Editor's note: This story was originally published in Capital News Service.
Demonstrators gathered in downtown Richmond on Wednesday to advocate for anti-abortion legislation as a part of Defending Life Day and the fifth annual Virginia March for Life.
Hundreds of people traveled from across the state for the first “Virginia Pro-Life Day” after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last June. Abortion has remained a topic at the forefront of the ongoing General Assembly session. Senate Democrats recently blocked several Republican bills to restrict abortion access and advanced legislation that would enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution.
March for Life organizers worked closely with the Family Foundation of Virginia to plan the rally and march, said Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life, in an interview with the Capital News Service.
“We are working for the day when abortion is unthinkable in this culture,” she said. “That’s our biggest goal: to change hearts and minds. And right now, in this state, what we’re asking people to advocate for is the ‘Born Alive Protection Act.’
HB 304, which supporters call the “Born Alive Bill,” would require health care providers to ensure care for infants who survive failed abortion attempts and terminated pregnancies. A House subcommittee voted along party lines Monday to advance the legislation.
At noon, supporters and press gathered in front of the Capitol Square Bell Tower where Erin Getz, director of March for Life in Virginia, guided the event. More demonstrators packed into the square with signs as the speakers took their turn at the lectern.
Bishop Patrick Wooden of the Upper Room Church of God in Christ in Raleigh, N.C., opened the rally with a prayer, before Getz introduced several speakers including Del. Emily Brewer, R-Isle of Wight. Other legislators also stopped by to watch the demonstration.
During the rally, Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares thanked students, whom he called “the pro-life generation.” Miyares became emotional while sharing a story about his late cousin who had an unexpected pregnancy as a teenager, decided to carry it to term and gave the child up for adoption.
Toward the end of his speech, Miyares spoke against charging women who seek abortions.
“There have been some voices in this country saying we should prosecute women who make the decision to have an abortion,” he said. “That is not right…we should not punish and prosecute women seeking abortions.”
The statement contradicted some of the demonstrators’ signs, one of which read: “You can’t end abortion if moms can still get away with murder,” and “Treat the real victims with respect. Require justice from ALL who harm them!”
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Victoria Cobb, president of the Family Foundation, cited a WPA poll stating that 60% of Virginians agreed that unborn children should be protected after 15 weeks of pregnancy. WPA was the data team that ran analytics and polling for Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s 2021 Gubernatorial campaign.
Youngkin, a potential GOP presidential candidate, arrived after the rally to walk at the front of the march alongside students, telling reporters that he was disappointed in Senate democrats.
“Virginians want fewer abortions not more abortions and they [Senate democrats] seem to completely reject that concept,” Youngkin said.
Earlier that morning, demonstrators participated in Defending Life Day organized by the Virginia Catholic Conference, the Virginia Society for Human Life and the Catholic Dioceses of Arlington and Richmond.
People gathered in constituent groups at the Greater Richmond Convention Center, where they picked up red folders with prepared talking points, including support of legislation that would adopt a statewide Hyde Amendment, mandate health officials who provide abortions to try to save the life of a “human infant who has been born alive,” and require women seeking abortions to undergo counseling.
HB 2270, which demonstrators called the “Women’s Right to Know Law” throughout the day, specifies that women would have access to materials such as “pictures or drawings representing the development of the human fetus at two-week gestational increments.”
A long line of demonstrators, including several school groups, waited for more than half an hour outside the Pocahontas Building to meet with their representatives.
Sean Hutton, a social studies and religion teacher at Holy Family Catholic School in Dale City, brought 24 of his seventh and eighth graders on a field trip to the event. In class, he teaches his students that life begins from conception and discusses the “inconsistency” of pro-choice arguments, he said. Hutton does not personally believe in any exceptions justifying abortion, he said.
The church believes in a “womb to tomb” responsibility in which life should be protected from birth to death, he said. Government has a limited role to play, he added.
“The church is not in favor of, you know, the state control of everything in the communist type of system, nor is the church in favor of a libertarian hands-off approach on the part of the government,” Hutton said.
Savanna Deretich, government affairs coordinator of Students for Life, was also in attendance. Students for Life is a national anti-abortion organization that works with more than 1,245 campus groups in all 50 states.
While her organization focuses on abortion, not all members are Christian or conservative, she said. They also are advocates of foster care and adoption reform as well as paid family leave, she said.
Contact city and state writers Eileen Pomeroy and Anna Ridilla at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org
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