The streets ran red in Jefferson City during the 10th annual Midwest March for Life Feb. 1.
More than 2,000 people from all over Missouri and beyond — many dressed in blazing crimson — gathered to testify to the sanctity of what been created in God’s image and likeness.
“We stand together this day to give honor and glory to God by standing up for innocent human life,” stated Bishop W. Shawn McKnight at a pre-march rally outside the St. Peter Church.
While faith and devotion were evident throughout the day’s march and rallies, he emphasized that believers and non-believers should stand united in protecting pre-born human life.
“It is a basic human-rights issue,” he said. “It is never good, just, charitable or life-giving to choose the death of the innocent.”
He recalled that during a recent meeting at the Vatican with the Catholic bishops of Missouri, Iowa, Kansas and Nebraska, Pope Francis reaffirmed that the preeminent issue is the protection of vulnerable human life, especially the life of the unborn.
“Why wouldn’t it be?” the Pope asked the bishops. “Without life, there are no other rights to protect.”
While acknowledging that there are always other important issues to consider, Bishop McKnight noted that “this has become an even more important issue now that politicians and others are openly advocating making legal the monstrous killing of babies who survive abortions.”
He called the taking of innocent human life “an egregious sin against the Creator of all life.”
“The habit that we have developed in our society of eliminating or snuffing out the life of human beings whom we consider inconvenient, burdensome or undesirable leads to utter misery and a soulless society,” he said.
“We must choose life, a blessing,” he stated, referring to a verse from the Book of Deuteronomy. “If our state or country cannot muster the ability to defend the smallest and weakest among us, how can we expect God’s blessing?”
Gov. Mike Parson also spoke at the pre-march rally.
“Every life is precious,” he stated. “Every life has a purpose. That’s why we fight to protect the unborn, to protect those who can’t defend themselves.”
He said Missouri is on track to becoming one of the most pro-life states in the country. He noted that the number of abortion clinics in Missouri had fallen from five to one in the past 15 years, while the number of abortions in the state had dropped from 8,000 to around 1,500.
“We have saved 6,500 lives a year right here in Missouri,” he said. “That’s what’s important — saving lives.”
“Never, never waver on the right to life,” he said. “We have to keep fighting battle after battle after battle. But we are winning the war.”
Next, a member of the Silent No More Awareness Campaign, made up of women and men who have found healing and forgiveness after suffering the effects of abortion, gave her testimony.
“I will continue to speak the truth of abortion’s evils to honor the memory of my son” who died in an abortion, she said.
“Abortion is not the answer,” she stated. “It simply creates more problems in our lives. It has a ripple effect on families and fathers and siblings that come after.”
“Voice for the voiceless”
Susan Klein, executive director for Missouri Right to Life, pointed to a 54-percent drop in the number of abortions in Missouri between 2018 and 2019.
She credited the governor and Missouri lawmakers with enacting HB 126, “the most pro-life legislation in the history of the state of Missouri.”
“Today, we march together to be a voice for the voiceless,” she said. “And we pray that babies in their mother’s womb will be safe again and that women know we are here to help them.”
Illinois state Rep. Avery Bourne, the youngest lawmaker ever sworn into the Illinois General Assembly, was eighth months pregnant last year when she argued against passage of an Illinois law that expanded access to abortion.
“It’s a lot different when you’ve got a baby kicking in your belly while you’re talking about it,” she said.
She thanked the people at the rally for their advocacy in bringing about laws, policies and a culture that have undermined abortion in Missouri.
“You are an inspiration for those of us who are fighting that battle in Illinois,” she said.
But it’s not enough to be successful here, she added: “This has got to be something we take nationwide.”
Jacinta Florence, regional coordinator for Students for Life of America, invited young people to get active in the pro-life movement.
“We’re making history today,” she said. “Let’s make history together.”
Stacy Washington, host of Lifezette TV’s “Stacy on the Right,” said God respects life because He is the creator of life.
