SAN FRANCISCO, January 28, 2014 (LifeSiteNews.com) – A media blackout could not stop the Walk for Life West Coast from attracting the largest crowds that the San Francisco event has yet to see. The march featured the testimony of post-abortive women who regret their abortion, secular pro-life activists convinced by science that abortion is murder, mothers extolling the virtues of adoption – and a message conveying the blessing of Pope Francis himself.
During the rally, it was announced that the “End the Media Blackout” social media effort was a success. #WalkForLife was ranking number two on Twitter, but the social media site shut down their account. So a new hashtag would be used: #WFL.
Organizers estimate the crowd to have been between 50,000 and 60,000 with participants hailing from all over the western half of the U.S.
Women regret their abortions
Before the rally began, a silent crowd swelled at the Silent No More Awareness Campaign stage.
As one post-abortive woman after another told her story of loss and pain, then healing, after abortion, red-eyed people crowded in as they swept tears away from under their sunglasses. After every testimony, the crowd offered a sympathetic applause.
Fr. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life introduced the women saying, “The men and women who are a part of this campaign… know that abortion does not solve any problem, it only creates new ones.” He added, “They know that killing is never a solution to a human problem.”
“They also know that it is possible to replace despair with hope,” he said.
One of the post-abortive women, Julie Simpson, spoke of her three-hour-long meeting with Planned Parenthood when faced with a surprise pregnancy. Going into the meeting, she had already decided to keep her baby, but the Planned Parenthood employees convinced her to abort.
“When I woke up, I cried,” she said. “Little did I know, I would careen down a 10-year path of self-destruction.”
“I buried my pain in alcohol, sex, and drugs,” she said. “All of this madness brought numerous diagnoses, a stint in a treatment center and medication for ten years to treat all forms of depression.”
“But then, I surrendered my life to Jesus Christ,” she added. “I received healing through the Forgiven and Set Free program and now I counsel other hurting women, which is such a blessing.”
Kicking off the rally, the Walk for Life organizers surprised Georgette Forney of the Silent No More Awareness Campaign and Anglicans for Life with a St. Gianna Molla Award.
Forney, herself a post-abortive mother at the age of 16, co-founded the Silent No More Awareness Campaign to raise awareness of the devastation abortion brings to mothers and fathers.
“I accept this very graciously…on behalf of all the women and men who are silent no more,” an emotional Forney said.
It was then announced that Ignatius Press founder and president Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J., would serve as the Walk’s new chaplain following the death of former chaplain.
“In 41 years since Roe v. Wade, we’ve had people praying, working, marching, walking for the purpose of protecting human life legally,” Fr. Fessio said. “We have not succeeded.”
“But if it takes another 40 years in the spiritual desert,” he said, “we will do it. And if we have to spend 400 years like the Jews did in Egypt, in our spiritual Egypt, trying to turn the heart of the pharaoh back to the children, we will do it.”
The alternative: Adoption
Like the March for Life in Washington, D.C., last week, this year’s Walk for Life focused on adoption. It featured speakers such as Shari Rigby Wiedman, a post-abortive actress who starred in October Baby, a film that revolves around the topic of adoption.
Wiedman told the audience about how reading the script for October Baby for the first time confronted her with the pain she was suffering from her own abortion, and the healing she found while filming.
“We must be a voice of hope, first and foremost,” she told the crowd, “a voice of forgiveness.”
Also speaking on the topic, Lamb of God maternity home director Grace Dulaney told the crowd that, unlike abortion, adoption is “the only option that everyone can live with.”
Lamb of God is a maternity home in Escondido, California, for women who are placing their children for adoption. The home has helped nine women: Six have given birth, while three are not yet due and are still living in the house.
“To be truly pro-life, we must be pro-adoption,” Dulaney said. “Abortion hurts women, adoption heals women.”
She then went on to dispel some of the misconceptions about adoption, citing the accusations many birth mothers face that they are selfish to be placing their children for adoption.
Herself a birth mother who placed her child for adoption, she said she felt her baby “deserved the best possible start in life with a married mother and father.”
“I could not provide that,” she said. “I’ve heard it said that sometimes the best form of parenting is to choose someone else to do it.”
