that … there are a great number of people in all walks of life, all religions and all economic levels, who support life. It is a human dignity issue.”

“There are so many women — and men — who are suffering in silence from abortions,” said walk co-chairwoman Dolores Meehan. “It is important for us to bring out the awareness that abortion is not a good choice for women, specifically for African-American and Hispanic women.”

Organizers expect participants from locales along the West Coast and from as far north as Alaska; they have obtained a police permit for 10,000 to 20,000 people. The march in Washington has drawn 20,000 to 250,000 participants over the years.

“We're leaving the success to God,” Meehan said. “If 500 people show up and one person gets post-abortion healing as a result, we won't look at it as a failure.”

One speaker wishes she had known post-abortion counseling was available in the aftermath of her own ordeal. Georgette Forney is executive director of the National Organization of Episcopalians for Life and co-founder of Silent No More. Silent No More is co-sponsored by the Episcopal group and by Priests for Life. The campaign's goal is to raise awareness of the adverse effects abortion can have on women.

“As a woman, I regret choosing abortion,” Forney said. “We need to help people understand that if they are going to choose abortion, there are ramifications. I believe as we speak about (abortion), we will help people understand that it is not some panacea answer to an unplanned pregnancy. It doesn't solve a problem pregnancy; it just gives you a different problem.”

Those who study post-abortion stress syndrome say adverse effects of an abortion can occur immediately, or weeks, months or years later. Forney said she has seen women suffer from alcohol and drug abuse to “numb the pain,” self-mutilation, nightmares and overwhelming guilt that could lead to attempted — and sometimes successful — suicide.

Civil-Rights Issue The Rev. Clenard Childress, president of the Life Education and Resource Network, based in Montclair, N.J., will speak in San Francisco about abortion in the black community. His is the largest black pro-life organization in the country and seeks to network with like-minded, minority-based groups to bring the message of life to the black community.

Childress, a Baptist, says that some 1,450 of 4,000 abortions a day are of black babies. Yet, he asserts, the majority of black pastors are absent from the pro-life movement.

He calls abortion “a civil-rights issue” and said even if Roe is never overturned, “it would be wonderful to know that most people's consciousness was raised so much that abortion becomes unconscionable.”

Also speaking in San Francisco will be Sally Winn, vice president of the non-sectarian Feminists for Life of America. The group addresses the reasons why women choose abortion and advocates for appropriate emotional and financial support for pregnant and parenting women.

While pro-life events are held throughout the country to mark the Roe v. Wade anniversary, most attention will be on the Washington march. Amid the din of debate over stem-cell research, cloning and euthanasia, one priority has been lost, said march organizer Nellie Gray. That priority — the protection of each born and pre-born human being in American society — will be the theme of the march, she said.

“We haven't settled the important issue of the right to life,” she said, “endowed by our Creator, as it is vested at fertilization.”

writes from Providence, Rhode Island.