By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published February 5, 2011
The mournful bugle call of taps filled the air around the Georgia Capitol and accompanied the sound of marching footsteps as men, women and children commemorated the anniversary of the legalization of abortion.
In freezing temperatures, the crowd protested the 38th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decisions that legalized abortion nationwide in 1973.
The silent march through downtown Atlanta was organized by the Georgia Right to Life organization. It followed a standing-room-only Mass at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception where the congregation gathered to pray for the unborn and women who have had abortions since the Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton abortion decisions.
“The soul of our nation has been imprisoned for almost 38 years as we have allowed for the killing of innocent human life,” said Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory at the Mass.
The archbishop, along with Auxiliary Bishop Luis R. Zarama and nearly 20 other priests and deacons, celebrated Mass on Friday, Jan. 21, for an estimated 900 people at the downtown church.
The right to an abortion is a “terrible law” that “shreds the moral conscience of our nation,” said the archbishop at the annual Mass for the Unborn. He said the day’s prayers were “to soften the hearts of those who have little respect for human life.” (See Archbishop’s homily on page 3.)
People are “amazed at the tenacity of our resolve” to reverse the law, the archbishop said. And thousands around the country and in Washington, D.C., will gather during the weekend of Jan. 22 to remember and pray to change the culture, he said.
Efforts to reduce abortions have encountered a setback, according to a report released on Jan. 11, which showed a slight increase in abortions between 2005 and 2008. The findings reversed a steady decline in the number of abortions going back to 1990 when U.S. abortions peaked at a high of 1.6 million and the abortion rate was 27.4 abortions per 1,000 women in childbearing years.
The Guttmacher Institute reported that for 2008, the most recent statistics available, there were 1.21 million abortions in the United States, a rate of 19.6 abortions per 1,000 women in childbearing years. The last Guttmacher survey of abortions in the year 2005 showed 1.20 million abortions, a rate of 19.4.
The new survey also showed abortions increasing in Georgia. In 2008, 39,820 women obtained abortions in the state, a rate of 19.2 abortions per 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 44. In 2004, some 32,570 abortions were performed in Georgia, a rate of 16.4 per 1,000 women of reproductive age.
Mary Boyert, the director of the archdiocesan Respect Life Ministry, said the reasons for the increase are complex, but because abortion remains legal, “many women consider it an ‘acceptable’ solution to a crisis pregnancy.”
“We must renew our efforts to offer life-affirming alternatives to women considering abortion. Georgia does have a high number of abortions. While it is serious to see that the rate has increased, it is always too high,” she said.
Efforts must be renewed to promote chastity and abstinence before marriage since they are proven ways to reduce unintended pregnancies, she said.
During Mass, leaders of the parish Respect Life Committees from around the archdiocese were commissioned for a year of service. Father Joseph Peek, a parochial vicar in residence at St. Patrick Church, Norcross, earlier led the congregation in praying the rosary.
People attending the Mass and the march said they were committed to reducing abortion even after the many years spent working on the issue. Lupe Harding, 48, who works in the telecommunications industry, said she took her three children out of school for the Mass and the march to show them how important it is “to stand up for those who don’t have a voice.”
Sue Plumb and Nancy Lojo made the trip from St. Vincent de Paul Church, Dallas. Plumb, who is 53, has been attending the Mass for some 17 years.
“It’s part of my faith. It makes you more committed every year. It is what I can do” to help end abortions, she said.
Lojo, 52, said the Mass has a spirit of unity even though there are so many different people attending.
“We need to speak for the unborn. They deserve someone to be pro-life for them,” she said.
Boyert said it was wonderful to see so many Catholics join together in prayer for an end to the tragedy of abortion and a return to respect for human life.
“Our prayers and our works of charity to help mothers and their unborn babies are having an effect, and the Lord will give us the strength to do this work as long as we ask for it in prayer,” she said.
Whenever people feel discouraged, all they need to do is to gather together in prayer and God will keep everyone going, she said.
Others said they were motivated to be among others sharing their concerns.
“It’s an energizing thing to see people participate in something they could close their eyes to and just ignore. It’s the right thing to do,” said Curtis Weeks, 62, who attends St. Brendan the Navigator Church, Cumming.
Bill Harrell, 38, of St. Thomas More Church, Decatur, attended the Mass and rally for the first time. He said he felt a great sense of coming together over the issue among the hundreds of people.
The March for Life started in the shadow of the Capitol’s golden dome. Crowds filled Washington Street, between Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and Capitol Square to hear speakers, including Archbishop Gregory.
The archbishop told the crowd that legislators need a vision of fundamental principles of justice that come from religious institutions. The two institutions—the state and religious community—are not enemies, but need each other, he said. The state should work to assure justice for all and the religious community should inspire people to work for that justice, he said.
The archbishop said the pro-life movement gets strong support from the many state legislators attending the day’s rally. And the government should work to “undo an awful, awful decision,” he said.
Rebecca Kiessling, an attorney, was the keynote speaker. Kiessling told the audience how she was conceived by rape and born three and a half years before the Roe v. Wade decision. And she said her birth mother told her that she would have been aborted if it had been legal in Michigan at the time. Knowing her background, she said her self-esteem suffered until she started to attend church. A mother of five children, Kiessling said a person’s value is not based on the circumstances of conception, but on their human dignity. She urged people to be pro-life without exceptions.