WASHINGTON, D.C. — Dozens of Catholics from the Diocese of Rochester were among the tens of thousands of anti-abortion protesters who converged on this city Jan. 22 for the 35th-annual March for Life.
The first March for Life took place on Jan. 22, 1974, the first anniversary of Roe v. Wade and of the lesser-known Doe v. Bolton, the landmark Supreme Court decisions that effectively legalized abortion in the United States throughout all nine months of pregnancy. The march has been held each year since, and often has drawn upwards of 100,000 people, according to march organizers.
“It’s amazing to see how many people actually come,” said 18-year-old Marielle Maurer, a member of St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Irondequoit.
Marielle and her twin sister, Elizabeth, both freshmen at SUNY Brockport, are seasoned March for Life veterans. This year marked at least the fourth time they’ve traveled to the nation’s capital to protest against abortion, the teens said. This year their 14-year-old sister, Claire, and 10-year-old brother, Richard, joined them for the march.
“It’s wrong to kill innocent babies,” Richard said as he explained the reason for his presence at the march.
“It’s murder,” Claire added.
Similar sentiments compelled diocesan Catholics of all ages shared to travel to Washington to make their voices heard during the march. Busloads of pilgrims left from several different locations — including Canandaigua, Cohocton, Horseheads and Irondequoit — late in the evening Jan. 21, traveling through the night to arrive at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington in time for a 7:30 a.m. Mass celebrated by Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, Texas, Jan. 22.
“I hope that this pro-life rally will encourage in you a more distinct sense of calling,” Cardinal DiNardo said during his homily.
The Mass was broadcast nationally by the Eternal Word Television Network, and Cardinal DiNardo asked those viewing at home to pray for the marchers as they trekked up Capitol Hill in below-freezing temperatures that day.
Organizers said more than 20,000 pro-lifers also attended a youth rally later that morning at the Verizon Center. The arena — home to the National Basketball Association’s Washington Wizards and the National Hockey League’s Washington Capitals — was not large enough to hold all the people who wanted to attend, according to organizers.
An even larger rally on the national mall at noon featured a slate of well-known activists and politicians including President George W. Bush, who spoke words of encouragement to the crowd via a telephone hookup.
“This America is the destiny of a people whose founding document speaks of a right to life that is guaranteed by our creator, not the state. The hearts of the American people are good. Their minds are open to persuasion. … Take heart, be strong and go forth. May God bless you,” Bush said.
Dr. Stephen Spaulding is among those who has been persuaded. Long before he and his wife, Dr. Theresa Spaulding, opened their own pro-life practice in Montour Falls, he once prescribed birth-control pills.
“Initially I used the same rationale that most Catholics used, that avoiding birth control is impractical,” said Spaulding, who belongs to St. Mary Our Mother Parish in Horseheads.
That rationale began to weaken after he read Humanae Vitae, an encyclical by Pope Paul VI, Spaulding said.
“It hit me one day that I was doing this thing that wasn’t right, so I said it in confession and Father said, ‘You’ve got to stop,'” recalled Spaulding, who this year marched from the mall to the Supreme Court with several of his children and a number of fellow St. Mary Our Mother parishioners.
Patients weren’t mad at Spaulding once they learned why he’d suddenly stopped writing prescriptions for birth control, but his decision did land him in a bit of hot water with his employer. Nonetheless, Spaulding stuck by his decision.
“As you could expect, there was some suffering and some great benefits, and I sure sleep a lot better at night. I just felt like I was being a good Catholic again, and there’s not much better than being a good Catholic. It really changed my life,” he said.
Jonathan Teubl said he admires Spaulding’s decision to stand by his convictions. Teubl, a fourth-year medical student at State University of New York’s Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse, participated in the March for Life for the first time this year because he felt it was a very visible way to make a statement.
“My responsibility isn’t to get people to like me. My job is not even to make my patients like me. My job is to do what is morally right,” Teubl said. “If your morals are negotiable, then you might as well not have them. Either you have principles or you don’t.”