On the anniversary of the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion nationwide, more than 300 Greater New Haven activists marched through the Elm City on Friday to draw attention to the pro-life movement.
The march, which followed a mass at St. Mary’s Church on Hillhouse Avenue, occurs each year on Jan. 22. The march was organized by Branford pro-life activist Norma Contois and Mike Ferraro, board member at Saint Gianna Center, a New Haven nonprofit that aims at presenting women with alternative options to abortion. The activists marched in solidarity with March for Life in Washington, D.C., the largest pro-life rally in the world. This year’s march in the capitol drew thousands of supporters to the city, despite a blizzard that left more than a foot of snow in the area.
“I think the greatest thing to keep in mind is love,” Rev. John Paul Walker of St. Mary’s Church, who led prayer before and during the march, told the News. “We believe in loving the moms and babies. There’s never a reason to choose one or the other.”
While the march was not organized in response to controversial Planned Parenthood videos released on Aug. 22 by the Center for Medical Progress, a California-based anti-abortion group, or subsequent lawsuits against Planned Parenthood, Walker said some marchers carried signs calling for the defunding of Planned Parenthood — a health care provider that offers a variety of reproductive and maternal services, including abortions. Walker said he believes people are upset that a significant portion of taxpayer money funds “an organization that kills children.”
Walker said the march was important in conveying that hundreds of New Haven residents are still passionate about and engaged in the pro-life debate 43 years after legalization following Roe v. Wade. He and the protesters stopped in front of the courthouse and other government buildings to pray and sing hymns praising “the beauty of life.”
Still, the marchers’ views are hardly uncontroversial. Reproductive Rights Action League at Yale Co-President Hedy Gutfreund ’18 said offering women reproductive choices is vital to promoting national gender equality, adding that abortion is a fundamental right that women should have.
One purpose of Friday’s march was to make people aware of the frequency of abortions in the country. According to Ferraro, one abortion occurs every 20 seconds in the United States. In 2012, 699,202 legal induced abortions in the U.S. were reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to CDC data. Ferraro emphasized that unlike some other pro-life organizations, activists from the Saint Gianna Center carry out peaceful work and ensure they do not block sidewalks or protest loudly.
“They’re viable babies from conception until they die a natural death,” Ferraro said in an interview. “All babies deserve to live.”
Vice President of Legislative Affairs at Connecticut Right to Life Chris O’Brien said he thinks it is important to educate men and women about the support services at the Gianna Center because it provides support for women who do not feel well-equipped for parenthood. The organization provides clothing, postnatal support, diapers and connections to state funding, Ferraro said. He added that he and other pro-life activists denounce any form of “unnatural” ending of life, including assisted suicide.
Walker said he and other activists are concerned with giving a voice to the unborn. He said the church is not interested in condemning women who opt to abort, but rather in helping these women “heal and find peace and hope.”
According to a national survey by the Robert Morris University Polling Institute, 53.3 percent of respondents support shifting federal funding from Planned Parenthood to clinics that do not offer abortions.