This year’s March for Life saw hundreds of thousands of pro-life advocates descend upon the Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C. On Jan. 22, the 37th anniversary of the court’s Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion, they waved signs with pro-life slogans, prayed Rosaries and rallied with cheers and chants.  

Forms of activism

As the crowd embodied the march’s theme — “Stand Up Now! Unite for the Life Principles – No Exception! No Compromise!” — one Catholic witnessed that message a bit differently.

 Jeremy Hylka [see cover photo] stood out by standing up for life — from a wheelchair. “Back in late November, I completely tore my [anterior cruciate ligament], and my meniscus as well is torn,” Hylka, the youth minister and liturgist of St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church in Joliet, Ill., told Our Sunday Visitor. “Several doctors have recommended surgery as soon as possible, and I was going to have surgery in January, but there was nothing that was going to stop me from being here in our nation’s capital to defend life and stand up for life [at] the March for Life.”

 Hylka said the operation on his knee would have restricted his mobility for at least a month and landed him in physical therapy for about half a year. That led him to postpone the operation and withstand the two-hour rally and three-hour march by walking with a brace, using a cane or sitting in a wheelchair.

 “I vowed the first time being in the March for Life four years ago that, until the day I die, I will be here, proclaiming my faith as a Catholic and as a Christian — that I am pro-life,” he told OSV.

 As the Diocese of Joliet’s master of ceremonies, Hylka rallied more than 200 participants before and during the march, carrying a megaphone and leading chants that supported life and protested the Roe v. Wade decision.
 “Whether we are standing or sitting, we can be vocal. We need to be active. We cannot be passive anymore,” he said.

 He said people who physically cannot march can still contribute to the cause through prayer and advocacy.

 “Whether you’re in a wheelchair, whether you’re handicapped, whether you’re young, whether you’re old or black or white, whether you’re Catholic or not … we are united together as one body, one Church, this week to show our government officials that America truly is pro-life,” he told OSV.

 Hylka said he perceived his injury as a message from God. He said it reminded him to respect the dignity and right to life of people with health problems — as well as the rights of the unborn. 

 Health care worries

Bearing a different kind of pain during the March for Life was Anna Vera, who attended with students from Trinity School at Meadow View, a Christian institution in Falls Church, Va. 

 The mother of three walked the march with her daughter, and, when asked what she would say to a woman considering abortion, she paused and sighed. “Wait until the baby is born, and hold it in [your] arms, and see how much love [you are] able to bring,” she told OSV.

 In addition to generally advocating for life, she said, her presence at the march is also in protest of the health care reform bill that was under consideration by Congress and foresaw mandatory taxpayer funding for abortions. Although Congressional leaders have indicated that the bill seems doomed to failure, at least in its current form, Vera thought it nonetheless was important to demonstrate her opposition to it.

 “Our government is not representing the majority of us that would like to have life instead of death, and I think it’s great to be courageous and stand and show the world that we are against this crime,” she said. 

‘We’re loving life’ 

Another protester, Connor Wimsatt, literally danced onto the scene of the March for Life. The student of Gonzaga College High School in Washington, D.C., came with a group of classmates from his all-boys Jesuit school. They carried wooden sticks, which they smacked together to form what Wimsatt called a “drumline.”

 Between cheers and dances, he explained, “We’re loving life, and we’re trying to get people to understand that life is precious in every form.”

Wimsatt told OSV he wanted his presence at the rally to inspire parents considering abortion to give their children a chance to enjoy life the way he and his friends do. 

 He also reveled in the large numbers of young people at the march, whose organizers said drew an estimated record number of 400,000. It was a significant increase over last year’s estimated 300,000 marchers.

 “I don’t really know where [better] proof is that America is pro-life, you know, other than in the young people,” he said. “I’m hoping that that in itself will be a testament to any doubters out there that say that pro-life is all, you know, just a thing for … old Catholics, the trite and the outdated, but it’s not. It’s for young people, too, and we’re having fun today.”

 He noted, “By grouping together and showing our numbers … we can show people how important this is and how many people really are pro-life in America, and hopefully this can change this law.”

Amy Kiley writes from Illinois.

Western Walk (sidebar)

A day after pro-lifers marched in Washington, D.C., a record crowd of 35,000 gathered in San Francisco for the Sixth Annual Walk for Life West Coast. 

Abby Johnson, the former Planned Parenthood clinic director who had a change of heart during the 40 Days for Life last fall, was among the speakers. 

“The tenacity of pro-lifers, showing up in their tens of thousands, despite a downpour, is a testimony to their commitment,” Dolores Meehan, Walk for Life co-founder, said in a statement.