WASHINGTON, D.C. — Since the controversial Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision in 1973 that made abortion legal in the United States, members of the pro-life movement have gathered every January in peaceful protest.
In addition to local vigils and rallies, tens of thousands of marchers travel annually to Washington D.C. to make their voices heard for the pro-life agenda. The event is usually held on Jan. 22, the anniversary of the ruling, but was moved back this year because of the presidential inauguration.
Among those attending the 44th National March for Life on Jan. 27, 2017, was a contingent of 41 students from Lehman Catholic High School in Sidney. Lehman Principal/CEO Denise Stauffer said that Lehman has been attending the March for as long as she can remember.
“I am always pleased to see the number of students interested in going every year and supporting the Right to Life,” said Stauffer.
This year, there was a renewed optimism in the air since the new administration in Washington is decidedly pro-life. Supporters of the movement are hopeful that new conservative appointees to the Supreme Court will tip the balance towards a more anti-abortion stance and even consider repealing Roe v. Wade.
Several students mentioned that they thought it was great that the newly elected vice president, Mike Pence, was planning to speak at the event, the first time a sitting president or vice president was to appear. Other speakers included White House Advisor Kellyanne Conway, Archbishop of New York Cardinal Timothy Nolan, and Baltimore Ravens tight end Benjamin Watson. Security was tight and all marchers had to go through airport-type screening as they gathered on the grounds of the Washington Monument.
Stauffer noted that the event is a pilgrimage for the Lehman students, not a field trip or sightseeing junket. Before going on the trip, students are reminded that they are there to be advocates for the unborn. Part of the experience is realizing that, in a democracy, political debate over sensitive issues is allowed and all voices have the right to be heard. What is affirming is the knowledge that there are many people who embrace the pro-life position across the nation and they are not alone in their beliefs.
Lehman junior Alanna O’Leary, 16, was excited to attend the March for the second time.
“It is really cool to see so many young people there supporting the pro-life cause,” she said. “Everyone there is enthusiastic and it is fun to go with a group of friends. Being there for the second time was much better than I imagined it would be. The highlight for me was sharing it with my schoolmates and the adults with us as we stood up for what we believed. I plan to attend the March again next year and in years to come, with each being better than the last.”
O’Leary is the daughter of Rob and Rosie O’Leary of Piqua.
“I liked going with my classmates, but I also had the good fortune to meet many other high school students from all over the country,” said senior John Henry Frantz, 18, who was also attending his second March. “Everything was amazing but the true highlight was listening to the many pro-life speakers and public figures, especially Vice President Mike Pence. Marching along Constitution Avenue with thousands upon thousands of people with a common cause is quite an experience. I plan to travel back to D.C. in 2018, but instead of marching to help change legislation and the hearts and minds of my fellow citizens, I hope to be marching a walk of victory for the lives of the unborn.”
Frantz is the son of John and Julia Frantz of Sidney.
The Lehman group left Thursday evening on a charter bus and arrived in Washington around 6 p.m. on Friday. The first activity was a Youth Rally and Catholic Mass at the Armory on East Capitol Street. Following the Mass, the students took the subway to the Mall where they joined thousands of others to hear speeches and march together to the Supreme Court building. They re-boarded the subway to head to Pentagon City for dinner and then back to the bus for the trip home. They arrived back in Sidney around 6 a.m. Saturday morning. The 72-hour journey was tiring but inspiring.
Sophomore Sara Gibson, 16, was looking forward to the trip because she is passionate about the abortion issue. “Sleeping on the bus and all that makes for the hard and long weekend but it is worth it when you know you are doing it for all the souls who have been lost because of abortion,” she said. She is the daughter of Joe and Sonia Gibson of Tipp City.
Father James Riehle from Holy Angels Parish in Sidney, who serves as Lehman’s chaplain, was among the adult chaperones who accompanied the students.
“I have been to the March for Life eight or nine times and what is most remarkable is that it is a most joyful, amazing experience with no agitation at all,” he said. “There are thousands of young people of high school and college age in the crowd and they are just celebrating the joy of life, the gift of life. There are all Faiths represented but it seems overwhelmingly Catholic. You see images of Mary the Virgin Mother everywhere.”
Lehman senior Parker Riley, 18, said, “It was my first time going. I didn’t really know much about pro-life before coming to Lehman. So I didn’t know what to expect but I knew there would be a lot of people, a lot of walking, and a really good time.” His sister Lauren, 15 and a sophomore, was also a first time attendee.
“I am a big supporter of the Right to Life so I felt like I needed to go and it was an unforgettable experience.” she said. “The best part was listening to Pence and all of the speakers because all of them gave all of us hope to finally stop abortion. Marching with such a large group of people gave me some sort of content feeling; so many people working together to stand up for something.” Their parents are Dave and Jackie Riley of Sidney.
Other students going on the trip were Kaitrin O’Leary, Jacob Schmiesing, Clare Schmiesing, Josh Armstrong, Kaylyn Armstrong, Will Hoersten, Aaron Topp, Sophia Flood, Jacquie Schemmel, Lindsey Elsner, Elizabeth Gibson, Samantha Edwards, Grace Monnin, Miriam Bezy, Elias Bezy, Cole Kramer, Maria Adams, Sam Ritze, Mitchell Sollmann, Theresa Flood, Mary-Kate Haas, Brieanna Werling, Kara Gillman,
Kiera Burns, Ellie Scott, Tyler Lachey, Grace Olding, Chris Goettemoeller, Grace Dexter, Lauren Larger, Ryan Goettemoeller, Jack White, Joe Ritze, Theresa Schmiesing, Alex Vanderhorst, and Kirstyn Lee.
In addition to Father Riehle, the students were accompanied by former Lehman parents Kelly Staudt and Les Berning, Lehman faculty member Leah Bertke, and Jeff Stegbauer, a seminary intern currently serving at Holy Angels.
“I have been pro-life and a feminist all my life,” said Bertke who teaches science classes at the school. “Some people don’t think those two things go together but I disagree. What could be more supportive of femininity than rejoicing in our unique God-given ability to bring new life into the world.”
Members of the Lehman Catholic Pro-Lifeguards club are active throughout the year, attending the local March for Life sponsored by the Shelby County Right to Life, holding a vigil at the abortion clinic in Kettering, and putting up an annual display of 3,000 white crosses on the school campus to represent babies who have been aborted.
This writer is a regular contributor to the Sidney Daily News.