Politics & Government

North Texans heading to Friday’s March for Life in Washington

This is a look at the annual March on Life two years ago in Washington, D.C. That year, at least half a million protesters gathered for the effort’s 42nd annual march.
This is a look at the annual March on Life two years ago in Washington, D.C. That year, at least half a million protesters gathered for the effort’s 42nd annual march. TNS

There’s no other place Maria Conley wants to be Friday than in Washington, D.C. at the March for Life.

She and several family members, including her college-age daughters, will meet there to join their voices with others speaking out about preserving life.

“It’s important for me to be there in solidarity with the millions of Americans who respect life and are pro-life,” said Conley, a 50-year-old Fort Worth woman. “It’s exhilarating to be there with so many people who want to give a voice to the unborn.

“They understand the value of human life.”

The March for Life is held in Washington, D.C. — and in other cities across the country — every year to protest the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court ruling that made abortion legal throughout the country.

This year, marchers say they are encouraged that Republican President Donald Trump, who has said he will fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court with a pro-life justice, is in the White House.

Trump has said he will sign into law various anti-abortion bills passed by the GOP-led Congress and, on his first day in office, he reinstated the Mexico City Policy, which prevents federal funding from going to overseas groups offering abortion-related services.

This year’s 44th annual march begins at noon Friday on the grounds of the Washington Monument. After a rally — during which Kellyanne Conway, who managed Trump’s presidential campaign and now serves as a counselor to the president, will speak — pro-lifers will begin marching around 1 p.m.

The theme: “The power of one.”

“I think there will be a greater sense of optimism at the march this year,” Conley said. “We have a president that says he is pro-life and a president that understands how important it is that we respect human life.”

Texas topic

Abortion has long been a heated topic in Texas as conservative state lawmakers have steadily worked to put restrictions on clinics and patients alike, including taking steps to remove groups such as Planned Parenthood from the Medicaid program.

As action may occur on the federal level, more proposals loom in the state Legislature this year, including a plan by state Rep. Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington, to abolish abortion entirely in Texas.

Pro-lifers will start gathering for the 2017 Texas Rally for Life and a march to the Texas Capitol at noon Saturday.

Another proposal is House Bill 844, by state Rep. Stephanie Klick, R-Fort Worth, which has been described by some as the top abortion bill this session. This measure, known as the Dismemberment Abortion Ban, is aimed at stopping abortions in which a fetus is extracted one piece at a time. State Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, filed a companion measure, Senate Bill 415.

Growing restrictions through the years have led to a number of local abortion clinics closing, but at least two are still open in Fort Worth: the Whole Woman’s Health of Fort Worth, which offers abortions and the abortion pill, and the Planned Parenthood Southwest Fort Worth Health Center, a $6.5 million licensed ambulatory surgical center that was privately funded by North Texas contributors and opened in 2013. The facility is a family planning health center, administrative headquarters and abortion clinic.

Texas marches

The March for Life follows last weekend’s Women’s March on Washington, which spawned sister marches across the world, including several in Texas, as men, women and children marched in cities ranging from Fort Worth to Dallas. The main march in Texas this weekend is Saturday in Austin.

An estimated 5,000 to 6,000 people turned out in downtown Fort Worth to promote women’s rights on the day after Donald Trump became the country’s 45th president. (Max Faulkner/Star-Telegram)

Some Hillary Clinton supporters were outraged that the Democratic presidential nominee’s name wasn’t included in the march’s list of honorees. At the same time, some pro-lifers, such as the New Wave Feminists group, said their partnership in the event was revoked.

And, even though a number of pro-lifers across the country did march, some felt they weren’t really welcome to attend.

“Our time comes this week,” Conley said.

For pro-lifers who can’t make the trip to Washington, D.C. there are other marches closer to home.

Saturday, many plan to rally at the Texas Capitol in Austin.

They’ll start gathering for the 2017 Texas Rally for Life at 18th Street and North Congress Avenue at noon to march to the Capitol for a rally that begins at 2 p.m.

This is a time to stop and remember why we’re doing this and recharge.

Kyleen Wright, a Mansfield woman and president of the Texans for Life Coalition

Abortion “is a tragedy on so many fronts because of what it has done to women and babies and how it has divided our country,” said Kyleen Wright, a Mansfield woman and president of the Texans for Life Coalition who will attend and speak briefly.

“This is our time to come back together and remember what this is all about — the babies’ lives that have been lost.

“This is a time to stop and remember why we’re doing this and recharge,” she said. “It’s very energizing to be part of something this big and see even just a fraction of the people involved in the moment. You remember that you aren’t alone.”

Also Saturday, there will be a Diocesan Walk for Life in Amarillo, that runs from 10 a.m. to noon at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Amarillo.

The big March for Life in North Texas was held earlier this month, drawing thousands of people to downtown Dallas on Jan. 14. Organizers hold a Dallas march every year because the county courthouse there is where lawyers Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffee filed the lawsuit on behalf of Norma McCorvey challenging the state’s criminal statutes banning doctors from performing abortions with the exception for the life of the mother.

‘Let our voices be heard’

Jason Spoolstra will be among the countless North Texans in Washington, D.C., on Friday for the big march.

As director of youth ministry with the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth, he’s taking his family and a group of around 25 high school students and chaperones with him.

This will be his 14th time to attend the annual march.

“It gives me great energy and great hope, continuing to see the swell of young people every year that are standing up for life,” the 31-year-old Fort Worth man said. “For us, it’s an opportunity to raise awareness, to stand up and be a powerful witness to our belief in standing against abortion and for the sanctity of life from the moment of conception until the moment of natural death.”

Spoolstra and those traveling with him will spend about five days in the nation’s capital, on a trip they call a pilgrimage.

For some of the youths, this may be their only chance to see Washington, D.C.

So they will tour as many museums and scenic sites as they can — including visiting the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and the Saint John Paul II National Shrine — and they will attend Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle.

But the reason for their trip comes Friday, with the March for Life.

“This is what we want to stand for,” Spoolstra said. “The most important thing is that we live in a beautiful country and we have these amazing rights to assemble and let our representatives know where we want to stand.

“We stand strongly on the side of life, and we want to let our voices be heard.”

A Washington, D.C. official says the estimated turnout for the Women's March in the city now stands at a half a million. It is about double the amount of people who showed up to President Donald Trump's inauguration.

Anna Tinsley: 817-390-7610, @annatinsley