The torch is gradually being passed to a new generation of pro-life Missourians, the first to experience life in a post-Roe America.
Young people made up a large portion of the marchers and spectators at this year’s MidWest March for Life in Jefferson City.
“I was pleasantly surprised to see all of the young people at the March,” said Deacon Samuel H. Lee, a deacon of the St. Louis archdiocese who is director of Campaign Life Missouri, a pro-life lobbying organization.
“The young people are our future, and they have the idealism and drive that we can build a culture of life!” he said.
The April 26 event drew an impressive crowd of pro-life advocates from across Missouri and several neighboring states to the Capitol grounds in Jefferson City.
Featured speakers included Shawn Carney, chief executive officer and president of 40 Days for Life; Lauren Muzyka, chief executive officer and president of Sidewalk Advocates for Life; Sister Dierdre Byrne, a surgeon, retired U.S. Army Medical Corps Colonel, and superior of her community of the Workers of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary sisters in Washington, D.C.
Bishop W. Shawn McKnight addressed the marchers and led them in prayer.
He noted that even though the Supreme Court last summer overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that had decriminalized abortion-on-demand in all 50 states, “that does not mean there is no longer a need for prophetic voices in our day.”
He said the residue of Roe still plagues society, having eroded the culture of life that once held this country together.
“It is never good, never just, never charitable, never life-giving to treat an innocent human being as something to be discarded and thrown away,” he proclaimed from the steps of the Capitol. “The dignity of our humanity and the fundamental right to life must be recognized above all other rights, no matter what.”
In order to make a compelling case for life, “we must at this moment be willing to make the case for life ourselves, not only in the important decision-making processes that go on in this Capitol building, and in the courthouses across the street, but also in our conversations and in our actions in daily life,” he said.
He called on everyone present to advocate fearlessly, tirelessly for “the weakest among us” — “to give hope and a helpful hand to the young woman tempted or coerced to choose an abortion” and offer helpful direction to any woman facing an unwanted pregnancy.
“We must support the dignity of all human life and never tire of the demands of what it means to be pro-life,” he stated. “The choice for life is not only possible but better for the mother, the father and the child who is already part of our community.”
No time for complacency
Fueled by a shared sense of purpose and the words of the speakers, participants marched through downtown Jefferson City, past the Governor’s Mansion and the Supreme Court en route back to the Capitol.
The weather was clear and mild.
Priests carrying a rugged cross that had been blessed and used for numerous previous pro-life events led the march, with a drumline from the Helias Catholic High School Marching Band in Jefferson City keeping a lively beat.
“Having some noise up toward the front let everyone know that we’re here,” stated Helias Catholic junior Jack Callahan. “And it brings out the energy of the people who are marching. It gets them excited.”
He believes now is not the time for complacency in the pro-life movement. If there’s anything he’s learned from the history classes he’s taken, it’s that “inaction and indifference allow horrible things to happen,” he said.
“I heard in one of the talks this morning that more than 60 babies have been killed by abortion, just in this country,” he stated. “That’s a whole heck of a lot of people.”
“Keep your faith”
Hundreds of young people and their chaperones spread out on the north side of the Capitol Circle after the march for an afternoon student session titled “What’s Next for the Post-Roe Generation.”
Several women and men shared their own stories of losing a child to abortion and struggling to find healing in the aftermath.
One woman spoke of the loneliness and isolation she felt when she found out she was pregnant.
She realized the moment she entered the abortion clinic that she didn’t belong there. Once in the procedure room, she tried to leave but the clinic staff would not let her.
“Just knowing that a soul that you were supposed to protect has been ripped from you — that’s something you never really get over,” she said.
Having reconciled with God, she now stays alert to the needs of young women who are pregnant and in crisis.
She encouraged her audience to do the same.
“Be alert!” she said. “People need you. Maybe the classmate sitting next to you at school, maybe a person in your church — they may be in tough situations, and we can be there for them. We can stand in the gap for them.
“We can say, ‘I’m here for you. It will be okay for you. You’re strong enough and we’re with you and there are resources available to help you,’” she stated.
A young man who works for a pro-life organization said it’s convenient to believe the lie that abortion doesn’t end a human life.
“I participated in the murder of my own child,” he stated. “And nine months later, God intervened in my life in some really big ways, and I surrendered my life to Jesus.”
