A large contingent of North Country students were among hundreds of thousands of activists who descended upon the nation's capitol last month for March for Life, a demonstration against the country's abortion laws.
The march has been held every year since the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion in 1973. This year it attracted record crowds of between 500,000 and 650,000 by some estimates. A total of 151 high school students and chaperones from the North Country, including 22 from the Tri-Lakes, were there, according to Colleen Miner, director of the Diocese of Ogdensburg's Respect Life Office.
Miner's office tries to raise awareness about abortion issues, working closely with North Country pastors to keep them updated on abortion-related legislation and other news items. She explained that March for Life, founded by pro-life activist Nellie Gray, was established in 1974 and started with just 20,000 people. Its goal is to call for the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, and it generally takes place on the anniversary of the court's decision, although this year it had to be moved up a few days due to the presidential inauguration.
From left, Nathalie Munn, Gina Fiorile and Ellen Miner of Saranac Lake march past the Capitol building on Jan. 25 at the March for Life, an anti-abortion protest in Washington.
(Photo — Colleen Miner)
"We're standing up for the babies," Miner said. "We're trying to save babies. That's the whole idea. And we also are remembering the women and men who are hurt by abortion."
Local students, like Anna Izzo of Saranac Lake High School and Emily Patenaude of AuSable Valley High School, said the march was a powerful event.
"The March for Life is the most incredible experience I have ever encountered," Izzo said. "I have gone for four years and each year I enjoy it more. Not only are you surrounded by thousands of people who share your beliefs but also who value the quality of a human life."
"It was an unforgettable experience that words can't even describe," Patenaude said. "The sense of family and importance was overwhelming."
The march is a one-day event, although related events take place in and around Washington, D.C. The North Country group this year took part in youth events sponsored by the Diocese of Arlington, Va., and toured the Smithsonian Holocaust Museum, the National Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the Lincoln Memorial and other monuments on the National Mall.
The march begins with a rally on the National Mall. Following the rally, the mass of people marches to the steps of the Supreme Court building.
"Everyone is really friendly - I know that's always a concern of parents," Miner said. "You won't see more teenagers and clergy in a spot in your life. ... You feel in communion with everyone else because you're doing this Respect Life work all year long, but it's during this time that you see everyone else that's doing it."
Miner said the event is a "big boost" for people in the pro-life movement.
"I know that people have said that this is what keeps them going all year: to know that they're not alone," she said. "We had a boy from the Mooers Forks area that went on one of our buses, and when he walked into this huge youth rally at the Verizon Center with 20,000 people, he just started to cry. I thought, spending the night on the bus, something hurt, he has a headache. He said, 'No, I didn't know there were this many pro-life kids my age. I thought I was alone at my school.'"