WASHINGTON — Despite weather forecasts calling for what might end up being the worst blizzard in over a century, tens of thousands flooded the nation’s capital Friday to support the dignity of life.
Rosalie Rwamakuba, a 20-year-old woman from upstate New York, told CNA that she wants “to march for those who can’t.”
“I’ve been wanting to come on the March for Life for a long time. I think it is a really important cause, because the value of life is nothing nowadays,” she said. “I think we should take a stand.”
“All life, no matter how conceived, or how the child comes out, is valuable. We’re all unique. There’s never going to be anyone like you; there never was anyone like you.”
Eighteen-year-old Benjamin Swanson traveled from Nebraska to attend the march because he wanted to fight the complacency that so many people have toward abortion.
He recalled how a girl in his sophomore high-school class left early for Christmas break. When she came back and people asked where she had been, she casually responded that she had gotten an abortion.
“It just shocked me how … it didn’t even phase people that she was gone having an abortion. It was almost just like she was getting her wisdom teeth or tonsils out,” Swanson said.
“The reason why I march is really because I don’t want abortion to become a norm. … I don’t want to have any unborn child not have [his] story told. Everyone deserves a chance to live.”
He also noted the importance of supporting women in difficult pregnancies. When his sister got pregnant her first semester of college, their aunt kicked her out of the house, he said. Had she not had a support system, “she probably wouldn’t have chosen to keep her baby, and I wouldn’t have my nephew.”
Held every year on or around Jan. 22, the March for Life in Washington marks the anniversary of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion throughout the country. In recent years, estimated attendance at the march has ranged from 250,000 to more than half a million.
Weather forecasts of up to 30 inches of snow beginning the day of the march forced some groups to cancel their trips this year. Nonetheless, huge crowds spilled out across the National Mall, as thousands upon thousands of marchers, primarily young people, braved the blizzard to show their support for life.
Patrick Koehr, a sophomore at the University of Notre Dame, serves on the school’s March for Life Commission and was planning to lead a group of more than 800 students — the largest yet, he said.
However, the administration was concerned with the blizzard warning, and the trip ended up getting canceled.
“But I’ve been in the march every year of my life, including when I was a fetus, so I couldn’t miss it,” Koehr told CNA. So he drove down to D.C. with a few friends to attend.
Directly preceding the march, a rally on the National Mall featured speeches by religious, cultural and political leaders.
March for Life President Jeanne Mancini reflected on the theme of this year’s event: “Pro-Life and Pro-Woman Go Hand in Hand.”
“A woman’s capacity to have a child is an incredible, beautiful and amazing thing. It’s something inherent to women,” she said, adding that it is degrading when women are treated as though their capacity to bear children is “a liability.”
“Abortion is not good for women — psychologically or physically. … Science and research strongly support this reality,” Mancini continued. “I don’t want any woman to every have to go through that.”
For Yohanka, a Cuban woman who now lives in Florida, the march is personal. Raped repeatedly by her stepfather in Cuba, she was forced to have an abortion as a teenager. A year later, she again became pregnant from rape, and this time gave birth to a son.
“He’s an amazing son. He’s my life. He’s actually the only son that I was able to conceive because I never got pregnant ever again,” she told CNA.
“He’s 25 years old (now). My husband adopted him as his own.”
Yohanka explained that she came to the march to stand up for those conceived in what are known as “exception” cases. When people say that abortion is okay in cases of rape and incest, she hears them saying that her son would be better off dead.
“Why should my son pay for the crime of somebody else? Why should he be killed just because someone decided to rape me? He is my child; he has nothing to do with what happened,” she said.
“I regret my first abortion, and I will always regret it,” she continued. “I didn’t have much of a choice. I was a child, and I was dragged (into the abortion clinic) by someone who was in authority. … It wasn’t my choice, but it was my son or my daughter. God knows.”
Ann Marie Coyle of Rockford, Ill., said that she sees abortion as pitting mothers against their children, creating an opposition that is unfair to both.
Coyle views the annual march as an important source of strength and support for pro-life participants.
“I think it’s important for us to be united in this country and to know that we’re not alone, because the media doesn’t promote life, and to know that there are thousands of people out there … and that we’re not alone in this battle,” she told CNA.
This idea of unity also made a strong impression on Brother Elias, a 20-year-old member of the Legionaries of Christ.
Attending his first march this year, he said he was struck by the sheer numbers of people in the crowds, as well as their enthusiasm.
“It has been amazing seeing how many people really believe that life is worth living,” he said. “Even though there may be difficulties, crosses, things that are hard, life is worth living because of love.”