By Celine Klosterman
Mary LaFrancis was among tens of thousands of pro-life advocates who held signs, prayed and offered a show of support at the March for Life last weekend, but it was one person who left the most striking impression on her.
After the Jan. 22 march in Washington, D.C., the member of St. Mary Parish in Fairfield began talking with a woman who eventually revealed she’d aborted her son 20 years ago.
“She broke down and sobbed,” LaFrancis said. A grandmother and retired nurse, LaFrancis said she comforted the woman and offered prayers. But the Fairfield Catholic hopes the March for Life inspires a societal change of heart that might prevent future tragedies.
LaFrancis was among those from the Davenport Diocese who traveled to the 37th March for Life, held annually on or around the Jan. 22 anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion.
She and Kent Ferris, the Davenport Diocese’s social action director, and other Catholics in southeast Iowa bused with Iowans for L.I.F.E. out of Des Moines to the nation’s capitol last week. Ferris said the experience, which occurred amid Haitian-earthquake relief efforts, was eye-opening. “It brought back the reality that in my position, and for us as Catholics, we don’t have the luxury of being able to pay attention and respond to just one issue at a time.” We must remember the Supreme Court’s decision that affected people born and unborn, as well as deal with Haiti’s tragedy, he said. Numerous issues involve the sanctity of life.
One such issue, the health care bill, was prominent on the mind of Adam James, 27. He is a Davenport Catholic who traveled to the march with 38 people, mostly youths from the Diocese of Peoria, Ill. “We want to ensure that the bill does help people rather than kill people through the funding of abortion,” said James, who moved to Davenport in August and is not registered with a parish. Speakers who addressed that issue at the march were especially motivating, he said.
Among those who spoke was Catholic Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., who told the crowd that “for the first time you live in a majority pro-life country.” Recently released Gallup poll results show 51 percent of Americans are pro-life on the abortion issue, and 42 percent of Americans are pro-choice.
Twenty other members of Congress also were present during a rally at the march, including Catholics Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., who is co-chairman of the House Pro-Life Caucus; and Rep. Anh “Joseph” Cao, R-La. Twenty-three bishops also participated, including cardinals Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, and Justin Rigali of Philadelphia.
Not seen at the march by Samantha Flanders, 16, were counter-protesters who’ve appeared in past years. She is a member of Ss. Mary & Mathias Parish in Muscatine who rode by bus with James and others, and who took part in her third March for Life last week. “I think we’re starting to make a change,” she said.
She was impressed by the number of pro-life youths at the march, who made up a large portion of the crowd.
James also was encouraged by teens’ enthusiasm. “It was very memorable to see the energy of the coming generation in the pro-life movement,” he said.
Miranda Boeckman, a sophomore at the University of Iowa, said youth rallies at the 2007 and 2008 marches were highlights of her trips to Washington as a high school youth. She was among five students at the Newman Catholic Student Center in Iowa City who, because of an ice storm, cancelled their drive to Chicago to catch a bus to this year’s march.
But she and others maintain the importance of promoting the pro-life cause.
“It’s important because there are lives at stake,” Flanders said, “and it’s really great for people to see that there are people out there who care.”
(Catholic News Service contributed to this article.)