WASHINGTON – They keep coming, year after year, to press for a victory that’s nowhere in sight.
They endure an eight-hour bus trip that stretches to 10 hours in snowstorms like the one that struck this week.
And until abortion is illegal in America, the Buffalo-area residents who travel to the nation’s capital annually for the annual March for Life vow to keep on coming.
“I come here just to be a witness to life and to show that there’s hope in the world,” said Lauren Migliore, of Amherst, who joined a crowd of thousands Wednesday for her 26th March for Life.
She did so this week even though for many, there was no hope of even making it to Washington for the event. Migliore squeezed onto the last Southwest Airlines flight out of Buffalo on Tuesday before the snowstorm forced the cancellation of D.C.-bound flights.
“God wanted me here,” Migliore said.
Many other longtime attendees of the march said the same thing at what was, for most, their most difficult march yet. Enduring temperatures in the low teens and a whipping wind that pushed the wind chill below zero, longtime attendees could never remember carrying out their annual act of faith in such harsh conditions.
“It was slow and slippery getting here,” said Mary Ann Jackson, who is involved at Our Lady of Victory Basilica in Lackawanna, as well as the Catholic Daughters of America, and who has been attending the march for more than a decade.
“But that’s OK. We’re doing God’s work.”
Many other longtime attendees agreed.
“This is not just a political battle,” said Stasia Zoladz Vogel, president of the Buffalo Regional Right to Life Committee and a March for Life attendee since the early 1980s. “Ultimately, it’s a battle between good and evil. It’s evil to end a life. That’s why I’m in it. And it’s why I’ll be in it till I breathe my last.”
Still, as the marchers mourned the 41st anniversary of Roe v. Wade – the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion – the day took the shape of a political battle.
Appearing at the rally that always precedes the march, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., decried what he called an increase in access to abortion under President Obama’s health care law – which, Cantor said, Republicans will continue to oppose.
“We will continue to fight for the unborn because it is the right and moral thing to do,” Cantor said.
Meanwhile, Obama reflected on the Roe v. Wade anniversary in a statement that never mentioned the word abortion but that said: “We recommit ourselves to the decision’s guiding principle: that every woman should be able to make her own choices about her body and her health.”
The march was noticed far beyond Washington, though.
“I join the March for Life in Washington with my prayers,” Pope Francis tweeted. “May God help us respect all life, especially the most vulnerable.”
While Pope Francis has focused his papacy on mercy for the poor rather than issues in the culture wars, Bishop Richard J. Malone of the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo stressed that it’s wrong “to kind of think he’s soft on abortion.”
Speaking via phone to the crowd at a breakfast sponsored by the diocese, Malone said: “The Holy Father is leading us, as always.”
Malone was one of dozens of would-be attendees from Buffalo who could not make it to Washington because of the storm. His flight was canceled.
Others who planned on joining the bus caravans organized by the Buffalo Regional Right to Life Committee canceled their trips at the last minute, thinking the weather would be dangerously cold.
“You’re real heroes for being there,” Malone said.
Longtime attendees didn’t see it that way, though. “I want to end abortion in America,” said Elizabeth Keane, of Amherst, who has been attending the march since 1976. “We came here to be seen. It’s our day.”
And seen they were, as news cameras were prevalent in the crowd of men, women and children from across the country who rallied around a stage on the National Mall before marching to the Supreme Court.
Once again, marchers carried signs with slogans such as “I am the pro-life generation” and “Everyone deserves a lifetime.”
The overall crowd appeared smaller than usual, and abortion rights supporters, who often line the parade route, seemed fewer in number, as well.
In anticipation of the march, Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, released a statement that aimed to downplay the event’s significance. “For four decades, two-thirds of the public has supported access to safe and legal abortion. That remains consistent,” she said.
“Meanwhile, some Republican leaders continue to stand with a small, yet vocal fringe of individuals dead set on turning back the clock on safe and legal abortion access in America.”
But those who attended the march couldn’t see things more differently.
Looking out across the crowd of bundled-up older people who have been attending the march for years and the much larger number of young people proclaiming their opposition to abortion, Robert Agbo – a native of Nigeria who is now a seminarian at Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora – was inspired.
“I am deeply touched,” he said. “I used to think America was more hopeless than this. This day has corrected my impression of America.”