Pro-Lifers: D.C. March Got Violent
WASHINGTON — Many in the crowd of from 250,000 to 800,000 people who marched on Washington in support of abortion didn't take kindly to opposing points of view. So say the pro-lifers who say they were the targets of violence at the “March for Women's Lives.”
Many pro-choice advocates who gathered for the April 24-25 event had to march past photos of babies in the womb, people holding pro-life signs and a man holding a crucifix. The pro-life demonstrators say pro-abortion marchers spit at them, threw eggs, hit them, made vulgar gestures, ripped signs, yelled insults and screamed obscenities.
Jason Jones, the former director of American Life League's youth department, said he saw people variously carrying the flag of the former Soviet Union, wearing gas masks or sporting bandanas across their faces. Some threw pennies, sticks and other objects at him. One man hit him over the head with a short flagpole, giving him a headache for the rest of the day. Another person spit into his face.
“It's a small price to pay compared with what Our Lord suffered,” said Jones, 32.
Tom Messe, a doctor from Groton, Conn., wanted to make sure of God's presence, too. At the march on April 24 he held a sign that said, “Women need love, not abortion” in one hand and a 12-inch crucifix in the other. He said some of the marchers cursed the crucifix and made obscene gestures toward it.
“I really thought they should see Christ and see what he did for us and his sacrifice,” said Messe, who also had a sign that said, “Abortion gave my wife breast cancer.”
“It didn't seem to cause any conversions over there,” he said. “It just angered them.”
One of the groups participating in the march, the Radical Cheerleaders of D.C., advocated another creative type of protest against pro-life counter-demonstrators. A “pro-choice call to action” alert from the group didn't recommend “property destruction and / or confrontation.” That tactic won't work, it declared, since pro-life advocates are “irrational” and won't listen.
Instead, the group suggested marchers focus on pro-life signs.
“These visuals are often put on the sides of mobile vehicles or set up behind a very small fence,” the alert said. “Either way, a thick layer of paint could really compliment a bloody fetus picture.”
Michael Loadenthal, one of the Radical Cheerleaders' organizers, said he didn't witness any physical altercations, but he did see “tense encounters” involving some yelling. He reiterated that the group discouraged confrontations with pro-life advocates.
Anti-choicers love to hate
We will not apologize
We are here to take a stand
We want abortion on demand
We're the ones who ovulate
Not the church, not the state
We'll decide our own fate!
— A chant of the “Radical Cheerleaders”
“Normally, radical and militant marches may use these as tactical objectives, [but] we felt because we knew the area, we knew what area of the city we would be in, that none of these tactics would prove useful,” he said, “which is why we chose the tactic of the march being radical cheerleading and a general high visibility.”
Gloria Feldt, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, one of several sponsoring organizations, said in a statement: “We sent a message to Washington today: There is a war on choice in this country, but we're going to win this battle.”
A spokeswoman for the federation didn't return calls for comment regarding the uncivil actions by some of the marchers. A spokes-woman for the National Organization for Women, another of the organizers, declined to comment. The Feminist Majority, another sponsor, didn't return a phone call.
With police dressed in riot gear, Feldt's war analogy seemed apt. But most of the pro-life advocates tried to take a more prayerful posture.
“I have to hand it to the women and men who were there, the pro-lifers with me,” said Janet Morana, associate director of Priests for Life. “They just stood like soldiers of Christ in silent prayer. They behaved as Christ would: loving, showing the truth, but not in a confrontational way.”
Praying for a softening of hearts led to a conversion during the march, she said.
Morana, who was holding a sign that said, “I'm pro-life” next to a smiley face, was standing between a woman who was holding a “I regret my abortion” sign and another woman who held up a “I'm pro-life” sign. At one point, a woman in her mid-30s came toward their sidewalk, crumpled her Planned Parenthood “Stand up for choice” sign and said, “I want one of your signs.”
The woman was handed a sign with the smiley face on it and then looked Morana in the eye and said, “I lost a child from crib death. I can't march with them any longer.” Morana said the woman put her arms around her and started sobbing. Morana hugged and consoled her.
Cathy Cleaver Ruse, director of planning and information for the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, saw an egg thrown at the group she was standing with. One of the reasons she was at the march was because she believes Pope John Paul II when he says that abortion is the “greatest human-rights issue of our day.”
Standing up for babies who have been killed and the women and families who have suffered from abortions were other reasons pro-life advocates gave to being among the several thousand people at the march.
“It was frightening,” said Annie Banno, the Connecticut state leader for Silent No More, a group that raises awareness of the negative impacts of abortion and reaches out to women who suffer from post-abortion trauma.
Banno, holding a sign that said, “I regret my abortion,” was berated by marchers. “Poor baby!” “Too bad!” “That was your choice!” She felt like she was being “spiritually attacked.”
Mickey Inthavongdy, assistant director of Rock for Life, also said she was frightened by the heightened emotions.
On April 24, the eve of the march, she and four other members of Rock for Life, the American Life League's pro-life youth outreach group, went to a demonstration that was packed with people from a simultaneous protest against the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
The young people held signs that said, “Abortion is homicide.” Immediately, about 40 people swarmed around them, banging drums and sticks together, yelling and cursing at them, said Inthavongdy, 27.
One man was so angry as he screamed, his face an inch away from hers, that he was “foaming at the mouth,” she said. She thought he was about to hit her until someone pulled him away and said, “We're not here to fight.”
Another man came up to her and leaned in to kiss her on the mouth, she said. “Do not touch me,” she told him. She says he backed away.
This kind of frenzy went on for about 30 minutes, Inthavongdy said.
“I was praying hard,” she said. “I've never been in that situation before. It was scary. If God didn't give me the boldness to stand there and be silent and be able to look into the eyes of the protesters who wanted to hit us and were yelling at us and cussing at us, if his presence wasn't there, I would've cried and would've said, ‘Hey, let's get out of here.’ I was afraid for my life. But God was there.”
Kate Bryan was one of 26 students from Ave Maria College in Ypsilanti, Mich., who attended what she referred to as “a march for death.” Several students held signs that had a picture of a 12-week-old baby in a mother's womb with the sign saying, “Would you march for my life?”
She said some marchers took several signs away from them and ripped them. Others threw condoms at her group.
Police reported 17 arrests during the march, but only one for disorderly conduct. A police spokesman did not know which side that person was marching on. The other arrests were of pro-lifers demonstrating without a permit.
Bryan, a 19-year-old freshman, and her fellow students talked later about how easy it would have been to be filled with rage at what some of the marchers did and said.
“But that's exactly what Satan wants,” she said. “He wants us to get angry with each other. He wants us to start battles. He lives for people's anger. He wants to stir that up, that hatred. I think the pro-life movement is about love. We're called by God to love each and every man and woman who was in D.C. that day and to pray for them. Many people who were marching, maybe they don't know what true love is, what the love of Christ is.”
Carlos Briceño writes from Seminole, Florida.
- May 9-15, 2004