February 1, 2019

A testament to life: Hoosiers step forward to embrace gift of life during Indiana march

Students of Lumen Christi Catholic School in Indianapolis carry a banner as they process up Meridian Street in Indianapolis on Jan. 22, leading the second Indiana March for Life. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

Students of Lumen Christi Catholic School in Indianapolis carry a banner as they process up Meridian Street in Indianapolis on Jan. 22, leading the second Indiana March for Life. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Natalie Hoefer

For more than 115 years, Lady Victory has stood atop the Soldiers and Sailors Monument at the center of Indianapolis, her constant gaze looking south down Meridian Street.

On Jan. 22, that gaze took in an historic moment. Never before had Lady Victory witnessed roughly 700 pro‑life advocates from around the state marching up the city’s main thoroughfare toward her, proclaiming their message with signs, banners and cheers.

They marched with a victory of their own in mind—the overturning of the Supreme Court’s Jan. 22, 1973, Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion in the United States. (Related story: Groups from across the archdiocese participate in national March for Life)

‘And the saints go marching on’

Before taking to the streets of Indianapolis in the cold January climate, a number of marchers participated in a rally at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis. Some stayed on for a rose ceremony commemorating the more than 60 million lives lost to abortion since the controversial decision.

Most participants, however, worshipped at a Mass across the street in St. John the Evangelist Church.

“Our gathering today involves the two-fold Christian call to contemplation and action, Mass and march,” said Archbishop Charles C. Thompson during the homily he delivered to about 900 people. “Both are necessary for a truly integrated commitment to missionary discipleship, and that’s what our march will be—a mission for the sanctity of life … from the moment of conception to natural death.”

Bishop Timothy L. Doherty of the Diocese of Lafayette, Ind., and more than a dozen priests from both dioceses were concelebrants at the Mass. The two dioceses and Right to Life of Indianapolis sponsored the day’s events.

Archbishop Thompson prompted that “we must never lose proper perspective of uniting ourselves to the way of God rather than trying to conform God into our way of thinking. That’s when humanity loses its way. That’s when things start to break down in our society.”

He called to mind not just the babies aborted since 1973, “but also mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, society itself, the family” as victims to the culture of death.

He said society should rather cultivate a culture of life. Those embraced by such a culture should include “the immigrant, the refugee, those who may have different color of skin or creed, nationality, … those who may be on death row, or addicted, or abused.”

Ultimately, the archbishop said, “We know the outcome. … The cross gives way to the resurrection, and the saints go marching on with Jesus as the way, the truth and the life.”

When it came to literally marching, “I’ll be the first to admit, out in that cold air, it’s hard for me to exude joy,” he said, receiving a wave of laughter from the congregation. “But we’ll do this together,” he added.

‘Where the rubber meets the road’

And so they did, the archbishop along with the crowd of adults, priests, religious, seminarians and students from 13 elementary schools, high schools and colleges from both sponsoring dioceses.

“The fact that so many, young and old, braved the weather in solidarity with the unborn is a testament to their commitment to upholding the sacredness of life …,” Archbishop Thompson told The Criterion.

This year’s route extended beyond last year’s inaugural march. The one‑mile trek included the city’s main thoroughfare, Meridian Street, a portion of Monument Circle, and a three-quarter circuit around the Indiana Statehouse grounds.

The march ended at the south steps of the Statehouse. Inside, lawmakers were busy meeting and voting during the Indiana General Assembly. But several of them, along with others active in the pro‑life movement, took time to address the cheering crowd.

The hourlong rally included 12 legislators and leaders speaking on behalf of pro-life institutions and organizations. Each of them, as well as Bishop Doherty in his opening prayer and emcee Marc Tuttle, president of Right to Life of Indianapolis, thanked the participants for braving the 22-degree wind chill.

“The Supreme Court makes all sorts of decisions in June. Why they couldn’t have made this [Roe v. Wade] decision in June, I don’t know!” Tuttle quipped.

He explained why choosing to rally at the Statehouse steps was no random decision.

“We’re gathered here because ultimately abortion is a local issue,” said Tuttle. “Our gathering here, our work at pregnancy centers, our work for pro‑life legislation, all of that trickles up to Washington D.C. And really that’s where the rubber meets the road, because for 46 years our pro-life efforts have been blocked by an unjust Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade.”

