When the Love My Life rally began five years ago, 300 teens and their parents attended, a group small enough for the Sacred Heart Cathedral in downtown Raleigh to handle.
On Saturday, the anti-abortion event, sponsored by the Catholic Diocese of Raleigh, drew roughly five times that number as middle and high school students packed into a huge heated tent on the Halifax Mall in the heart of the state government complex. Those numbers augmented the annual anti-abortion march later that afternoon that ran the length of a city block.
The rally featured contemporary Christian music with a gospel number or two played by a live band, and a keynote speaker, Matt Fradd, who mixed stand-up comedy with a theological affirmation of God’s existence. What the rally mostly avoided was the finger-pointing commentary and disturbingly morbid signage that have characterized other anti-abortion events.
“Pro-life is not just about abortion; it’s about loving everyone,” Emily Ashton, 16, of Durham, one of two teen masters of ceremonies, told the crowd. “It’s realizing that God has given us a gift, and we’re all here for a purpose.”
The growth of the event parallels the rise in power of political leaders who are looking to curb abortion in North Carolina. Republicans now hold strong majorities in the state House and Senate and control the governor’s office. That has led to laws that require women to go through an ultrasound and view the sonogram before having an abortion, and tougher standards for health care facilities that provide abortions. Federal court decisions have so far halted the ultrasound requirement, while the health care standards are still being worked on.
Abortion remains a thorny issue almost 42 years after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision made it legal.
A small group of abortion rights advocates, all young women, held a counterprotest a block away on a grassy corner behind the state archives building. The eight women held signs and danced to pop music from a small boombox. They cheered when motorists honked in support.
“We’re not demanding that women have an abortion,” said one of the women, Abby Godfrey, 24, of Raleigh. “We’re demanding that they have that option.”
They said it’s wrong for governments to force women and teenagers to carry a pregnancy to term, especially in cases of rape, incest or a threat to the mother’s health. They also say the politicians who seek to end the right to an abortion often cut back on the social service and health care programs that would help women and teens take care of those children.
“That help and assistance seems to stop if you go through with the pregnancy and have the child,” said Kelsea McLain, 29, of Carrboro.
Bishop Michael F. Burbidge said the Catholic Church’s position is more than ending the right to an abortion. He said the church reaches out to support pregnant women and teens during and after the birth of the child.
“We don’t just give a teaching and walk away,” he said. “We’re saying we’re here, through Catholic Charities, through counseling, every moment of this pregnancy. We’re never going to leave you on your own.”