As hundreds of pro-life demonstrators marched toward the Arkansas State Capitol encircling each side, 8-year-old Theresa Roca was doing her best to hold up the middle of the large banner from Immaculate Conception Church in North Little Rock that read, “We stand for life.”
With her parents Vince and Jeanette Roca holding each end, it was the portrait of what it means to stand up for life as a family.
“My mom and dad said that babies are a gift from God,” the shy Theresa explained.
The 38th annual March for Life, sponsored by Arkansas Right to Life, aims to bring attention to pro-life issues. The focus this year was on three women speakers, who shared how abortion impacted their lives.
“I hear all the time from people they want to hear from women, I just thought the time was right,” said Rose Mimms, executive director of Arkansas Right to Life. Andy Mayberry, president of Arkansas Right to Life, led the march and political leaders, including Gov. Asa Hutchinson, U.S. Sen. John Boozman, U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, Second District U.S. Rep. French Hill and Fourth District U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman, were in attendance and spoke to the crowd.
Vince and Jeanette Roca, who have three other adult children, said at least one member of the family has attended the march since 1993.
“We just think it’s a great community wide peaceful protest of something I want stopped,” said Jeannette Roca, who is a religion teacher at Immaculate Conception School. “Life, even unanticipated life, is precious. They’re a child of God.”
Before the speakers took the podium to address the crowd, Catholics around the state had been recognizing the sacredness of life throughout the weekend. Saturday, Jan. 16 kicked off Weekend Extravaganza, a pro-life youth retreat sponsored by the diocese’s Catholic Youth Ministry Office. The diocesan Respect Life Office organized a Vigil for Life at the Cathedral of St. Andrew on Saturday night, with parishes praying at adoration throughout the night. A Rosary for Life was held before the Mass for Life on Sunday, which was moved back this year to the Cathedral. Bishop Anthony B. Taylor explained in his homily that the Gospel reading (John 2:1-11) the wedding at Cana was more than just a wedding running out of wine, but that the wine had symbolic implications of a happy and fruitful marriage, one blessed with children.
“Taking the abundant wine of new life and pouring it out on the ground,” is what happens in an intentional abortion, Bishop Taylor said.
During the Mass, parents who have lost a child were allowed to come up to the altar and place a rose in their memory. Sarah Barryman, a member of St. Joseph Church in Fayetteville, attended the Mass for Life for the first time while her daughter Johanna was with the youth during Weekend Extravaganza.
“After Johanna, my husband and I tried desperately to have another child. I wound up having two miscarriages,” Barryman said through tears. “I did feel at peace for the first time,” by attending the Mass.
A youth Mass was held for the first time before the Mass for Life, giving the younger pro-life crowd a chance to come together and worship.
One of the key pro-life conversations Mimms said Arkansas Right to Life wanted to bring to the forefront was the conversation about rape and incest.
“Abortion is thought to be a quick easy solution especially in the case of rape and incest,” said Mimms, a member of St. Theresa Church in Little Rock, “What kind of message is that sending to women who have been raped … and to their children? Their life is no less valuable than yours and mine. The circumstance of our conception has no bearing on who we are and what we will become. We want people to leave the march with a different perspective.”
Lekita Gaynor, volunteer coordinator for Arkansas Right to Life’s Black Americans for Life chapter, told the story of a 15-year-old girl who was raped and chose to give birth to her twins despite being told that an abortion would be better for her life.
“Thankfully this young girl knew in her heart that murdering her children would not undo the crime committed against her,” Gaynor said. “ … You see that brave, beautiful woman was my mother. She was my and my brother’s life saver.”
Also sharing a story of rape was Lindsey Overman, who helped testify in support of the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which was passed in 2013. She was raped in college and gave birth to a disabled child. The single mother was told she should abort her daughter not only because of the rape, but because she was disabled.
“She changed my life. She does not walk, she does not talk, but she is the most amazing person I have ever met,” Overman said. “She has touched so many lives and is the biggest blessing I have ever had.”
Carrie Jones, with the Jefferson County Right to Life, told the crowd how her two abortions did not solve the problems she thought she had in her life. She is a mother to one son and after her abortions, lost a child to miscarriage.
“He told me I would feel pressure as I heard a machine turn on. I didn’t like the sound, I didn’t like what I was hearing,” Jones said, describing her abortion. “Tears filled my eyes as I started to hear a suction machine taking objects up into its tubing. I knew at that moment my baby was being suctioned out in pieces. No one told me this is what was going to happen.”
This year, Arkansas Right to Life is working to make dismemberment abortions or D&E’s illegal in Arkansas. Started in July 2015, an educational petition drive was shared in churches and across the state and will continue to be circulated until December. In 2017, the organization will push for the passage of the Ban on Dismemberment Abortion, which two other states, Kansas and Oklahoma, have already passed.
“It’s a common abortion procedure. It happened over 600 times in Arkansas in 2014,” Mimms said, citing stats from the Arkansas Department of Health. The procedure typically happens when the unborn child is larger. “They literally take the baby apart to get them out … They crush the skull to get the head out. It’s terrible. People don’t understand this is happening in Arkansas as we speak.”
While it’s only a weekend of pro-life events, Mimms hopes people will take the messages heard throughout the event to heart.
“Not only say you’re pro-life but act pro-life,” Mimms said. “I’m hoping we’ll change some hearts and minds of people who only think they’re pro-life.”
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