For teenagers Blaise Waters and Maya Reagan, the question of a woman’s legal right to abort her pregnancy has been settled their entire lives.
But on Saturday, they joined more than 1,000 other youth in downtown Raleigh to show their disapproval of a decision by the nation’s highest court nearly 43 years ago.
At the Catholic Diocese of Raleigh’s sixth annual “Love My Life” rally, the teenagers gathered on the Halifax Mall behind the General Assembly hours before an anti-abortion march. The events come days before the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion.
The teens sat in folding chairs beneath a big white tent and heard speakers tell them that they were loved and worthy, as is all human life. They heard about kindness and acceptance, the fragility of a tiny fetus and the terror of a pregnant woman. No one yelled or argued. Instead, they held hands and sang.
The teens are the new faces and these messages are the new tone of the anti-abortion movement among young Catholics.
“We have come together joyfully and peacefully,” said Bishop Michael Burbidge of the Diocese of Raleigh. “We want them to love their lives, all lives, because they are God’s.”
Although the youth have gathered before the march for six years, the message of love and worth for all humanity was a shift in the past few years. Burbidge said the church gravitated to the new theme, in part, because it realized how much young people needed to hear that they were precious and why.
Burbidge said the policy nuances and legalities of abortion in the United States may elude many of the teens gathered Saturday. What they do know, he said, is this: Their existence was a choice made by their mother. That gift, Burbidge said, resonates with young Catholics.
“They were born because of a choice,” Burbidge said.
Waters, 19, of Raleigh, said that the court’s ruling shouldn’t be significant to people of faith.
“All these kids here today, they are not listening to a court case, they are listening to God,” he said.
Reagan, 17, of Fayetteville, said that’s where she gets her direction to help young mothers trying to decide whether to terminate an unexpected pregnancy. She volunteers with her local Catholic Charities to provide guidance and aid to pregnant mothers in difficult circumstances.
“And, above all, regardless of what they do, I want them to know they are welcome in the church. You are always welcomed back,” she said.
While the message of love and acceptance reverberated through the rally Saturday, a crowd of two dozen or so cheerful protesters gathered with signs to greet the parade of people marching through the capital to protest abortion. They urged drivers passing along Wilmington Street to honk in support of a woman’s right to choose. They held signs demanding respect and kindness for women who decide to end pregnancies.
Kelsea McLain, one of the demonstrators and a volunteer who helps escort women past protesters into abortion clinics, said she understands the Catholic teenagers’ opposition to abortion. The only narrative they have heard from women who abort pregnancies is that of regret and shame, she said. Most of the women she knows, including herself, felt a great deal of relief when they had an abortion.
“It’s really easy to pass judgment when you haven’t had to personally make that decision,” McLain said.
Roe v. Wade was a U.S. Supreme Court decision that for the past 43 years has shaped a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy. The court ruled 7-2 in January 1973 that a woman’s right to privacy under the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment afforded her the right to have an abortion. The ruling declared that the right to abort, however, must be balanced against a state’s interest in protecting a woman’s health and the potential of human life. Several court decisions since then have tried to settle the question of the point at which the woman’s right to terminate cannot overcome the right of a state to protect a viable fetus.