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Hymns and prayers, cheers and chants echoed off of the buildings along High Street and the marble columns of the Missouri State Capitol.
More than 2,000 people participated in the 2021 Midwest March for Life and ancillary activities on the Capitol grounds April 14.
The theme was “Together Strong: Life Unites, Hold the Line.”
Marchers gathered for a pre-rally on the Capitol steps and south lawn, followed by a rousing march to the Governor’s Mansion and back for another round of prayers, presentations and activities.
Speakers lauded Missouri’s pioneer spirit and dramatic success toward ending abortion in the state.
The number of Missouri abortions fell from about 11,000 in 2008 to 39 in 2020.
“Man cannot touch God’s miracle!” proclaimed Bridget Van Means, CEO and division leader for ThriVe St. Louis Express Women’s Healthcare. “We are the safest state in the nation for the unborn.”
“We can learn a lot from you in Missouri,” stated Jeanne Mancini, president of the National March for Life in Washington D.C. “You are the state that’s singularly most protective of women and babies.”
“You have started a revolution that has shown the rest of the nation what it looks like to be pro-life, defend life, stand up for life and unite for life,” stated Lisa Rowe, CEO of Support After Abortion.
Eric Scheidler, executive director of the Pro-Life Action League and son of the late pro-life pioneer Joe Scheidler, pointed to two of his father’s favorite sayings: “You only live once,” and “Do something pro-life every day.”
“Remember that you only live once, but so do all of those unborn children in the womb,” Eric Scheidler stated. “So we need to dedicate that one life we live to protecting their lives.”
He echoed the Benedictine credo, “Ora et Labora” — “Pray and work.”
“Prayer is where we find our marching orders,” he noted. “Go to prayer to find out what you’re supposed to do. And then be decisive in your ‘yes’ when God gives you something.”
Ms. Mancini said she has found praying and fasting to be the most effective way to make a difference.
“This is a spiritual battle we’re fighting,” she said.
She noted that the National March for Life is the largest human-rights demonstration in the world.
“We are peaceful, we are joyful, we are somber because we know why we’re here, but we’re hopeful because we know the victory has already been won,” she said.
“Each of us has something critical and irreplaceable to contribute in this fight for life,” she added.
Time for action
Reagan Barkledge, Western regional director for Students for Life America, lauded the loyalty of Missouri’s pro-life community and its unique level of success.
“We are so close but not close enough yet for celebration,” she said.
The state still has one abortion clinic in operation in St. Louis, and many Missouri women are still being referred to abortion clinics in Illinois and Kansas.
“We are not done, and we will not be done until there is not a single abortion performed on an innocent preborn Missourian,” said Ms. Barkledge.
Angela Copenhaver, executive director of WeTeachThink, talked about the importance of discussing abortion in a measured and unthreatening way.
“Our goal is to help the middle-minded understand that we are human from Day 1, and how that understanding requires us to take action,” she said.
Success often comes through patient discussions focused on mutual agreement and verifiable truth.
She gave tips for “taking the heat out of a very hot topic,” so people will listen without shutting down or running away.
Drawing on her own experience, she said people who are “sitting on the fence” about abortion come over to the pro-life side once they realize that a separate and unique human life begins at conception and that abortion means intentionally ending that life.
Catherine Glenn Foster, president and CEO of Americans United for Life, proclaimed that “Missouri is leading the way.”
“States and communities across our nation are looking right here to Jefferson City, Missouri, to see what is really possible, where leaders on every level, from sidewalk advocates up to the governor, band together to do everything in their power to protect life,” she stated.
She said every generation is called to fight for the heart of the American spirit.
“Today, my friends, we are fighting for the right to be born, the right to live,” she said.
She asserted that this is a watershed moment in the nation’s history.
“Now is the time for action, now is the time for victory,” she stated. “It’s time to work harder than we ever thought we could.”
“Our cause is far too important to let up now,” she insisted. “We’re at a moment of reflection on the human right to life in our nation. And it is our responsibility to turn that reflection into lasting change.”
Hope Miller, granddaughter of Ann and the late Joe Scheidler, founders of the Pro-Life Action League of Chicago, spoke to her fellow teens.
