WASHINGTON – Dressed for warmth in their school’s bright purple and wearing matching knitted hats saying “Mount Saint Joseph, March for Life 2009” a group of Baltimore students gathered Thursday as quiet protesters on the National Mall at the annual March for Life rally.
The rally, held for the 35th year on the anniversary of the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade abortion-rights decision, had new significance this year following the inauguration of President Obama and his promise to sign the Freedom of Choice Act.
With signs tucked in the back of their shirts that read “We Choose Life,” the boys waited patiently for the march to begin.
They were among tens of thousands of pro-life protesters who marched from the mall to the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Mary Wiedel, the school’s parent relations director, said the objective of bringing the students was “to heighten awareness” and appreciate the importance of life. She said that the all-boy Catholic school encourages the boys to be sexually responsible and said “with intercourse comes responsibility.”
The FOCA, as introduced to Congress in 2007, is umbrella legislation that aims to protect the health of women and their right “to begin, prevent or continue a pregnancy.”
The act is designed to eliminate the “threats that remain” on Roe v. Wade, including possible reversal of the decision and “legislative or administrative policies that make abortion more difficult and dangerous to obtain.”
“We’re not trying to stand in judgment of anyone,” said Wiedel, who taught childbirth education classes in Maryland.
Cheryl Hall, a Mount St. Joseph teacher of children with developmental disabilities, said that voluntary meetings at the school discussing FOCA were available to the students who desired to participate.
Some of the boys marched because they have a personal connection to the issue. And even in extenuating circumstances the students think that an unborn life should prevail over any law.
“My girlfriend was a subject of rape. If your mother was a subject of rape and she got an abortion, you wouldn’t be here,” said Alexander Kraska, 17, of Glen Burnie, a Mount St. Joseph senior who has attended the March for Life for the past four years.
Maryland law, as well as FOCA, does restrict abortions after the fetus can live outside of the woman, a time approximately 24 weeks into the pregnancy, according to a 2008 study published by the Center for Fetal and Neonatal Medicine and the University of Southern California Division of Neonatal Medicine.
But that isn’t enough, the protesters said. For Jeff Smith, 17, and his schoolmates, life begins at conception.
In fact, Jeff, of Baltimore, counseled a friend who had gotten herself into trouble and convinced her to keep the baby.
“I’ve been faced in this situation before with a friend and I felt my voice was heard,” said Smith, a senior. “It’s our right as humans to be born.”
Out of the 10,797 abortions reported in Maryland in 2005, 57 percent of them were obtained by women between the ages of 20 and 29 according to the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“You just have to think before you act,” said Smith. “You can’t stop (people) from having sex. You have to step outside of the situation and think if it is worth the consequences.”
However, even in the absence of FOCA and Roe v. Wade, Maryland’s abortion laws are among the more liberal in the country, with no waiting periods or parental permission requirements.
Not all Catholics share the boys’ view.
Marissa Valeri, the outreach advocacy manager for Catholics for Choice based in Washington, said she believes that the Catholic people are the Church and that individual conscience, not collective, is a supreme value.
“The church is more than the words of the Pope, but of the lived experiences of the Catholic people,” said Valeri. “Above all, in the Catholic faith is the idea of individual conscience not a collective conscience.”
“Twenty of the last 28 years have been under Republican control and the efforts to curtail women’s rights have failed.” Valeri said. And this march will highlight the failures of the pro-life agendas, she continued.
“There can be a neutral agreement with those whose consciences differ,” Valeri said. “But one cannot overshadow the other.”