BY James Farrell | February 15 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print


The Scots marching for the right to life

James Farrell joins a group of pro-life advocates on a pilgrimage to the March for Life in Washington.

There were many starting points for the hundreds of thousands of pro-lifers who marched on Washington DC in January—for one group, Glasgow International Airport was the launching pad for a week campaigning for the rights of the unborn.

SPUC Scotland took a group of 15 to the annual US pro-life event. As the pilgrims prepared to depart, Emmet Dooley, one of the SPUC leaders, gathered the group to deliver a message.

“This is a pilgrimage for life, and as with all pilgrimages you’re going to have to go without,” he said.

“Whether it be a bed, a bit of heat or even your mobile internet, each of you will go without. It’s what you do with it that matters. Whatever special intention you have, offer it up and it will be worth it.”

I was one of the 15 to make the trip, on what would be my first trip outside Europe. Like Sam-wise Gamgee in The Lord of the Rings, I had that moment of stopping myself to savour the fact it would be the furthest away from home I’d ever been.

On reflection, those words were a great gift to receive; they stuck with me throughout the week in Washington. Each day, in one way or another, I would discover a little more about what our pro-lifers from Scotland (and further afield) go without, what they suffer but most importantly, why.


After a day of travelling, the group touched down in Washington DC with little problem. Well, apart from Karima, one of the girls travelling with us who was taken aside twice while flying for further questioning. “Oh yeah it happens every time I fly,” she said nonplussed. “It’s because of my name.”

Our final challenge was to pass the US border control. Louise Grant of SPUC Scotland again pulled us aside for some more instructions.

“When they ask what you’re here for try not to answer with the March For Life. One year we were delayed for hours because they thought we were here to protest against the government.”

As the single files to each box depleted I practiced my lines and approached the guard, slouched back on his chair with hand outstretched waiting for my passport.

“What’s your reason for entering?” he said with eyes fixed on my passport. ‘Sightseeing.’ I said fluffing my lines. “Ok, why here and not… New York?” “The monuments,” I said.

We had officially entered the US and I was officially sightseeing—monuments.

A short airport shuttle journey and we arrived at our final destination, St Stephen Martyr’s Church, Pennsylvania Avenue. Not far from the White House, the church was frequented by President John F Kennedy and his wife, Jackie. Their pew has its own commemorative plaque.

Each step in Washington DC breathed some whisper of the political history of the nation and with it offered a nudge of encouragement that great things could be achieved by people for the good of others. Not least to mention the hearty serving of spaghetti and meatballs rustled up by our host Mgr Paul Dudziak.

We were thankful to be provided with an air mattress each. The girls were moved into a half complete room of some description and the boys found cover in some of the parish offices. ‘You’re going to have to go without,’ were the words ringing in our ears at the end of that long day.


The next day allowed us some free time to explore Washington DC. First stop was the Lincoln Memorial, where Abraham is enshrined on his chair. There we stood and looked down to the Washington Monument, on the spot where Martin Luther King Jr delivered his ‘I have a dream’ speech.

Then on to his own monument, where he stands carved out of rock surrounded by his enlightened and inspiring words: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

Mulling over these words on our way to the Franklin D Roosevelt memorial, one of the girls told us of messages she received from a friend attacking her for attending the march, and all the political baggage associated with it—you know, Trump.

Her friend explained that her being there and choosing to take a pro-life stance was threatening their friendship.

And with a shrug of the shoulders we moved on. With almost the entire group being university age, that was all too common an experience. Being openly pro-life, being seen and being heard to be at a pro-life event was going to lose you friends.

Popularity can be a big thing in a young person’s life, losing it even bigger. “You’re going to have to go without.”

At the Roosevelt Memorial some of the group, each of them students, posed for a photo in front of these words from the presidents ‘four freedoms speech’: “Freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear.”

Why the significance? Each of the students have been denied freedom of speech on their university campuses back home in Scotland, and all, I assume, are not free from fear because of their pro-life views.

With a grim laugh, Grace and Jamie pointed out that the Students Representative Council (SRC) of the University of Glasgow denied pro-life students freedom of speech when it refused to affiliate the Glasgow Students for Life society.

The SRC was, however, perfectly happy to allow groups such as Medical Students for Choice and the pro-euthanasia society, Dignity in Dying.

Grace and Jamie will continue on with their Glasgow Students for Life society—they’ll just have to go without the support of their students union. Without room rentals, without advertisement of events and with no presence at the Freshers Fair. All the while university students will be handed an unchallenged perspective on life issues.


The next three days saw the group plunge into the concentration of pro-life events and conferences. The group heard from different pro-life organisations that work to create a culture of life.

