The logjam of youths two years ago in Washington, D.C.’s, 20,000-seat Verizon Center gave Fran Flugel a great deal of confidence about the future of the pro-life movement.
“All these young people energized. … They see the truth; they’re hungering for the truth. It’s hard to describe, seeing all these priests and youth in attendance. l just had tears watching it,” he recalled.
A youth rally is one of the featured events at the annual March for Life, a massive gathering in the nation’s capital that pushes to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision allowing legalized abortion in this country.
This year, marchers will voice their collective plea for that particular change just two days after the inauguration as president of the United States of a man who successfully wielded a campaign around a slogan of “change.”
Yet the definitions of change espoused by Barack Obama and by the pro-life marchers are polar opposites, at least with respect to the issue of abortion.
Whereas the president-elect may be a beacon of positive change for the nation’s economic and health-care crises, Flugel and other pro-life advocates are deeply concerned about his promises to seek even broader abortion rights — particularly by means of the Freedom of Choice Act, which would essentially negate all federal and state restrictions on women seeking abortions.
Obama, a Democrat, became a cosponsor of the bill in 2007 while representing Illinois in the U.S. Senate. Though FOCA has been introduced in Congress several times without gaining momentum, Obama has said he would sign the act as president if it ever made its way through Congress.
Thus, a heightened sense of mission will inspire the 100,000-plus marchers — including several busloads of activists from the Diocese of Rochester — who are expected to converge on the nation’s capital Jan. 22.
“We definitely don’t have an ally in the White House,” remarked Flugel, who is coordinating a bus from Canandaigua’s St. Mary Church.
“(FOCA) doesn’t just keep Roe v. Wade in law. It goes far, far, far beyond that,” added Dr. Stephen Spaulding, who is organizing a March for Life trip from St. Mary Our Mother Church in Horseheads and has attended the event annually since 1993.
Katie Robinson, who is coordinating groups from St. Januarius, Naples, and St. Pius V, Cohocton, said her involvement in the march arises from Gospel teachings to pray and advocate for the voiceless and powerless, including the unborn.
“This can surely be a challenge in today’s society, but we can never give up hope,” Robinson stated.
Fears about FOCA
Various provisions of the Freedom of Choice Act would lift bans on partial-birth abortions; eliminate parental notification when minors seek abortions as well as requirements for full disclosure of abortion’s physical and emotional risks; and strike down laws prohibiting federal funding for abortions. Opponents assert that FOCA also would challenge the right of religious hospitals and clinics to refuse to perform abortions and whisk away conscience protection for doctors, nurses and other health-care workers who are personally opposed to abortion.
In a statement approved by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Nov. 12, 2008, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago termed FOCA “an evil law that would further divide our country.”
Robinson, meanwhile, contended that “freedom of choice” is an inappropriate and misleading title for a bill that actually would take away freedom “by eliminating the many chances for a truly informed decision and even forcing people to do what their conscience tells them not to do.”
Pro-life advocates are further concerned about Obama because of his opposition to the Illinois version of the federal Born Alive Infants Protection Act that has been in effect since 2002. This act guarantees protection of all babies born alive during a failed abortion, regardless of whether those babies are wanted. Obama successfully opposed a similar law from being enacted at the state level while serving in the Illinois Legislature.
Spaulding said no president prior to Obama has been nearly as adamant about advancing the pro-choice movement. He and Flugel also said they are concerned that the incoming Congress will be more willing to back abortion-rights measures, and that Obama might have the opportunity to nominate Supreme Court candidates who share his views on abortion rights.
Spaulding said he expects Obama to move quickly on implementing pro-abortion measures, saying the president-elect owes this to the people who voted him into office.
“If he did not do something immediately, I would be surprised,” Spaulding remarked.
Yet it is obvious to some observers that abortion-rights advocates are far from the only constituency to which Obama owes his electoral victory. Indeed, Catholics constituted a significant pro-Obama voting bloc in November: Catholic News Service reported that 54 percent of Catholics nationwide voted for Obama while 44 percent voted for Republican John McCain — exceeding the 52-46 ratio Obama achieved among the overall U.S. population.
In his statement on behalf of the USCCB, Cardinal George addressed just this point, contending that the election “was principally decided out of concern for the economy” and asserting that “if the election is misinterpreted ideologically as a referendum on abortion, the unity desired by President-elect Obama and all Americans at this moment of crisis will be impossible to achieve.”
Marchers maintain hope
When they gather in Washington on Jan. 22, Spaulding and Flugel expect to receive a chillier reception from the new Obama administration and local police than they experienced during the presidency of George W. Bush, who annually supported the March for Life. Last year, for instance, Bush hosted a select group of marchers at the White House just hours before the march began.
Regardless of the attitude at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., the March for Life has taken place every year since Jan. 22, 1974 — the one-year anniversary of the passage of Roe v. Wade — and has been held on or near that date ever since. The event is highlighted by a rally and march that begins at noon on the National Mall and progresses to the Capitol and Supreme Court.
Another key component is lobbying with legislators throughout most of the morning. Spaulding and Flugel expressed a need to appeal to people in government at all levels, both during and after the March for Life. Spaulding, for one, said he thinks anti-abortion advocates will be mobilized into greater action than ever after the March for Life is over.
One example of action already at work is the Fight FOCA campaign at www.fightfoca.com. A petition on that Web site, to be forwarded to Obama and Congress, had garnered more than 350,000 signatures as of Dec. 31.
“I actually think when there’s an anti-life president, the pro-life movement gets more energized,” Spaulding said. “I think we’ll see pro-life groups become more active, because there’s more urgency.”
March for Life bus info
Buses have been arranged to transport March for Life participants to Washington, D.C., from several churches in the Diocese of Rochester. All will leave the night of Jan. 21 and return the next day, immediately after the march concludes. Seats are subject to availability.
Monroe County: St. Thomas the Apostle, 4536 St. Paul Blvd., Irondequoit. For details, call Mary Jo Maurer at 585-342-3216 or e-mail Dorothy Hayes at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, St. John of Rochester, 8 Wickford Way, Fairport. Contact Peg Fraysier at 585-377-9358.
Finger Lakes: St. Mary Church, 95 N. Main St., Canandaigua. Contact Fran Flugel at 585-924-7051 or email@example.com.Also, St. Januarius, 180 N. Main St., Naples. Contact Katie Robinson at 585-384-5626 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Southern Tier: St. Mary Our Mother, 816 W. Broad St., Horseheads. Call Steve Spaulding at 607-739-9282 or Sharon Pearte at 607-734-2680. Also, St. Pius V, 35 Maple Ave., Cohocton. Contact Katie Robinson at 585-384-5626 or email@example.com.