She went on to explain how open adoptions work, that the birth mother and adoptive parents work out the arrangements on a case-by-case basis. “The gift of open adoption is the fact that it eliminates the unknown and the questions that have surrounded it in the past.”
As a result, children “understand that they are deeply loved and the reason that the birth mother entrusted them to their parents.”
“We’re really the one’s who are pro-choice,” Dulaney told LifeSiteNews.com. The pro-adoption movement gives women the option to choose adoption instead of offering abortion as effectively the woman's only option, as Planned Parenthood does.
She added that Planned Parenthood facilities don’t allow adoption attorneys or facilitators to advertise in their offices.
The right to life is not a religious issue
Clergy from various denominations took the stage, and so did Secular Pro-life’s Monica Snyder. Snyder made a passionate appeal that the pro-life position is not based on religion, but scientific fact.
She said, “Secular Pro-life - the mere mention of our name - causes abortion rights advocates to freak out, because we take away their favorite distraction: their anti-religion bigotry.”
Snyder added, “We show the pro-life movement is not just about religion.” Growing even more passionate and animated, she proclaimed, “It’s about human rights, it’s about science. And science says abortion kills humans!”
Pope Francis extends his blessing
Archbishop Salvatore Joseph Cordileone read a letter from Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò who attended the Walk for Life last year. In the letter, Archbishop Viganò personally conveyed to “the many thousands of participants, both young and old, the affectionate greetings and spiritual closeness of His Holiness Pope Francis.”
“Indeed the Holy Father is most grateful to you for your readiness to show your solidarity with the most innocent and vulnerable members of our human family,” he added. “You give prophetic expression to our deepest convictions about the inviolable dignity and rights of each human person, beginning with the right to life.”
Archbishop Viganò went on to quote the pope’s most recent apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium: “For as Pope Francis has insisted, 'Once this conviction disappears, so do solid and lasting foundations for the defense of human rights which would always be subject to the passing winds of the powers that be.'”
A Walk for Life
At 1 pm, the crowd turned from the stage toward Market Street as they set off on their 1.7-mile journey to Justin Herman Plaza. Market runs through the heart of downtown San Francisco and was visible to many locals and tourists alike.
Tens of thousands of activists walked under 50 “Abortion Hurts Women” banners that hung from city lampposts along the route. The banners, which had been on display since December, were branded as “hate speech” by pro-abortion groups. City Supervisor David Campos, joined by six of his colleagues, introduced a resolution opposing the banners.
Many passersby stopped to watch the Walk, some cheering them on, some quickly manufacturing their own homemade signs of protest and voicing their opposition.
Cassandra, a woman working at a local restaurant took a break to take pictures of marchers. She said, “I'm 24, and I'm excited to see people of my generation out and talking about things they're passionate about.”
The entire event remained peaceful, despite fierce opposition from Marxists.
Revolutionary Communist Party members oppose the March for Life
Stop Patriarchy, a front group for the Revolutionary Communist Party USA were visible in a protest of about 100 people. At first the protesters marched approximately 50 yards in front of the Walk for Life. However, police escorted them to the sidewalk.
An officer told LifeSiteNews.com this was done because the Walk for Life had a permit while the protestors did not.
From the sidewalk, the protestors wielded signs that said “Life begins when you stand up to Christian Fascists” and “Abortion on Demand and Without Apology,” among others. They yelled, “Not the church, not the state, women will decide their fate!” and “This march hates women!”
Dr. Ellen Shaffer, co-director of Trust Women Silver Women campaign was participating in the protest. She told LifeSiteNews.com, “We [aim to] increase the voice and visibility of the pro-choice majority in the U.S.”
The marchers, she said, “Don't trust women to make their own decisions about reproductive rights.”
Kristan Hawkins of Students for Life of America stopped in front of the protestors and led student activists in chanting “We are the pro-life generation!”
Pro-lifers, fresh with energy from the rally, walked by singing hymns, chanting “pro-life!” and cheering. Market Street was a virtual sea of colorful signs and banners touting slogans such as “Abolish Abortion” and “Women Deserve Better than Abortion.”
The walk ended around 4 p.m. inside Justin Herman Plaza, which was flooded with citizens in the nation's most famously liberal city standing up for the rights of the unborn.