He pleaded with everyone who had not already done so to turn their hearts completely over to God and enter into a personal relationship with him.
Another man said he took nearly 20 years to regret the abortion he had helped facilitate when he was in college.
Now married with two children, he finally sought God’s healing and forgiveness while on a Rachel’s Vineyard retreat.
He implored the young people to take the information they were learning at this year’s March and use it to help other people.
“Always keep your faith,” he told them. “Never give up. Stay pro-life. Share it with your friends.”
Reagan Barklage, national field director for Students For Life of America, pointed out that about half the abortions now taking place in this country are chemically induced.
“Our battle is not yet won,” she said. “You may have thought that we’re done fighting abortion and that Missouri is abortion-free, but we’re not.”
The only permanent solution, she stated, is to build a culture in which abortion is unthinkable.
Hope Miller, president and founder of Simply Pro Life, said the sheer magnitude of the war against abortion can be very intimidating to a young person.
“But if you take one little step at a time, it becomes a lot easier,” she said.
It begins with coming to terms with what abortion really is and deciding to do something to make it stop.
“It’s not good enough just to say, ‘Yeah, I’m against that,’” Ms. Miller insisted. “You have to stand firm and do something about it. You have to take on the responsibility fight for what’s right.”
She talked about how St. Teresa of Kolkata helped change the world by consistently doing little things with great love.
“You, too, have the power to change the world, one baby-step at a time,” said Ms. Miller.
A group of students from St. Joseph School in Westphalia discussed what they had learned at the event.
Most were surprised to find out about the growing prevalence of chemical-induced abortions, along with the medical and psychological risks the medications bring.
Helias Catholic High School juniors Kailey Cracraft, Zach Gerling, Alex Owens and Katie Roling were also startled by things they learned.
“I didn’t realize how early babies develop their senses, how early their heart begins to beat, how early they’re able to feel pain,” said Alex. “And just how delicate and innocent they are.”
All of that helps reinforce that babies in the womb are innocent, living human beings who need people to defend them, he said.
Katie said she never realized how profoundly abortion affects men.
“Listening to those guys talk about it really made me think,” she said. “Obviously, the woman has the connection with the baby, but the father often has no say.”
The students talked about some of the little things they can do to help throughout the year.
“We can spread the news by posting on social media or talking to our friends or taking it to God in prayer,” said Zach.
“Pray the Rosary every day,” Kailey suggested. “Praying the Rosary together is a really powerful weapon against the evil that’s going on in the world.”
They said it’s important to know how to help someone who has had an abortion or is pregnant and believes she has no other choice.
“You have to give them love and support,” said Kailey.
“They may already be going to through of the hardest moments in their lives and dealing with things we can’t even imagine,” said Alex. “They need to know that you’re there to support them.”
Kailey said it’s important to be able to talk to a friend who’s considering abortion about alternatives and the assistance available from pregnancy resource centers.
Midwest March for Life organizer Kathy Forck, co-director of the Columbia 40 Days for Life Campaign, said this year’s message had young people in mind, and they showed up in droves.
“We were so please to see so many young people filling the space from schools all over the state,” she stated.
Bonnie Lee, a member of the group that organizes the March each year, wasn’t surprised that protestors who favor legalized abortion stayed away from the event.
“We always pray for God to expand his hand of protection over this gathering, and he’s never let us down,” she said.
Besides, she added, those who would organize such protests “don’t want their people coming here and hearing the truth.”
Father Anthony Viviano, moderator for pro-life ministry for the Jefferson City diocese, said he was amazed at the fervor and commitment the speakers exhibited.
“Their passion certainly resonated through the crowd,” he observed. “It’s a good boost, a good lift to see people giving of themselves to fully, so generously, with that level of commitment.”
Deacon Lee has been fully invested in the Pro-Life Movement for nearly half a century.
“It’s not that us old-timers are discouraged,” he stated. “It’s just that there’s always a question about whether others will take over.
“After seeing all the enthusiastic young people at this year’s March, I have little doubt that the younger generation of pro-lifers will be able to carry on the struggle — and even improve on our efforts,” he said.
Contributing to this report was Grace Tamburro, who writes for The Mirror, newspaper of the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau.