Pro-lifers from across the state filled Washington Street during the biennial Arizona for Life March Jan. 18 in downtown Phoenix. (Jesús Valencia/CATHOLIC SUN)

They came by the busload from across Arizona to send a message to lawmakers and the world: Abortion is a grave injustice, and they stand ready to love and assist women in crisis pregnancies.

A couple pushes their child in a stroller at a gathering at Cesar Chavez Memorial Plaza prior to the biennial Arizona for Life March and Rally Jan. 18. (Jesús Valencia/CATHOLIC SUN)

Not only that — speakers at the event said they want to help abortion workers leave the industry and join the movement to safeguard life. Conversion ought to be the goal of the pro-life movement, said keynote speaker Abby Johnson. The one-time director of a Planned Parenthood facility worked for the abortion giant until the day she was asked to assist with an abortion and quit. Her story was the subject of the 2019 movie “Unplanned.”

Phoenix police blocked off Washington Street east of Caesar Chavez Memorial Plaza all the way to the Arizona State Capitol grounds — a good mile-and-a-half — as thousands of pro-lifers bearing signs, banners and red roses marched past city hall, with chanting and cheers rippling through the crowd.

They pushed wheelchairs and strollers, tugged wagons with small children and stood about 20 abreast as groups of teens and young adults, grandparents, Knights of Columbus and soccer moms paraded down the street. Organizers said it was the largest March for Life they’d ever recorded. Phoenix police estimated the crowd to number 7,000-10,000.

Vienna Franz places a rose on a memorial at Wesley Bolin Plaza during the biennial Arizona for Life Rally Jan. 18 at Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza. Franz’s parents chose to give birth after physicians advised her mother abort when she went into labor prematurely. (Jesús Valencia/CATHOLIC SUN)

Local sports radio personality Doug Franz got the throng revved up as the event got underway, relating the story of his daughter’s premature birth. Franz’s wife went into labor at 21 weeks — barely halfway through the pregnancy — and seven of the 10 physicians who treated her recommended abortion.

“We didn’t listen,” Franz said. His daughter, Vienna, turned 20 the day of the rally and Franz had the crowd sing “Happy Birthday” to her. “I want you to sing so loud, Washington hears you,” Franz said. “This is an example of a child that doctors said shouldn’t be here, and now she is.”

As the thousands of attendees filled in Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza in front of the capitol complex to listen to an array of speakers — some of them giving their remarks in both English and Spanish — they were flanked by a wall bedecked with red roses — some 12,438 of them, to be exact.

That was the number Elisa Medina, executive director of Hands of Hope Tucson, pointed to during her time on stage. The myriad roses, she said, “represent the 12,438 little boys and girls” who died from abortion in Arizona in 2018. It’s difficult to fathom the millions who perish from abortion each year but “we can help 12,438 kiddos — we can do that,” Medina noted.

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted (left) and Gov. Doug Ducey (right) listen attentively to speakers at the biennial Arizona for Life Rally Jan. 18 at Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza. (Jesús Valencia/CATHOLIC SUN)

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted led the crowd in a prayer that drew on rich scriptural references including Jeremiah, Zechariah and the Virgin Mary. “We are here to show our gratitude to God for every life,” the bishop said. “We firmly believe every single person has dignity — not for what they do, but for who they are.”

Andrea Friedman, director of Voice for the Voiceless, also spoke onstage, noting that “as young women, we were taught to fear pregnancy. Society has pitted us against our children.” She challenged the crowd to stand up and defend women in unplanned pregnancies. “Be her advocate not just for the next nine months, but for the next 90 years,” Friedman urged.

Gov. Doug Ducey drew applause with his statement that “every human being has an intrinsic right to life” and that “in Arizona, we are again proud to be the most pro-life state in the country.” He promised to move forward with increased funding for more adoptions and to “help keep families together.”

Mayra Rodriguez, who won a $3 million wrongful termination lawsuit against Planned Parenthood, shares her testimony at the biennial Arizona for Life Rally Jan. 18 at Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza. (Jesús Valencia/CATHOLIC SUN)

Ryan Bomberger, who was adopted as an infant and grew up in a multiracial family of 15, is also an adoptive father. “My birth mom chose to be courageous,” Bomberger told the assembly as he challenged them to be courageous themselves. “Courage doesn’t need a crowd — just conviction. Some of the best things in life are unplanned.”

Mayra Rodriguez, a former Planned Parenthood employee who left the abortion business after years of people praying for her, spoke of the Divine Mercy pamphlet Fr. Don Kline left on her car one day. “I’m standing here because of all your prayers,” she said. “It took 17 years for me to walk out of there, but I did.”

Those were words that brought Johnson to tears.

“Ten years ago, I walked out of Planned Parenthood,” Johnson said as the crowd cheered. She spoke about wanting to help other abortion workers leave the industry. People were skeptical and told her abortion workers were “too far gone.” She began reaching out and “they came, not one at a time, but five and six and 10 at a time. Entire clinics were drained of their abortion staff,” Johnson said.

Abby Johnson, whose memoir “UnPlanned” chronicling her journey from being a Planned Parenthood facility director to becoming a pro-life advocate was turned into a hit movie last year, delivers the keynote address at the biennial Arizona for Life Rally Jan. 18 at Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza. (Jesús Valencia/CATHOLIC SUN)

“If it’s just about one baby, it’s transactional … we in the pro-life movement are transformational.” No one, Johnson added, walks into an abortion clinic excited to be there. “They walk in because they have no options.”

Planned Parenthood, Johnson said, is going to “put $45 million toward electing radical, pro-abortion candidates” in the upcoming presidential election, but the Susan B. Anthony List, which supports pro-life politicians “got $52 million. And we are no longer going to be bullied by organizations like Planned Parenthood.”

Michelle Waters of St. Mary Parish in Chandler was one of thousands who stood listening to the various speakers. She said she prays outside of the Tempe Planned Parenthood each week and was very encouraged by Johnson’s remarks.

“For anyone who thinks they are alone and wants to leave the abortion industry — they need to listen to her words and know they are true. We are here for them and want to win them with love.”