15th annual Midwest March for Life participants reminded of the impact “ordinary people” can make


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Birthdays are complicated for Melissa Ohden.

She was accidentally born alive after being exposed for five days to the toxic saline solution that had been injected into her mother’s womb.

“Do you know what the abortion industry lovingly calls people like me?” Mrs. Ohden posed to participants in this year’s Midwest March for Life in Jefferson City.

“We’re called the dreaded ‘complication of abortion,’” she stated. “As if somehow, my life and the lives of future generations to come after me are something to be dreaded, prevented, avoided.”

She spoke from the steps of the State Capitol at a rally preceding the 15th annual March on May 1.

Thousands of people from all over the state, most wearing red, took part in the rally, followed by a march through downtown Jefferson City with signs, placards and uplifting songs and chants.

Mrs. Ohden and the other presenters spoke passionately of the importance of keeping Missouri pro-life by upholding the highest values and ideals among young people, helping pregnant mothers in need, showing truthful compassion to people who have taken part in abortion, regulating the mail-order abortion-drug industry, and defending the state’s Constitution from attempts to bring back abortion-on-demand through the initiative petition process.

Thirty-five life affirming organizations offered information and literature at tables set up throughout the grounds.

Bishop Edward Rice of Springfield-Cape Girardeau led the opening prayer at the rally and later preached to an overflowing crowd in the Proto-Cathedral of St. Peter near the Capitol.

“Heavenly Father,” he prayed, “bless the work of the pro-life movement in our state and throughout the country, so that in the creating of a culture of life, every child will be received as a gift, and we may promote the value and the sanctity of human life as a core belief in our culture.”

His words and those of the other speakers echoed off the Capitol and other nearby buildings where the affairs of state are conducted.

“We don’t have to be afraid of the truth,” said Mrs. Ohden, founding CEO of the Abortion Survivors Network. “I love people enough to tell the truth, to live the truth: which is that abortion is the taking of an innocent human life, and it ruins countless others.”

She spoke about how her biological mother became pregnant in college at age 19.

“And unfortunately,” said Mrs. Ohden, “she was forced by people who should have loved her unconditionally to have the saline-infusion abortion that was intended to take my life, and would forever change hers.”

Mrs. Ohden often hears that abortion procedures no longer fail.

“I can tell you that they do,” she stated. “Women stop their abortions because of the pain or because of regret. And because of abortion-pill reversal, we see babies surviving chemical abortions.”

She believes one of her purposes for surviving was to tell her story and get important but uncomfortable conversations started.

“I am a person of great hope,” she said. “I see the difference we’ve made over the years, and I know the difference we’re going to continue making together.”

Brandy Meeks, president of the Vitae Foundation, offered the marchers a historical perspective.

“We gave people fractions of rights and humanity and personhood in this country in the past, and frankly, it didn’t work out very well for us,” she stated.

“Because it was wrong then and it’s wrong now.”

Bridget VanMeans, president and vision leader of ThriVe St. Louis, a life affirming, full-service women’s healthcare organization, said nothing is more important than safeguarding human life.

“Young people understand that there are many important issues,” she noted. “But as long as abortion is allowed in our nation, there is no other more important issue.”

Prodigal daughter

Pro-life activist Megan Mastro described herself as “a daughter of God and a mother who lost her child to the abortion industry.”

Three years ago, she would have described herself as anti-Catholic and fiercely pro-choice.

She had become pregnant at 16 and had an abortion.

The clinic staff told her to ignore the messages of the “irrational pro-life people” who were standing on the nearby sidewalk.

This “ignited in me a fear of how pro-life people would treat women like me and what they would call me,” she recalled.

Equating abortion access with female empowerment, she openly expressed her gratitude and lack of regret for her abortion.

“But the hidden truth was that my body was in a state of perpetual grief, due to the unnatural loss of my son,” she stated.

“My interior life was chaotic. I felt angry, confused, distraught. For years, I tried to calm the storm, using crystals, drugs, tarot cards,” she said.

Only in turning back to Christ did she find the path to true healing.

“Twelve years after rebelling as God’s prodigal daughter, I returned home to my Father’s house to confess my sin,” she stated.

Reconciled with the Catholic Church, she received an outpouring of Divine Mercy and attended a Rachel’s Vineyard healing retreat for people who have been harmed by abortion.

“I left that retreat equipped with a new mission: to fight for the dignity of mothers, the lives of their children, and for the minds of all the misled pro-choice people,” she said.

