The 13th annual Walk for Life West Coast will be held Saturday, Jan. 21, in San Francisco, kicking off with a 12:30 p.m. rally in the city’s Civic Center Plaza. The walk is a West Coast alternative to the March for Life in Washington, D.C., both of which roughly coincide with the 44th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision that struck down the nation’s abortion laws. The goal of the Walk for Life West Coast is to “stand for life. To reach out to women harmed by abortion. To inform society of the damage done to women by abortion.”
Organizers are hoping for a strong turnout despite the likelihood of rain and the expectancy of a large number of people protesting the inauguration of President Donald Trump. During the first walk 7,500 came; last year, more than 50,000 took part.
Eva Muntean co-founded the event after seeing the need for a “sister” event to the Washington, D.C., walk. “We’ve seen reports that abortion rates are at historic lows,” she said. “We want to keep the momentum going. We’re hopeful that we’re making a difference in our nation’s policies.”
Featured speakers include Pam Tebow, mother of former professional athlete Tim Tebow, abortion survivor Melissa Ohden, Rev. Clenard Childress, founder of BlackGenocide.org, and Reggie Littlejohn, founder and president of Women’s Rights Without Frontiers.
New to the walk this year is Ohden, a Catholic convert who survived an attempted saline abortion in 1977. Ohden recently released an autobiography, “You Carried Me” (Plough Publishing, $19.99), and she has devoted the last decade speaking out for the pro-life cause.
Her biological mother, she said, was a 19-year-old college student “forced” to have an abortion by her grandmother. “But by the grace of God the abortion failed, and I’m alive, and I have the medical records to prove it,” she said.
While the abortionist recorded that Ohden had been 20 weeks at the time of the abortion, her size at delivery indicated that she had reached 31 weeks, not far from full term. Her mother expected to give birth to a lifeless baby. “But a nurse saw me gasp for breath and rushed me to the NICU [neonatal intensive care unit]. She wasn’t going to leave me to die.”
Ohden was adopted and found out about the abortion attempt at age 14. Although she suffered from no long-term physical effects, the psychological and emotional effects were significant.
“I went through a time where it hurt horribly. I was ashamed and embarrassed. But, my faith pulled me through. I see that God has a plan for me.”
Ohden today is married and living in Kansas City with her husband and two small children. In 2012, she founded The Abortion Survivors Network to educate the public about failed abortions and provide support for survivors.
She has since reunited with her biological mother who remains a part of her life.
“Mine is not merely a story about surviving but about accepting God’s call in my life and forgiving those who have harmed me,” she said.
Her biological mother related, Ohden said, that “her greatest regret was not running away from her family and protecting me.”
Littlejohn is also participating in the Walk for Life West Coast as a speaker for the first time. She was a San Francisco attorney who left her firm to found Women’s Rights Without Frontiers in order “to fight forced and sex-selective abortions in China, and to save baby girls in China.”
There have been roughly 57 million abortions in the U.S. since Roe, she said, but since China adopted its one-child policy (now two-child policy), the Chinese government “has prevented 400 million lives — ‘prevented’ is their term — many through forced abortion and sterilization,” she said. The majority of those aborted are female.
Americans are often unaware of the draconian child-prevention policies in China, she said, and her presence brings an “international aspect” rather than being “a walk just for American lives.”
As an unintended consequence of China’s one- and two-child policy, she said, China today has 37 million more men than women, leading to another problem: the creation of a market for human trafficking and sex slavery by “men who can’t find wives.”
Women’s Rights Without Frontiers also offers a “Save a Girl” campaign to aid girls at risk in China. Littlejohn and her husband, in fact, are guardians of a 14-year-old Chinese girl who comes from a difficult situation in China. Additionally, Littlejohn has testified six times before Congress and three times before the European Parliament, as well as before the British, Irish and Canadian Parliaments.
‘Labor of love’
Although a new speaker, Littlejohn has been a longtime participant at the Walk for Life and watched it grow.
“It’s an amazing experience to be part of a massive throng of people streaming down Market Street — the main street in San Francisco — advocating for the dignity of all human beings, in a town not known for being a bastion of pro-life people.”
Muntean, in fact, noted that the local government was hostile to the presence of the Walk for Life West Coast, several times issuing proclamations condemning their efforts. The police, however, have been “fantastic”: “We love working with them. They protect us and allow our event to happen.”
As part of the walk, information booths will be set up to provide resources for women facing unplanned pregnancies, including counseling, medical care, financial assistance, housing, adoption and parenting information.
While the Walk for Life West Coast reaches out to non-Catholic as well as secular groups, the walk’s founders and participants are predominantly Catholic. Muntean works as a marketing manager at Catholic media organization Ignatius Press; Ignatius Press’ founder, Father Joseph Fessio, has served as the walk’s chaplain since its inception. “Father has never missed one,” Muntean said.
While donations to support the walk are welcome, they are never solicited. Instead, Muntean said, “We ask people to stay involved in the pro-life cause after they go home, whether it be through a 40 Days for Life, crisis pregnancy center or pro-life group at their school.”
She also noted that many have converted to the pro-life position after being exposed to the message through the walk.
Finding the time to organize the event each year can be a challenge, Muntean said.
“It’s a labor of love. But the wonderful results we see each year keep us motivated.”
Jim Graves writes from California.