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Hundreds of Oklahomans took to the streets on Saturday to publicly declare their stance against legalized abortion and to share their hopes that 2022 will be the year Roe v. Wade is finally overturned.
Organizers of the Oklahoma March for Life estimated that a crowd of about 500 gathered on the north steps of the state Capitol before marching down Lincoln Boulevard toward the Midtown area.
Before they marched, the group was challenged by more than one leader to help ensure that the 49-year-old Roe v. Wade ruling is overturned before it marks another anniversary in January 2023.
"Who wants to make sure that Roe doesn't see 50 years?" the Most Rev. David Konderla, bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tulsa, asked the crowd. "This is a sad commemoration — 49 years. Let's make sure we don't see 50."
Roe v. Wade was the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that effectively legalized abortion in America and the impetus behind the March for Life that has been held in the nation's capital each year since 1974, one year after the controversial ruling. At the time, organizers vowed to march annually until the ruling was overturned.
Saturday's event in Oklahoma City was held under a similar premise as the 2022 March of Life on Friday in Washington, D.C.
Besides Konderla, several other leaders addressed the crowd including U.S. Sen. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City; the Rev. Todd Fisher, executive director-treasurer of Oklahoma Baptists, formally known as the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma; and Rocio Montes, a member of the anti-abortion movement from Enid. Paul Abner, leader of a faith coalition called Oklahoma Faith Leaders, introduced each speaker.
Abner led things off with his impassioned remarks about seeing Roe v. Wade overturned and the end of abortion rights.
"Forty-nine years ago, they thought we would get tired. They thought by now we'd be done," he said. "Are there any quitters here? No! Our heart has been sick for the last 49 years as we have seen this egregious thing happen to our country, but we never stopped, we never stopped fighting."
Lankford told attendees that he had participated in the March for Life on Friday in Washington. He said there was much energy and enthusiasm from the crowd because of their belief that 2022 will be the year the nation's highest court "finally will admit what has been obvious to everyone that a life is a life is a life is a life and the Supreme Court of the United States does not have to right to be able to say to some children that you get to live and to some children, you do not."
Taking the anti-abortion battle to the states
Lankford, a Southern Baptist who served as director of Falls Creek Baptist youth camp for many years, talked about his vision of a "post-Roe America" becoming reality soon. However, he said abortion probably won't end if Roe v. Wade is struck down because it will then be up to each state to decide if abortion will be legal within its boundaries.
To that end, he said Saturday's dialogue and march was preparation for Oklahomans to be ready to tell their legislators that every child is worthy of life. The congressional leader said one of his Democratic colleagues had called him an "extremist Republican" for his anti-abortion views, and the crowd cheered when he said he accepted that "badge."
"Here's how extreme I am. I believe children are important and valuable and I believe children's lives are valuable. If that makes me an extremist, so be it," Lankford said.
Meanwhile, Fisher said the anti-abortion movement is at a crucial moment in history and he liked seeing "so many generations united for one grand cause such as this."
Citing scripture from the book of Genesis, he said each person is made in the image of God and thus every human has worth and value. He said God had a "call to action" for each march participant, ways they could stand for the unborn beyond Saturday's event.
"I want to declare this simple statement: We stand for life," Fisher said.
Montes also shared scripture from Genesis. Sharing remarks in both English and Spanish, she said human life must be protected from the moment of conception.
Konderla said he had learned the importance of being committed to ending abortion after working 17 years to get an get an abortion clinic in Texas closed during his time as a priest in that state.
The Tulsa bishop also urged attendees to remember that "the devil" is the real enemy of the anti-abortion movement that is "fighting for the soul of the nation" and not women who have abortions, the fathers of their unborn children and abortion clinic staff workers, who often feel shame and regret.
"God wants you and me to be his voice to them, to make sure that they know that we do not condemn them, that we wish to restore in them God's life and to bring them back into the fold," Konderla said.
Along those lines, he said there are currently many more faith-based pregnancy help centers offering alternatives to abortion, and post-abortion ministries, than there are abortion clinics.