‘This blight on our country’

The first speaker he introduced was from the “trickle up” site, U.S. Sen. Todd Young of Indiana. He noted the need to not only speak for the unborn, but to also “elevate those mothers in particular who make the right choice during a difficult time,” and to “support and promote the importance of adoption. It’s consistent with our pro-life agenda.”

Tuttle noted that Indiana isn’t sending pro-life lawmakers just to Washington, but also to the state’s Capitol.

“We’re blessed to live in a state that is one of the top 10 pro-life states because of our number of pro-life legislators,” he said.

Among the many state legislators whom he introduced was Rep. Christy Stutzman of Elkhart County in northwestern Indiana. Even as a freshman lawmaker, she has already co-authored House Bill 1211 to ban dismemberment abortions.

She said each year when the solemn observance of Roe v. Wade comes around she is “reminded of how old I am. … Because you see, I was born in August of 1973, and I could’ve been legally aborted that year. It reminds me to speak up for my generation, 30 percent of which is not here because of this blight on our country.”

Stutzman implored the crowd to “cover us [legislators] in prayer, because we feel your prayers every single day.”

Several other legislators also referenced faith. State Sen. Jim Tomes of Evansville called for more pastors and clergy to preach about abortion, noting that the killing of babies in the womb “is current events, it’s happening.”

“We want God to bless America,” he said. “But until we stop killing the most precious gifts God gives to us, folks, that’s not going to happen so easily.”

Sen. John Crane of District 24 in central-western Indiana echoed those sentiments, noting the need to “treat people the way God would have us treat people, the golden rule.”

“We [legislators] often hear, ‘We have a right to this’ and ‘We have a right to that,’ ” he continued. “But the fact of the matter is this: you can have no rights at all as a person if you do not have the right to life.”

‘The abortion industry is lying’

Promoting the right to life includes offering help to women in crisis pregnancies. Many of these women are on college campuses, which Tuttle identified as “one of the strongest battlegrounds of this cultural war.”

He introduced two speakers familiar with this battle, including Monica Richel. She is president of the Students for Life of America’s Indiana University chapter in Bloomington, as well as coordinator of the national organization’s Pregnant on Campus program at the university.

“Women on college campuses are the target of the abortion industry,” said Richel. “The abortion industry is lying to these women, telling them that they cannot be a mother and accomplish their goals and dreams. This is a lie.”

Reality proves the lie, she continued. She told the story of a woman who had just graduated from college and started a career in the hotel industry.

“She found herself pregnant,” Richel said. “She wasn’t married, and she was scared. She was pressured to have an abortion.

“She defied that pressure, and 22 years later, I, the baby girl of that woman, am here telling you how important it is to support those women in those hard situations.”

‘Like a house of cards’

One of the final speakers was Sue Swayze Liebel, vice president of public affairs for Indiana Right to Life and coordinator of the National Pro-life Women’s Caucus of the Susan B. Anthony List, located in Arlington, Va.

She said the national organization’s mission is “to get pro-life women elected to Congress, to state houses, to positions where in those roles they will make pro-life laws. Our goal is to be a special interest for life in the big game of politics.”

Swayze Liebel is an Indiana native and current resident. She lauded the state legislature for its pro-life leadership, including a 2011 law defunding Planned Parenthood in the state that was partially blocked by federal courts, and a 2015 law mandating an ultrasound be performed no less than 18 hours before an abortion. A legal challenge to the latter is awaiting a hearing by the Seventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

Another pro-life Indiana law is also awaiting a possible hearing—by the U.S. Supreme Court. The 2016 law bans abortion based on gender, race and disability. It made Indiana “the first state in the country to call the abortion of babies because of their race or their sex or their disability ‘discrimination,’ ” said Swayze Liebel.

“We’re waiting any day” for the Supreme Court to decide whether or not to hear the case, she said, “and that will take a huge chunk out of Roe v. Wade and be its demise—from right here in Indiana!”

The laws, the efforts in crisis pregnancy centers and on campuses, the support of women who choose life for their babies and the promotion of adoption, all are chipping away at legalized abortion, she said.

“It’s kind of like a house of cards,” said Swayze Liebel. “You pull one out, and you pull another out, and sooner or later Roe v. Wade will just topple.” †

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