When Walking for Life Turns Into Running the Gauntlet

By Michele Szekely

A few weeks ago I was one of the 7000 people Walking for Life in San Francisco. It was Saturday, January 22, 2005, and it was the very first “Walk For Life” held in the City by the Bay. There was a heightened feeling of making history, of taking a courageous stand for life and faith and families in the middle of a city known world-wide for its laissez-faire and liberalism.

We were there (we, the pro-lifers) with our kids and with our friends, with signs saying, “Women deserve better than abortions” and a few signs saying, “I regret my abortion”; one of us had a guitar, many had cameras, and many more had rosaries. We all marched peacefully and respectfully; we sung the Ave Maria and prayed the rosary and we, constantly and persistently, responded to the screams and threats of the pro-choicers with only smiles and prayers or a peaceful silence.

As we walked the designated route we were persecuted, abused all along the way by the pro-choicers (maybe a 1000 or 1500 of them) who stood on the side and protested loudly and fiercely, screaming insults and profanities, calling us names, blaspheming against God, beating drums to drown out our prayers, lying down in the street to stop the walk (twice), forcing the March to take another route. It is only thanks to a steady cordon of police that no one within the March got hurt.

Egged on by Local Politicians

I was very much taken aback by the rage in their voices and the hate in their faces. It was quite a sight and it went on for the whole walk along the waterfront, which took about two hours. I cannot repeat the insults I heard — it is a language I do not use. Most of it was directed toward the Catholic Church especially and Christianity in general, but the interesting thing was that some of it was clearly directed toward the government and/or any form of authority … Which makes me wonder what politicians would think about all this if they would truly pursue this line of thinking to its logical end. Because the truth of the matter is that the crowd of violent pro- choicers had been egged on by our local politicians.

The Board of Supervisors and the Mayor of San Francisco had gathered four days before and declared the City a “pro-choice city.” They also had said (erroneously) that this march was organized and attended by out-of-town people and that they wanted it known they were not welcomed here. By saying all this publicly, they gave carte-blanche to these special groups of pro-choicers to protest as much as possible and as virulently as they wanted. And that’s why I hold them, the politicians, as responsible for the abuse that went on as the actual crowd who screamed it all. For our political leaders to make such declarations before the Walk was pretty close to “enticing to riot”, but I am sure they thought it was the politically correct thing to do.

For most of the walk, I stayed in the very back. Just like the Tour de France has its “voiture balai” (which is the very last car of the caravan and is supposed to sweep up anything left), I felt compelled to walk in the very back of the crowd and constantly pray and ask for blessings on the heads of the pro-choicers protesting along the way. Perhaps I viewed my contribution that day as the “spiritual voiture balai” of the March, trying to douse the fiery protests with love and compassion! Perhaps I witnessed more abuse because of being in the very back. But the abuse was there and it is very revealing of the huge comprehension gap from the pro-choice side toward the pro-life side.

This is ‘Tolerance’?

If this place was truly pro-choice, then doesn’t it make sense that it would allow one of the choices to be not wanting an abortion?

But that day by the waterfront, it was clearly a pro-abortion crowd of protesters who looked ready to go to great extremes to drown the pro- life voices.

And dear politicians, how could you possibly wish for this internationally-visited City to be known as so rigidly and intolerantly pro-abortion? How are you going to enforce it? Will you place people at the airport who will ask everyone stepping off a plane: “Are you pro- choice? Because if you are not, you can just turn around and get right back on that plane!” Or will you post people at the Toll Plaza of the Golden Gate Bridge to stop any cars with children and say: “Why do you have so many kids? Are you sure you really wanted them? Because in this city, they are not our first choice!”

I’m exaggerating to make a point. I do recognize that the protesters were a special crowd that had been whipped into a pro-choice frenzy by their own earlier demonstration at Powell, and by the egging on of the local politicians. Some of my friends are pro- choice and they are certainly not anti-children. They were not along the waterfront that day screaming insults.

