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Pro-life advocates fill streets throughout country, including in Norwalk

By staff and wire reporters • Jan 22, 2018 at 2:00 AM

Thousands of people carrying signs plastered with slogans such as "Smile, your mom chose life" and "Babes are a miracle" marched through streets in various communities throughout the country this weekend.

Some of the marches took place Saturday, others on Sunday, including the Right To Life March in Norwalk.

Today marks the 45th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion.

The weekend marches also coincided with the anniversary of President Donald Trump’s inauguration.

“Under my administration, we will always defend the very first right in the Declaration of Independence, and that is the right to life,” Trump said Friday in the White House Rose Garden, in a speech that was broadcast to the marchers gathered near the Washington Monument, the Washington Post reported.

Many anti-abortion activists were heartened by the election of Trump, who promised sweeping anti-abortion legislation during his campaign. In the year since, abortion rights have indeed started to be chipped away.

Neil Gorsuch, thought to be staunchly anti-abortion, was named to the Supreme Court, renewing hope Roe v. Wade could someday be overturned. Funding for international health groups who distribute abortion information was also cut. More recently, Trump officials indicated they’d seek protections for medical workers who oppose abortion.

Tom Hoehn, who helped organize a vigil in Mankato, Minn., said the changes have been encouraging.

“You’ve got to be encouraged,” he said. “It’s all leading to the same end, to respect life and protect life.”

Some of those marching called on legislators to further restrict funding to Planned Parenthood, ban late-term abortions and increase funding for adoption programs and the resources for women who connect them to such programs.

But just as much as changing laws, Hoehn said the movement is about changing hearts so people don’t feel like they need to seek an abortion in the first place.

“The main thing is to have a change of heart to protect life,” he said. “Laws can only do so much.”

In Fort Madison, Iowa, the participants, many of them local Catholics, were marching in the annual Right To Life March — a tradition that goes back before some of the marchers were born.

"Our first one was 40 years ago," said Sue Dunlay, chief organizer of the march that took place there Saturday. "I was pregnant with twins."

Dunlay has been marching to protest abortion since the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision was enacted. She never imagined she would be marching for so long.

"I thought, 'We won't have to do this again next year. They'll have this figured out. Boy was I wrong," Dunlay said with a laugh.

The anti-abortion rally in Washington, D.C.takes place the Saturday closest to Jan. 22.

"When this Roe v. Wade first came out, there was a bracelet that I had sent for to wear. I was going to wear it until this (legalized abortion) ended. But do you think I could find it today?" said Houghton, Iowa resident Shirley Hunhold.

Hunhold didn't let a missing bracelet stop her. She had been meaning to join the march of years and was delighted to finally make it there Saturday. It was her first march.

"The loss of a child is hard. I cannot imagine anyone deliberately eliminating their child," she said.

Having lost her second child due to complications from a premature birth, Hunhold understands a mother's pain more than most.

"I just think how hard it is to lose a little one. I sympathize with the women who make that choice (abortion). I haven't had to make that choice, so I can't be in their shoes," she said.

Many of the marchers were children, and some felt as strongly about the issue as their parents. Michael Hollister, 11, of Fort Madison kept a steady beat for the march by continually banging on a snare drum wrapped around his waist.

He did the same thing last year and the year before, and has come to take pride in leading the march. A sea of pro-life signs signs constructed by Holy Trinity Catholic School students bobbed up and down behind him.

"Although (babies) may not look okay when they first come out, a life is a life. To be honest, everyone should be able to live one. Whether it's someone you don't want, or not. If you don't want them, give them up for adoption," he said.

The march wound through downtown Fort Madison without incident, snaking it's way from Central Park across Avenue G and back again.

"In the image of Almighty God, (babies) are a gift to creation," said Ruth Coffey of Wever.

Coffey was walking arm in arm with one of her best friends, Twila Peitz of Fort Madison. They've been marching together for at least decade. Probably longer.

"To think that a mother would feel the only option is to kill her baby, is just unthinkable," Peitz said.

Many showed unity for the pro-life movement by bringing out their entire families. Alan and Jessica Menke of Fort Madison were marching alongside their four daughters, ranging in age from 2 to 7.

"We just love kids, and we want to support the cause," Alan said.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Will Smith of The Hawk Eye in Burlington, Iowa (TNS) and Brian Arola of The Free Press, Mankato, Minn. (TNS) contributed to this story.

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