'A right to live'
As Fisher stated, Saturday's crowd was multi-generational. Many Oklahomans braved the sunny but chilly weather, bundling up their babies, young children and teens to attend the rally.
Oklahoma City resident Edgar Gaytan, 43, a member of St. Joseph Old Cathedral, arrived with three of his five children.
"The main reason we came is because we think it's important for us as Christians, specifically Catholic Christians, to come out and show support for the idea that we love all people, from conception to natural death and one way to do that is to gather together with people who believe that same thing," he said. "As a father, it's important for me to be here so that my kids can see me and know that I live out what I believe — it's not just something that I talk about but I come out here to my sacrifice my time and energy to show my support."
Gaytan's daughter, Eliana,17, a Christo Rey Catholic High School senior, had her own views to share about the importance of Saturday's march.
"I think one of the primary goals of the pro-life movement is not just to change law but to change culture because our laws should be a reflection of what the culture is," she said. "Once we get all our communities to respect life then that law should come with it."
Meanwhile, numerous people carried signage touting sanctity of life messages like "Pro Life is Pro Science" and "Respect for Life Begins in a Mother's Womb."
Mary Chrismon, 69, said she made the roughly 70-minute drive from her home in Cyril to take part in the anti-abortion event. A member of St. Patrick Catholic Church in Anadarko, she said she liked the idea of Oklahomans gathering together to publicly declare their desire to see an end to legalized abortion.
"I believe in the sanctity of life," Chrismon said. "I believe you're a person from conception on and I'm just trying to get abortion stopped."
Dan White, 61, of Midwest City, handed out anti-abortion pamphlets to people in the crowd. A self-described evangelical and member of Grace Place Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, he said attended the march to let Oklahomans know that protecting life is important.
"We shouldn't have the power to take someone's life," White said.
Terri and Tim Leger of Broken Arrow brought about 40 youths from the Church of St. Benedict to the march. Terri Leger, 58, said she and many members of the Broken Arrow church have participated in the March for Life in Washington numerous times over the years.
"I think it's important that we speak for those who can't speak for themselves, which are the most vulnerable — and it's not just the unborn, it's the elderly, it's anybody who can not speak for themselves. Everyone has a right to live," she said.
Leger voiced her optimism that the U.S. Supreme Court would overturn Roe v. Wade soon, but she said the issue of legalized abortion should ultimately be up to the states and not the federal government anyway.
"We want people to know there's always a choice and that choice is life," she said.
Movement sees momentum
As several of the march speakers stated, the anti-abortion movement has experienced momentum over the last year. Experts have said this is largely due to the conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court and the court's decision to let a Texas six-week abortion ban stand.
Abortion rights activists see this turn of events in a different light.
A regional director for Planned Parenthood Great Plains, covering a four-state region of Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas and western Missouri, said the abortion rights movement continues to see attacks on access to a patient's reproductive freedom on the recent anniversary of Roe v. Wade.
“While January 22 marks the 49th anniversary of the landmark Roe vs. Wade ruling, it also serves as a solemn reminder of the fight for choice that still lies ahead," Emily Wales, interim CEO and president of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, said in a statement.
"In 1973, Roe recognized the right to safe, legal abortion, but that right has consistently been chipped away — especially here in the Great Plains. Planned Parenthood Great Plains and its dedicated providers, staff and supporters remain hopeful Roe is upheld to see another anniversary, because patients depend on critical access to abortion care.”
Planned Parenthood Great Plains said the Supreme Court's decision to let the Texas six-week abortion ban and its coming decision on a Mississippi abortion ban, means there is a possibility that it might soon overturn Roe v. Wade.
The agency's leaders said many states, including Oklahoma could immediately attempt to pass laws banning abortion.
"Ultimately, abortion bans force individuals to carry pregnancies against their will and disproportionately harm Black, Latino, and Indigenous communities, people in rural communities, LGBTQ+ people, and people struggling to make ends meet," the organization said.
This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Oklahoma anti-abortion March for Life draws about 500 to state Capitol