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Over 2,000 St. Louisans attend D.C. March for Life, some against abortion but for women's rights

Teenagers and chaperones with the Archdiocese of St. Louis look out on the crowd marching against abortion January 27, 2017.
Provided | Archdiocese of St. Louis
Teenagers and chaperones with the Archdiocese of St. Louis look out on the crowd marching against abortion January 27, 2017.

In what what was one of The Archdiocese of St. Louis' largest groups yet, about 2,100 local teenagers and chaperones attended Friday’s anti-abortion march in Washington, D.C. 

Snow prevented the group from traveling to the March for Life last year; the annual event is scheduled near the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision of 1973.

This year’s march is drawing comparisons with the Women’s Marches held in St. Louis and around the world on Jan. 21, where many participants supported abortion rights.

But archdiocese employee Rachel Leininger said she doesn’t think the Women’s March motivated more people to turn out for Friday’s March for Life because most groups had already planned to attend months in advance.

“I know of many groups, many women, who participated in both marches, which I think is great. I think it’s very possible to be pro-life and a feminist,” said Leininger, noting Women’s March organizers had refused support from a few anti-abortion women’s groups.

“I personally don’t think there’s any conflict in marching in a women’s march and in marching in a pro-life march, but that’s because I consider myself a pro-life feminist,” Leininger said.

Ursline Academy sophomore Grace Breeding said she thought the causes behind the two marches were similar.

“It’s like the same but different,” Breeding said. “The woman’s movement besides the pro-abortion is a good movement. The pro-abortion isn’t what I really believe, but I do believe in women’s empowerment and having our equal rights.”

Hopeful crowd

This was Breeding’s second time taking part in the March for Life. She said she likes that for the most part people keep the messages on their signs positive.

“No hateful messages. Mostly positive ones,” Breeding said. “Once you see the hateful messages, you kind of get down.”

She said she wanted to march because she believes life starts at conception, a belief encouraged by her parents and by attending Catholic schools.

Leininger, who has been attending the march since she was in the 8th grade, said this year’s crowd was larger and more hopeful, and was energized by the warm weather and Vice President Mike Pence’s speech.

“I think that there’s a lot to be optimistic about as far as where legislation is going in our country. Now, legislation doesn’t change hearts, and that’s honestly one of the things we like to impress upon our young people: it’s not just about changing laws, it’s about changing hearts,” said Leininger, who works for the Reap Team, an archdiocese retreat program that teaches young people about chastity.

The executive director of the archdiocese’ Respect Life office, Karen Nolkemper, found the march encouraging.

“It gives you goosebumps, it gives you chills to see how many people are smiling, and united,” Nolkemper said, emphasizing that the Catholic Church isn’t just against abortion.

“We’re in favor of life, and we’re in favor of supporting life, again helping the born, unborn, abled, disabled, young, old, immigrant, refugee, we stand compassionately there with prayer and resources,” Nolkemper said.

The Missouri Right to Life organization chartered three buses to travel to the March for Life from St. Louis, adding another 140 local attendees to the archdiocese’s 38 buses and 2,100 participants.

Last week Women’s March organizers from Missouri chartered 11 buses, including six from St. Louis. The organizers estimated that about 1,000 Missourians planned to particpate in the D.C. march, including carpooling and people who opted to fly.

One bus ended up breaking down in Accident, Maryland.

Follow Camille on Twitter: @cmpcamille.