He also forgives and wants to heal women and families that have been harmed by abortion.
“This is the work we’re called to do,” she said. “Share your testimony and shame the devil.”
Bishop McKnight blessed a rugged cross that was to be carried by clergy at the front of the march.
He then helped carry it.
Led by the cross and an honor guard of Fourth Degree Knights of Columbus and several groups carrying banners, the people marched past symbols of the three branches of state government — the Capitol, the Governor’s Mansion and the Supreme Court.
There were chants, cheers, prayers, hymns and lively banter throughout the assembly.
The marchers then gathered inside the Rotunda of the State Capitol for a rally.
Monsignor Robert A. Kurwicki, vicar general for the Jefferson City diocese and chaplain of the Missouri House of Representatives, offered the opening prayer.
“We lift up our hearts to You as we renew ourselves to be grateful for the gift of every human life,” he prayed. “Bless all who take part in this rally, God bless the March for Life and God bless the Show Me State.”
“Finish the dream”
Katrina Gallic, director of development for the national March for Life in Washington, D.C., predicted that the last abortion facility in Missouri would soon close.
She credited the precipitous drop in abortions in the state to legislative action, the prayers and witness of 40 Days for Life, and the work of local pregnancy resource centers and other organizations.
“As important as the work we do day-in and day-out on Capitol Hill, it’s here in the halls of state capitols that the change happens,” she said. “By your presence, you are sending a clear message to your state leaders that life is winning.”
She encouraged everyone to think about “how you are being asked to say yes to God’s call to do more for the unborn, to do more for their mothers.”
Bridget VanMeans, president of ThriVe St. Louis, a life-affirming full-service women’s-healthcare organization, said she’s proud to be a one-issue voter because no issue is more important than life.
She urged everyone who’s pro-life to pray for those who disagree with them.
“Can we pray for the abortion industry with the same love, zeal and passion as we pray for the babies?” she asked.
She said ThriVe St. Louis had saved 22,000 babies by offering abortion-minded pregnant women a free ultrasound using the ultrasound machine in the ThriVe vehicle parked outside Planned Parenthood.
The Knights of Columbus paid for the machine.
“Each of us has been ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ in God’s image, and each of us has a very important purpose,” she said. “No matter how we are conceived, our circumstances, our race, our abilities, each of us has a purpose.”
She believes Missouri has captured God’s heart.
“He keeps blessing what happens here,” she said. “He is answering your prayers and doing what you ask. God has your back, so step out and finish the dream.”
Defender of Life awards were presented to state Reps. Mary Elizabeth Coleman, Elijah Haahr, Nick Schroer and Adam Schnelting, cosponsors of sweeping pro-life legislation passed during the Missouri General Assembly’s 2019 Legislative Session.
Bonnie Lee of Columbia 40 Days for Life was given the Champion for Life Award.
David Bereit, founder of the international 40 Days for Life campaign of praying, fasting, public engagement and prayerful witness outside abortion clinics, gave the keynote address.
He presented special recognition Mike and Kathy Forck, members of St. Andrew parish in Holts Summit, who started and continue to lead Columbia 40 Days for Life and the Midwest March for Life.
Mr. Bereit acknowledged the great progress Missouri had made on the pro-life front.
“But injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere,” he said. “Until the number of abortions is zero, you and I have work to do. We must pray, we must hear and answer the call, and we must persevere.
“Things are going to get tough,” he said. “The whole nation is now watching Missouri. This is going to get harder before it gets easier. Know that it’s worth it.”
That afternoon, Mr. Bereit led a workshop on convincing people to be pro-life by offering a living witness of faith, hope and love.
“That will speak so much more loudly than words,” he said.
He predicted that when the history books are written, Missouri will be in the chapter on how abortion ended in the Untied States.
“You’ll be able to tell your children and grandchildren that you were on the front lines, and thanks be to God, abortion ended,” he said.