“The generations above us have set the stage for us and given us fantastic examples,” she said. “It is now time for us to follow their example.”
She talked about getting educated about abortion and entering into difficult conversations with people in order to help them understand.
Dr. Michael New, research assistant at The Catholic University of America, pointed out that the number of abortions in the United States has fallen by about 50 percent since 1980.
“This shows that pro-life educational, service and legislative efforts have been effective,” he said.
But Ms. Rowe, whose Support After Abortion organization helps post-abortive men and women find healing and reconciliation, noted that nearly 1 million abortions per year still take place in the United States.
About half of those involve women who have already had at least one abortion.
She asked: “What if there was a clear, compassionate message from each of us, drawing in the hearts and minds of those men and women who need healing before they go back for their second abortion?”
She said the demand for abortion will shrink once women and men find healing through genuine compassion.
She pointed to the more than 200 programs nationwide aimed at helping people find that healing.
“These men and women need to know that they’re not alone,” she said. “Can you offer them a place of safety for them to enter into a conversation about their experience?”
Rescue, reverse and restore
Ms. Van Means predicted that decisions being made now “will dictate the trajectory of this entire nation for the next four generations.”
“The single most important thing we can do to build a legacy for our future for the next four generations is to choose life and support others as they choose life,” she said.
She declared abortion to be the single greatest threat to human existence in mankind’s history — accounting for 42 percent of all human deaths in the world last year.
“It is my contention that you, all of you, were specially placed on the human timeline for such a time as this,” she said.
She challenged everyone present to stop and pray at 3 p.m. every day for the next year for babies in the womb to be rescued, for Roe v. Wade to be reversed, and for people suffering the effects of abortion to be restored.
Throughout the day, the march’s organizers highlighted several people for their work to promote the pro-life cause.
They honored Gov. Mike Parson, Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe, Secretary of State John Ashcroft and state Sen. Robert Onder Jr. of Lake Saint Louis with Statesman for Life Awards.
Lt. Gov. Kehoe spoke of the pro-life pioneers he has met along the way — such as the founders of the Vitae Foundation, Columbia 40 Days for Life and the St. Raymond’s Society, as well as his own mother.
He talked about the people who stand up for life at all levels of government.
“They’re representing life because they hear you in the hallways, they feel your prayers, they understand your passion,” he said.
The organizers also honored Deacon Samuel Lee of Overland, director of Campaign Life Missouri, with a Champion for Life Award for his decades of pro-life lobbying and advocacy.
He accepted the award on behalf of all the other champions who have served in defending human life.
“All of us stand on the shoulders of these pro-life champions who have gone before us,” Deacon Lee asserted. “We are able to yield a pro-life harvest because of the work they did many years ago.”
Power of prayer
Members of the clergy led the march to the Governor’s Mansion and back, carrying a rugged cross that has been used at numerous pro-life events.
Escorting them was an honor guard of Fourth Degree Knights of Columbus.
Members of St. Brendan Parish in Mexico, who have been steadfast in taking part in the 40 Days for Life prayer vigils on the sidewalk outside Planned Parenthood in Columbia, carried the Midwest March for Life banner.
Also marching near the front of the line were students from St. Joseph School in Westphalia and Immaculate Conception School in Loose Creek.
Monsignor Robert A. Kurwicki, chaplain of the Missouri House of Representatives and vicar general for the Jefferson City diocese, prayed for peace, cooperation, faith and strength for all people involved in this cause.
“May Your Spirit fill each and every one of us with a greater respect for life,” he said. “Never let us give up. Send us out strong, because we have the power of Your might.”
Father Anthony Viviano, diocesan moderator for pro-life ministry, said he found it uplifting and encouraging to see so many people of all ages making a united effort to defend those who cannot defend themselves.
“Continue to offer up your supplications and your sacrifices, so that our Lord will continue the great success that’s happening here in this state and that it will spread throughout the country,” he said.
The event closed with a stirring live performance of “Viable,” a one-act play about a mother struggling to be reconciled with God and her past.
The play brought tears of sadness and joy.
Support After Abortion representatives (supportafterabortion.com) answered questions and handed out information to people who were processing “Viable’s” uplifting message.