Updated: 01/24/2011, at 12:45 pm.
January 24, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Tens of thousands of pro-life activists filled Justin Herman Plaza in San Francisco’s downtown this weekend, and then walked 2.5 miles along the waterfront in a record-breaking turnout for the 7th Annual Walk for Life West Coast.
The day began at 11 am., as Walk for Life West Coast founder Eva Muntean welcomed the crowd as it gathered in the plaza: “When I look out at you, all I see is hope.”
Hope was the prevailing theme of the Walk: hope for change. “We are here to break the chains of the culture of death,” said Dolores Meehan, also a founder of the walk.
Organizers estimated that at least 40,000 people participated in the event, which was held on the 38th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion. One local TV station, KTVU, reported the crowd at an estimated 50,000, and said that police confirmed to them that it was the largest Walk for Life yet.
Planned Parenthood clinic director Abby Johnson, who walked away from her job at a Texas Planned Parenthood clinic on October 6, 2009, told the crowd, “For eight years January 22 was a special day for me, because it was a day that I honored choice.”
But, she added, “Today on January 22nd, I do not honor choice any more, I mourn choice.”
In a spirited address, Johnson, who had quit her job after assisting in an ultrasound-guided abortion of a 13-week-old unborn child, said that change relies on the willingness of young people to fight for life. “You are the movement. You are the new generation of the pro-life movement and I can tell you Planned Parenthood is shaking in their boots.”
“Get out there and do something about it!”
Johnson urged people to “get uncomfortable for life.”
“For so many years we have been comfortable,” she said. “It is time to go where we have never gone, to reach out to people we would never reach out to. Almost 4,000 babies die every day just in this country. Are we going to sit at home or are we going to do something about it? Today is not the end of our activism. Today is not the end of our advocacy. Today is the beginning.”
There was also a message of hope for forgiveness. Mary Poirier of Holy Family Apostolate told the crowd she felt called to speak about God’s mercy. “How could God forgive my three abortions?” she asked. “Abortion is wrong. Abortion hurts women. But if you have been through it, it is never too late to ask for forgiveness. God is so powerful; nothing is too big for God to forgive.”
The enigmatic Rev. Denise Walker of Everlasting Light Ministries echoed this statement. “God can forgive you because he forgave me!”
Denise and her husband Brian had chosen to abort their child four months before their wedding. Denise later founded Everlasting Light Ministries with her husband, to bring hope and healing to those who have lost children through abortion.
Rev. Brian Walker emphasized that “it is as much about this child as it is about us: everybody suffers from abortion.” Rev. Brian spoke particularly to the men in the crowd, saying “respect for life starts with you.” He called men to be courageous, to honor women, to live in the footsteps of Christ. “At four weeks the heart is beating,” he said. “Why can’t it beat in a grown man?”
The story of speaker Kathleen Eaton proved not only that forgiveness is possible, but that great things can come of an apparent evil. After an abortion in 1980, Kathleen asked God for forgiveness and told Him that the only way she could forgive herself was if she could save at least one woman and child from the same fate.
“If you say ‘God, use me,’” laughed Kathleen, “he will!” In 1981, she started a small pregnancy resource center which then expanded to half a dozen Birth Choice Health Clinics. According to an abortionist in her community, the spread of Birth Choice clinics across America would cause a “seventy-five percent decrease in abortion without overturning one law.”
As the Ferry Building clock tower struck noon, the walk began to make its way along the Embarcadero past such famous landmarks as Pier 39, Fisherman’s Wharf, and Ghirardelli Square to Marina Green Park.
Blessed with sunshine and highs of 70°F, the spirits of the walkers were soaring. Several groups sang and chanted, and a large group of young people played drums, guitars, and tambourines, singing and dancing throughout.
“The people walking are reflections of the healing power of God for life and the protection of life,” said Bishop Blair of Stockton. “We are bearing witness to the Gospel of Life.”
Auxiliary Bishop of San Bernardino Rutilio del Riego said, “It is a gift and a blessing to witness to the sanctity of life. It is an opportunity for many people to hear the message in a positive way, to show that the pro-life movement is one of peace and non-violence.”
A small group of pro-abortion protesters, who gathered along the sidewalks in garish costumes, disrupted the walk with raucous shouts of “You don’t care about women!” and other slogans.
In his opening blessing, Bishop Walsh of Santa Rosa said God “did not spare his own Son and his Mother from a vulnerable beginning. We must care for the unborn, care for all mothers, protect all life, and change the hearts of our fellow citizens.”
For the first time in the history of the Walk for Life, the walkers were accompanied off shore by a sailing ship manned by thirty-three men, which followed the walk as it wound around the bay.
After passing Ghirardelli Square, the endless river of people could be seen streaming along the coast towards the Maritime National Historical Park. The almost 3 mile Walk ended just past the park at Marina Greens, where testimonies were shared at a Silent No More gathering, and numerous vendors provided resources at an Info Fair.
For sale by Ignatius Press was “Unplanned,” Abby Johnson’s best-selling book detailing her experience with Planned Parenthood and her conversion of heart. Abby signed books for a seemingly endless line of admirers, her husband Doug at her side. When asked how she had been most blessed since leaving Planned Parenthood, Abby laughed that it was coming into the Catholic Church. But both she and Doug agreed that in addition to faith, the best blessing was new-found “family time.”
“Without God’s will and without faith, we wouldn’t have the family structure, and the time we spent together wouldn’t have meaning.”
The walk was followed by a Walk for Life Youth Rally that brought together the teenagers and young adults who attended the walk for praise and worship, networking, and advice for further involvement in the pro-life movement.
The 2011 Walk for Life West Coast was attended by a variety of pro-life groups spanning all cultures and faiths, including Silent No More, Priests for Life, Students for Life of America, Lutherans for Life and Anglicans for Life. Next year, the Walk hopes to rally in the AT&T Park, as the numbers of participants have quickly outgrown the plazas downtown.
Meaghen Hale attended the Walk for Life as a member of the Media Team, tweeting her experience as a participant from @bayareacatholic. A video and photo record of the Walk can be found at the Walk for Life Media Blog here. To order Unplanned and for more pro-life resources, go to the book’s website.