Pro-lifers carve space for themselves at Women’s March

Pro-lifers participate in the Women’s March on Washington, Jan. 21. (Addie Mena/CNA0

By Adelaide Mena
Catholic News Agency

WASHINGTON (CNA/EWTN News) — Amid signs proclaiming “Keep Your Rosaries Off My Ovaries,” “#IstandWithPlannedParenthood”, and a host of other homemade posters ranging from the snarky to the explicit at the Women’s March on Washington, pro-life women staked a spot in support of women’s dignity — and against abortion.

Their presence became a point of contention earlier in the week after pro-life feminist organization New Wave Feminists had their partnership in the Women’s March revoked for their pro-life views.

The withdrawal of partnership status, however, didn’t stop pro-life women from joining in the Women’s March on Washington, nor from promoting their pro-life views.

“Since when do we wait to be invited to stuff?” Destiny Herndon de la Rosa, president of New Wave Feminists, said to CNA at the Women’s March. “If you don’t feel like you have a spot carved out, then be the one to forge that platform, be the one to carve out that spot.”

The Women’s March on Washington was held Jan. 21, the day after the inauguration of President Donald Trump. While the march was held primarily to support women and other groups seen as marginalized within American society, organizers said the event was also meant to send a “bold message” on a variety of topics. Earlier in January, the group released a list of guiding principles — including “open access to safe, legal, affordable abortion and birth control for all people.”

More than 100 organizations, including Planned Parenthood, were listed as official partners of the main Washington, D.C. March. Originally the list included New Wave Feminists and other pro-life organizations such as And Then There Were None, but their status was removed because of their pro-life stance.

The Women’s March on Washington drew at least an estimated 400,000, with hundreds of thousands of participants in similar marches around the country.

Reagan Barklage, Midwest Regional Director for Students for Life of America, said the opposition to the pro-life message was felt by herself and other pro-life women with whom she marched.

“It was ridiculous and it was just really vulgar and disgusting to see the signs these women had, the chants they were saying,” Barklage told CNA. The group’s presence and pro-life banners drew stiff backlash, she recalled. Some men tore up Barklage’s signs, while others “spit on one of our staff and shoved the megaphone into her face.”

Mary Solitario, 21, center, a Catholic from Virginia, joins a pro-life demonstration outside the U.S. Supreme Court prior to the Women’s March on Washington Jan. 21. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

The opposition became even more physical as march participants shoved and pushed over Barklage and former Planned Parenthood manager and And Then There Were None president Abby Johnson, who is pregnant with twins.

“It was really intense and it was crazy,” Barklage recounted.

Despite the pushback, Barklage told CNA the pro-life message needed to be heard at the Women’s March. “We actually wanted to partner with them before we knew that abortion was going to be involved.”

After Planned Parenthood was announced as a partner and abortion became a part of the event’s platform, she continued, Students for Life solidified their determination to participate and to represent women who have been harmed by abortion.

“We are going to represent women who have been betrayed by abortion and the preborn women who don’t have a voice.”

Barklage added that the group ended up technically leading the Women’s March, jumping in front of the crowd with banners stating, “Abortion Betrays Women.”

Hernon de la Rosa told CNA that while initially the response to their anti-abortion position was negative and lead to the removal of their partnership status, the New Wave Feminists actually received support in the face of opposition.

She pointed in a Facebook post to a message she had received from one of the organizers of the Pussyhat Project, a cat-ear hat knitting project organized for the March. De la Rosa recounted that one of the organizers asked New Wave Feminists to march with them, explaining that she was pro-life herself and had chosen life during an unplanned pregnancy.

Throughout the March, New Wave Feminists and other pro-life groups near them received sharp questions and some derisive looks, but they also received numerous messages of encouragement and support from fellow protestors. During the course of the rally, several people asked if they could take a “I am a Pro-Life Feminist” sign for themselves, sharing that they were pro-life. Similar shows of support and requests to join were also experienced by pro-lifers marching with Students for Life of America.

Other protestors, like Jennifer — a pro-choice participant in the March from Chicago — told pro-life feminists that while they were not pro-life themselves, they were happy to see a pro-life contingent at the Women’s March. “It’s just frustrating because it’s not an either or-situation — it’s just another way to divide us,” Jennifer told CNA of the march’s opposition to pro-life groups. “They should be here. We should welcome each other.”

Pro-life women also held their own events outside of the Women’s March in support of women. The Archdiocese of Washington hosted an online Women’s Rosary the morning asking women to “pray a Rosary in thanksgiving for the gift of the feminine genius and for the grace to become guardians of culture.”

“It is sad that all women are not included in the March for Women tomorrow, and we felt like we wanted to do something that celebrated all women,” Kim Fiorentino, chancellor of the Archdiocese of Washington, said in the archdiocesan, The Catholic Standard. “We believe the Blessed Mother is a wonderful role model for all women, and we know she intervenes for us.”

Cessilye Smith, a doula and representative of New Wave Feminists, told CNA that despite varying opinions, there is much that people at the march had in common. She pointed to her own belief that “every life is valuable from the womb to the tomb” and added that that belief in a consistent ethic of life drives her to help address other women’s issues, such as providing food and financial support to help women choose life during a crisis pregnancy.

“We have so much more in common than we do apart,” Smith exclaimed. “We can really get some things done, we can really provide excellent resources and excellent care for the whole woman and her baby.”