Western New Yorkers are among those in Washington, D.C. who have traveled there to participate in the March For Life, which is held every year on or around the anniversary of the Supreme Court decision which legalized abortion. Those attending from Western New York who identify themselves as "pro-life" say there is much more to that term than the abortion issue and they include that in their message.
Several buses rolled into Washington Thursday, leaving either the night before or very early that morning. Bob Schumacher was one of the many passengers.
"It's a wonderful cause. It gets everyone together and gives them something to look forward to the rest of the year," he said.
Many left from Catholic parishes in the Buffalo area and their trip includes prayer and spiritual reflection of their mission. While abortion will be the primary focus, those traveling to the March say being "pro-life" is much broader than one issue.
"It's a fight for the rights of the unborn and for the elderly," Schumacher said. "It's not just at the first stages of your life. It's the end stages, too."
What it is they seek to defend, travelers told WBFO, is the broader protection of the dignity of life. Issues affecting elderly persons and the handicapped, they contend, include doctor-assisted suicide. The death penalty is another issue.
"There's definitely an emphasis on life when it's most vulnerable," said Rory Reichenberg, a religious studies and theology instructor at St. Francis High School. "So it can be the unborn, the elderly, the disabled, the sick. There's many facets of life, for a variety of reasons, that are threatened in society today."
Dr. Camille Pontrello advises the Students for Life organization at Canisius College and is a returning participant in the March. She addressed critics who suggest that once an unborn individual becomes born, those who cared for its safety inside the womb back off and no longer care. Members of Students For Life, she told WBFO, have taken steps to find services and support that may be out there for students who may become pregnant while enrolled.
She explains what the president of the organization learned based on a conversation with a contact at nearby Sisters Hospital. Among the support they may offer are delivery and post-natal needs, at no cost to the mother.
"They're not allowed to advertise it but we could tell the students that these services are available," Pontrello said. "We immediately put it together in our welcome booklet when they're coming for tours and when they're beginning students at Canisius. Should this happen, no people who have an unexpected pregnancy have to stop going to school."
Furthermore, the group is exploring opportunities to arrange housing for new mothers and their babies, with dormitories not an option. Petrello says they recently learned of one nearby household willing to accommodate such students.
While religion has long been blended with the anti-abortion movement, Reichenberg says it should not be the primary strategy for debating the issue, because faiths vary. Logic and even advancements in science, he suggests, are more effective.
"It's hard to argue based on religion. It really needs to be based on the merits, pro or con, scientifically," he said. "As science advances, children are born earlier and earlier, premature, but yet survive outside the womb. I think it helps people realize what we're talking about. How quickly life develops, how it can survive and it should be protected."
Dr. Pontrello has walked with like-minded peers before and mentioned quiet demonstrations back in Western New York at other times of the year, including a "chain of life" which annually lines up along Niagara Falls Boulevard. Reactions to those demonstrators range from indifference to vulgar gestures or catcalls.
She was asked how she carries on in the face of the latter reaction.
"The people who take us over on the buses make sure that we're ready, saying this is what you're going to see, this is what could happen," Pontrello replied. "You just keep praying. You pray the Rosary and don't entertain, you know?"
Thursday evening, a Vigil Mass was held at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Friday morning, a youth rally was scheduled at the Capital One Center in advance of the March.
Upon arriving in Washington Thursday, Reichenberg and some of his students made another stop, to the Holocaust Memorial. It is, according to the teacher, an ideal place to enhance the experience the mission they came for.
"Of all the museums that are here, this one really highlights the dignity of life and what happens when people don't value it," he said.