One of the organisations we heard from was Hope Story, which was set up by Rick Smith, a father of three children, one of whom has Down’s syndrome.

He gave testimony to the fact that many doctors recommend abortion to parents who receive a prenatal Down’s syndrome diagnosis. One friend of his had in fact felt pressured by her doctor to abort her child.

Her doctor asked her multiple times if she was sure about her decision. “Her husband wasn’t there, the doctor cornered her in the office without her husband and said, ‘are you sure you want to do this?’ She said ‘I do,’ and the doctor went on to say, ‘I have a staff member who is very Catholic and even she aborted a child that potentially had Down’s syndrome.’”

That woman and her husband changed doctors after that experience.

Mr Smith said that there were two main problems to tackle. First, doctors aren’t trained on how to deliver a Down’s syndrome diagnosis with hope; and the majority of obstetricians and gynaecologists don’t have a personal relationship with someone with Down’s syndrome.

The solution, he said, was simple: having personal relationships with those in the medical community could save lives.

Hope Story advocates are volunteer parents of children with Down’s syndrome who get in contact with doctors. When that doctor has to give a diagnosis to parents that they are going to have a child with Down’s syndrome they offer to put them in contact with Hope Story.

The Hope Story advocates show these new parents what life is like with a Down’s syndrome child, allowing those new parents to come into their home and see their day-to-day lives. Those personal relationships save lives.

“As a dad eight years in to this journey I can tell you our son Noah has been one of the biggest blessings in our life. We wouldn’t change one chromosome. Our life is better because of Noah, other people’s lives are better because of Noah, and I believe there are babies alive today because of Noah,” Mr Smith said.


During our pilgrimage, we also heard from from David Daleiden who exposed the sale of baby body parts by Planned Parenthood, the largest single provider of abortion in the US, and Rebecca Keisling, a woman who had been conceived in rape and maintains that all life is precious, even those conceived from such a horrific crime.

We also heard the story of one Indian woman who had killed six of her own daughters in the hope of having a son. She never had a son.

I couldn’t help but think of my own six sisters when hearing that story. While abortion on the grounds of gender alone is illegal in the United Kingdom, women seeking such a procedure may give other reasons for why they want to have an abortion.

The Students for Life conference offered great lessons in apologetics from Stephanie Grey and Josh Brahm. Mr Brahm, of Equal Rights Blog, challenged the inconsistency of pro-choice arguments.

Pro-choice logic argues that a woman should have autonomy over anything happening in her body, he said. If so, then it logically follows that there should be no restrictions on abortion— this extremist position is not held by the majority of those who use this argument to justify abortion.


On the day of the March for Life, we attended a youth Mass and rally in the Capital One Arena with 20,000 other young people. From there we joined the streams of people heading towards the National Mall.

There, along with hundreds of thousands of other people, we heard from cross-party pro-life politicians, the vice president Mike Pence, an ecumenical group lead by Cardinal DiNardo, president of the Bishops Conference of America, and Ben Shapiro, the key-note speaker and political commentator.

Mr Shapiro said: “Just this week, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that pro-lifers were not in line with ‘where we are as a society.’

“Well, you know what? Maybe they’re right. Maybe we, today, here, are not in line with society.

“We do live in a time where the Democratic Party has embraced abortion as a sacrament. And by the way, many in the Republican Party spent years pledging to defund Planned Parenthood and didn’t do it when they were given the power to do so.

“We live in a time when pro-life nations around the world are loosening their own restrictions on the killing of the unborn.

“So perhaps we are out of line with the rest of society, to which I say: good.

“So were the abolitionists. So were the Civil Rights marchers. So were the martyrs in Rome and the Jews in Egypt.

“Righteousness doesn’t have to be popular, it just has to be righteous.”

Recently, in Virginia and New York bills advocating for unrestricted abortion have been debated. Delegate Kathy Tran was questioned on her bill’s lack of restrictions.

Asked if she would allow abortions if a woman ‘has physical signs she’s about to give birth… she’s dilating,’ Ms Tran responded in the affirmative: her bill would allow abortions in such cases. New York Governor Cuomo recently signed a similar bill into state legislature to a standing ovation.

Members of the pro-choice community in the US are becoming more extreme, and they are becoming more extreme because they are scared.

Why? Because the pro-life train of thought is right and just. We have science on our side, logic on our side, we care for women, the disabled, the vulnerable.

Our students make sacrifices striving to create a culture of life in our country. The pro-life societies will continue to fight for freedom of speech and will continue to offer help to those who seek it. The students will continue to be outcasts among their peers because they believe that every life has worth and value.

We will continue to go without in a society that despises us. And we will continue to fight for life. Will you help?


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