As the crowd swelled and the chants rose, Jill Stinehart was feeling energized as the March for Life in Washington, D.C., commenced.
"I believe — we love life," chanted the teens with the Archdiocese of St. Louis' Generation Life pilgrimage filled the streets.
This was the third time marching for Jill, a senior at Ursuline Academy, who was attending with friends from St. Louis Life Teen. "It was so comforting to see that so many people share the same belief," she said of the hundreds of thousands who on Jan. 27 attended the 44th annual march, which commemorates the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision that rendered it unconstitutional to ban abortion.
Since the 1973 decision, upwards of 55 million lives have been lost through abortion, according to statistics kept by National Right to Life.
Jill said her efforts to build a culture of life include prayer and living an attitude of love and gratefulness. She has volunteered at places like Our Lady's Inn, a shelter for pregnant women and their children, an example of a pro-life organization that provides support to lives outside of the womb.
Approximately 2,100 people left St. Louis Jan. 25 as part of the Generation Life pilgrimage, organized by the archdiocesan Catholic Youth Apostolate. The theme of this year’s pilgrimage was “Young People Proclaiming the Gospel of Life” and included programming on Thursday and Friday leading up to and after the march. Several hundred other St. Louisans, including the Missouri Life Caravan and Catholic schools and parishes, also made their own trips.
Before the march, Archbishop Robert J. Carlson celebrated Mass with the Generation Life pilgrims. In his homily, the archbishop fired up the teens as he said, "we're here to let everybody know that this is a generation of life, and we're determined to make sure that our nation becomes a nation of life. Are you with me?" They erupted in applause.
Echoing a homily he gave in St. Louis just a week before, the archbishop referenced Board Bill 203, a measure before the St. Louis City Board of Aldermen that would include pregnancy and reproductive health decisions as protected classes within the city's anti-discrimination law. He called the measure a lie, adding that it's "eye candy for the culture of death. It goes hand in hand with the attitude that whatever I think, whatever I believe, whatever i value, whatever I want, whether I feel or desire, it must be correct. You know what this is? It's the sin of pride and the sin of selfishness."
"The fundamental good is life itself," he said. "A gift from God, a gift from our parents.
The U.S. abortion rate is at its lowest level since the Roe vs. Wade decision, according to a study issued earlier this year from the Guttmacher Institute. The abortion rate for U.S. women ages 15-44 is 14.6 per 1,000 in 2014, the last year for which statistics are available. The number is a 14 percent decline from the 2011 figures. It’s also less than half of the 1981 rate of 29.4 abortions per 1,000 women of child-bearing age.
At the Generation Life pilgrimage, St. Louis teens heard from Melissa Ohden, the survivor of a failed saline infusion abortion at a Sioux City, Iowa, hospital in 1977. After being saturated in a saline for five days in utero, she was born at about seven months gestation. Nurses at the hospital took care of her, and eventually she was adopted into a loving family.
Today she’s an international speaker on pro-life issues and in 2012 founded the Abortion Survivors Network to raise awareness of those who have survived an abortion attempt, as well as provide support to survivors and collect statistical data on the number of abortion survivors.
Calling the St. Louis a leader in promoting life issues, the 39-year-old resident of Kansas City, Mo., said, “God had a very clear purpose and a plan for me. Each and every one of you in this room are called to also stand beside me in defense of life from the moment of conception until natural death. Are you with me?” which elicited shouts and applause from the teens.
Referencing the Women’s March on Washington, D.C., the weekend prior, Ohden said “it’s important to acknowledge the way we approach the issue of life is very different than what things looked like last week here in Washington, D.C. … We speak the truth, but we speak the truth in love and with respect to everyone, regardless of whether they agree with us on this issue. … You have the power to restore hope in someone else.”
Amon others on the Generation Life trip were 39 students from St. Joseph's Academy, who attended Mass with St. Louis native Cardinal Timothy Dolan the morning of the march. The cardinal gave the all-girls school a couple of shout outs during Mass; afterward, they headed out to join their fellow marchers.
Sophomore Alyssa Brinegar, a first-timer At the march, said she was struck by a random person who approached their group and offered encouraging words. Sara Kirsch, also a sophomore and first-timer, said turning around to see a sea of people behind her was "powerful. It motivates you to keep going with the pro-life message."
The Missouri Life Caravan, organized by Missouri Right to Life, sent about 500 people from across Missouri on 10 buses to Washington. "Everyone has a little more giddy-up in their step today," MRL president Steve Rupp said, referencing the new presidential administration And a visit by Vice President Mike Pence at the march rally.
But even with pro-life leadership at the state and federal levels, Rupp said it's important to temper that feeling of happiness with a reminder that pro-lifers must remain diligent in building a culture of life. "It's not to say we can take our foot off the gas pedal now," Rupp said, "It is up to us to make sure that (legislators) do their jobs on behalf of life."
Follow Generation Life
Coverage of the Generation Life pilgrimage, including blog posts, photos and recordings of the talks, is online at genlifestl365.com