We kept walking and while watching and listening to them, I deplored that they did not understand why we are pro-life. The March itself was not the place to debate about it and we had all agreed, we the pro- lifers, to only march peacefully and not engage in any verbal exchanges. The debate about abortion, however, will happen eventually in the open (whether the Mayor and the Supervisors want it or not – they are a few steps behind the times as far as this is concerned!), because there is such a great need for such a debate. There is a lid that has been pushed down on truly discussing abortion and its consequences on women, but the lid is coming off, the pot has been percolating too much for too long!

I moved up to the very front of the March by the time it reached the Wharf and I could see that some groups of young women had elaborate mobiles made of coat hangers. I was thinking: “Great! I am in complete agreement with them! I certainly would never wish for any woman to go through such a traumatic experience. Thus, we have something in common — this is good!” But they raised their fists in cadence and kept screaming invective, their faces almost distorted in violent grimaces … no progress was made toward greater communication that day.

Years of Misinformation & the Chasm

When I looked at them, I could see the results of years of misinformation, of half-truths and distorted reality about this crucial issue. There are many lies floating around in the popular culture regarding abortion: in its mildest form, there is the lie that abortion does not matter much, is no big deal. You can have it done and you can go on with your life just as you do after going to the dentist.

This position denies that there is life in a fetus – and that is the “grand canyon” that separates the two groups on the abortion issue. But it also denies the reality of abortion’s impact on women. To present such an important event in a woman’s life as “nothing” is a dangerous lie and a gross cover-up. If it were truly no big deal, then why are counselors and psychologists so often and for so long hearing the sad tales of post-abortive women, of their struggle to cope with what has happened, how it haunts them and leaves them with a bitterness that will not go away? Depression, confusion and malaise are the by products of this non-event.

Abortion: A Right of Passage?

The second lie being promoted in some circles is that an abortion is a rite of passage — a glorified way of proving your membership in the sisterhood of feminism. It is the ticket to a free and wonderful sexuality, which should never be stopped by anything at all. That is a very perverted message, a heartless way of manipulating women; there is a high price to pay for such delusion. A whole generation of women has been forced to live in complete denial. How can anyone not see that it is not healthy?

Rows and rows of people screaming for the choice to abort was quite a sight. I noticed that some of the faces were familiar – groups were relocating further down the March, some every twenty minutes!. Still, there seemed many, and they looked so mean while screaming in my face. I don’t think they realize how they looked. What is most puzzling is that they don’t know who we are, what we want and why we were there that day. There are a lot of stereotypes being passed around in the pro- choice side and there is a complete shutting out of pro-life information.

I am not looking at this issue from the legal angle. I am much more interested in changing hearts and in changing the culture. I have only been able to articulate my own pro-life position for the last few years (which coincide with my return to the faith). I remember very well all the years of being either openly pro-choice (in my twenties) or later on (after I became a mother myself) the years of keeping quiet on this subject because of an inability to articulate it.

I felt instinctively that it was wrong to advocate for abortion but I certainly did not know how to translate that in a conversation with someone. One of the reasons is that, in the media, there is a constant barrage of pro- choice arguments being pushed forward. It is equated with freedom, with sex, with feminism, with power and control over one’s body. Many truths along the way are denied or distorted.

The Pain of the Baby & Fatherhood Denied

Not enough is said of the pain that the fetus can feel during abortion (and which has been medically measured recently), of the state of crisis when such a decision is made, of the painful emotional after-math for women, of the consequences on a whole generation of men whose fatherhood is denied, and finally, even the deadening emotional effect on all the people involved in procuring abortions; all of this is not allowed for discussion or for fair and accurate representation.

By the end of the March, I felt that common sense would dictate that, if you are so comfortable with your pro-choice position, why care so greatly about a group of pro-lifers marching down the waterfront for two hours one afternoon in January? The virulence of their reaction to us, and the extent of the political manipulation, was extremely revealing.

Because of all this aggression along the March, I can’t say that I enjoyed myself that day. Four days before, I was outside of San Quentin praying and taking a stand against the death penalty — I did not enjoy myself there, either. It was a sad night (and a freezing one for that matter!), but faith and ethics and a determination to stand up for the truth whether it is popular or not brought me to both places. To the politicians of the City who should have the double responsibility of articulating the truth and always listening to the people: I (who have lived for 35 years in this beautiful – but strange – city of San Francisco) and many friends have already registered for the Walk For Life of 2006.