Pro-lifers experience “trial by fire” in their witness to life, archbishop says at annual Roe vs. Wade Mass

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Those who witness to life are undergoing a trial by fire, from the historic Roe vs. Wade decision, to the recent effort in St. Louis City to protect abortion and other reproductive health decisions.

More than 1,000 people attended the annual memorial Mass and prayer vigil Jan. 21 at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis. The Mass, organized by the archdiocesan Respect Life Apostolate, commemorates the 1973 Roe decision and includes a Rosary procession to Planned Parenthood.

In his homily, Archbishop Robert J. Carlson primarily focused on Board Bill 203, a proposed amendment to the St. Louis City’s anti-discrimination law, adding pregnancy and reproductive health decisions as protected classes. Reproductive health decisions, as defined by the measure, would include any decision related to to the use or intended use of any drug, device or medical service, including use of contraception or fertility control, or planned abortion. The measure is sponsored by Alderwoman Megan-Ellyia Green (D-15th Ward).

“It is an attempt to make St. Louis a sanctuary city for abortion, and the bill is built on a lie,” he said. “The fundamental good is life itself, a gift from God, a gift from our parents. … It’s a piece of legislation that attempts to make all of us participants in the abortion business. This bill is eye candy for the culture of death. It goes hand in hand with the attitude that whatever I think or believe, whatever I value or want, whatever I feel or desire, must be correct. In the Scriptures, they call that selfishness, pride.”

The archbishop called on everyone to contact their elected officials in opposition to BB203. “Let’s not wait until the end of the week,” he stressed, as the congregation at the end rose to their feet in standing ovation. "If you live in the City of St. Louis, sit down tonight and email or text or write to your alderman or alderwoman. If you live outside the City of St. Louis, make sure that you let your political leaders know how you feel. And while you’re at it, if you live outside of the City of St. Louis let the political leaders of St. Louis know whether or not you want to shop in a sanctuary city of abortion.”

In the Scriptures, St. Peter says “do no be surprised that a trial by fire is occurring among you.” The archbishop continued: “It’s a subtle trial, but the smoke of the evil one is there. Today the abortion fight is a matter of life and death, and each one of us is asked to respond to the Lord’s call to follow Him.”

The Archdiocese of St. Louis was the first in the nation to establish a Respect Life Apostolate, following the Roe decision. Each year the Mass is a way to remember those whose lives have been lost through abortion. A procession of 44 individuals carrying roses — to mark each year since the Rose decision — takes place prior to the Mass.

“We have a rich history of defending the unborn in the Archdiocese of St. Louis,” said Karen Nolkemper, executive director of the Respect Life Apostolate. “Despite enormous progress, the pro-life movement locally and nationally still faces stiff resistance. This annual Mass offers us an opportunity, through prayer and public witness, to recommit to defending life and transforming our culture.”

According to recent data from the Guttmacher Institute, abortions in Missouri have declined by about 18 percent from 2010-2014. Planned Parenthood in St. Louis is the only clinic that currently provides abortions. According to its 2014-15 annual report, Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri provided services to more than 40,000; more than 6,000 were for surgical services, abortion and permanent birth control.

Among those at the Mass were 150 teens and their chaperones from Crusaders for Life at St. John Cantius Church in Chicago. Wearing bright yellow and black sweatshirts with “LIFE” emblazoned on them, the group, known for its joyful cheers and music at the March for Life In Washington, D.C., was on a “LifeTour” across the Midwest; other stops included Springfield, Ill., and Indianapolis.

Faye Chapello, who coordinates social media for the group (Crusaders for Life is on Facebook and Instagram) said the focus is projecting a witness filled with joy — Jesus, others and yourself. “We have to put that joy forth and spread That to others.,” she said. “All these people who are struggling with abortion, no matter what situation they’re in, we want to give joy in their lives. We also maintain a prayerful life also, that’s the root of all of this. We’re not just doing this to be covered by the media.”

After Mass, about 650 people continued their witness to Planned Parenthood for a prayer. Kenrick-Glennon seminarians joined with Archbishop Carlson and others in leading the Rosary. The crowd wrapped from the entrance on Forest Park Avenue, down Boyle Avenue and across the street on Boyle

As they were praying, a woman holding signs that said “Protect Choice” and “Pro Roe” walked along the sidewalk and in through the gates of the Planned Parenthood, joining a small group of clinic escorts standing in the parking lot. Sarah Birdsall said she became an escort after having an abortion almost 30 years ago; her birth control failed, and she became pregnant right before she was about to be remarried, blending together two families. It was a “hard decision,” Birdsall said, adding that “it didn’t seem fair to all the kids. I felt it was really important to me to be able to be a really good mom to the kids I had and to be a good stepparent. I believe that women know what’s best for them. … Having daughters, I am really committed to them being able to have the same choice.”

Birdsall said she doesn’t have problem with those who protest outside of Planned Parenthood, as long as they are who are respectful and quiet. “We all have the right to our own opinion, but not when we have abusive people out here who are yelling,” she said.

Others such as Anna Kalinowski of St. Barnabas Parish in O’Fallon, said that prayerful witness makes a difference. “I think when we die we’ll be asked what we did to defend life.” She said. “I think the witness is empty if it doesn’t start with prayer. I pray for families, I pray that women understand that to be pro-life is to be pro-woman. I pray for an end for the use to contraception. It is not in line with the dignity of humans, especially women.”

>> Generation Life

More than 2,100 students, volunteers and chaperones from Catholic schools and parishes with "Generation Life" left St. Louis Jan. 25 for the 44th annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 27. The annual pilgrimage is organized by the archdiocesan Catholic Youth Apostolate. Watch coverage of their journey, including live streaming of events, photos and blog posts, at

>> Proposed legislation in St. Louis City

BB203— Ordinance regarding pregnancy and reproductive health decisions as protected classes (Sponsored by Aldwerwoman Megan Green, D-15th Ward)

BB292 — Ordinance pertaining to preventing passage to and from a health care facility and prohibiting activities near certain facilities (Sponsored by Alderwoman Christine Ingrassia, D-6th Ward)

BB295— Prohibits licensed professionals from engaging in counseling, practices or treatments with the goal to change a minor's sexual orientation or gender identity (Sponsored by Alderwoman Christine Ingrassia, D-6th Ward)

>> 2017 Missouri legislation

SB 41 — Provides protection for alternatives-to-abortion agencies. (Sponsored by Sen. Wayne Wallingford, R-Cape Girardeau)

SB 67— Modifies provisions of law relating to abortion, including donation of fetal tissue, tissue reports, abortion reports, employee disclosure policies, and abortion facility inspections. (Sposored by Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake St. Louis)

SB 96— Prohibits certain selective abortions relating to sex, race or Down Syndrome (Sponsored by Sen. David Sater, R-Cassville)

SB 196— Grants the attorney general concurrent original jurisdiction to enforce the state's abortion laws (Sponsored by Sen. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester)

SB 230 — Requires referrals for out-of-state abortions to be accompanied by specified printed materials (Sponsored by Sen. Jeanie Riddle, R-Mokane)

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