She volunteers with an organization that gives her opportunities to have peaceful dialogue with college students who favor abortion access.

“I get to inspire these students to dream of a society that supports and reveres pregnant women,” she said.

She challenges the narrative that says pregnancy is a time-sensitive problem to be resolved.

“And I reintroduce it as a profoundly beautiful gift, even when the timing isn’t convenient.”

“God’s messenger”

Tri21 triathlete and motivational speaker Gabriel Cobb proclaimed that he’s not afraid to be seen.

“I’m 23 years old, and I have Down syndrome,” he announced to a round of applause.

He has competed in 13 unmodified half-Olympic triathlons, which include swimming, biking and running.

The Missouri native has given talks in several states and has addressed a gathering at the United Nations.

He talked about his relentlessly supportive family, including parents “who have always kept the bar high.”

His faith comes first, followed by his Christian witness.

“I am Gabriel, one of God’s messengers,” he said.

Helias Catholic High School junior Claire Huntley, a member of Immaculate Conception Parish in Jefferson City, led the singing of “God Bless America” at the rally and sang two sets of hymns and praise songs on the Capitol steps.

Ivy Almon, brand ambassador for Support After Abortion (supportafterabortion.com), urged everyone present to cultivate a listening ear and an open heart in order to help people who have been wounded by abortion find the healing they need.

“There are hurting people all around us,” she said. “We need to slow down and notice them and offer them a safe place to begin their healing.”

She urged everyone to be aware that an average of 1 in 4 women in this country has had an abortion by age 45, and that about half of those are a woman’s second or greater.

She emphasized the importance of speaking compassionately and non-judgmentally, listening openly to a woman’s story, and knowing how to put her in contact with people who can help her heal.

“Together, we can create a compassionate and supportive community where individuals are valued, heard and supported on their journey toward healing,” she said.

Young witnesses

Midwest March for Life Co-Founder Kathy Forck presented the 2024 Pro-Life School of the Year Award to Immaculate Conception School in Jefferson City.

She noted that the school has an active LIFE Runners chapter that meets, prays and walks together once a month; participates in a leg of the LIFE Runners Across America Relay each fall, takes part in the Midwest March for Life and sponsors a bus trip for eighth-graders and others to the National March for Life in Washington, D.C.

Students also take part in many other charitable and life-affirming activities throughout the year.

“They contribute items to the parish Pro-Life Committee’s annual Project for Babies and the Elderly each year, and students chalk messages of thanks to their moms for the gift of life around the parish property for Mother’s Day,” Mrs. Forck noted.

Students from the honored school carried the March for Life Banner near the front of this year’s march.

“Ordinary people”

Clergy members carrying a rugged cross led the March around the Capitol Circle, toward the Governor’s Mansion and back through the city’s central business district.

The drum corps of Helias Catholic High School in Jefferson City laid down a steady beat for the marchers, while young participants called out: “What does the pro-life generation look like?” “This is what the pro-life generation looks like!”

Several groups repeated upbeat chants and slogans, while others sang hymns and songs.

Each of the rally speakers urged the participants to channel their energy and determination into consistent, concrete action.

“Are you ready to be assertive and bold?” event emcee Mark Serafino asked the marchers. “That’s what it’s going to take. Not just here on the Capitol lawn but in your homes, in your backyards, in your churches and in your neighborhoods.”

Mrs. Ohden said Missouri is blessed with “some of the most sacrificial, impactful leaders and organizations and yes, ordinary people.”

“Ordinary people by the grace of God are called to do extraordinary things and make an extraordinary difference every single day,” she said.

“No matter what happens in the days ahead, pro-life Missourians are going to continue to stand strong and to fight and get the truth out there and help protect babies in the state of Missouri,” said Mrs. Meeks.

Similar themes were presented in an upbeat and age-appropriate manner during a pro-life youth rally after the March.

To God’s altar

More than 550 Catholics overflowed the St. Peter Proto-Cathedral for the Closing Mass, while an ecumenical prayer service was held in the Capitol Rotunda.

Bishop Rice presided at the Mass and preached the homily.

Bishop James V. Johnston Jr. of Kansas City-St. Joseph and Father Anthony Viviano, moderator of pro-life activities for the Jefferson City diocese, and several other priests concelebrated.

Bishop W. Shawn Mc­Knight, who gave the opening prayer at last year’s March, was celebrating Mass at the previously scheduled diocesan Sixth Grade Vocations Day and could not be present at this year’s March for Life.

Bishop Rice called the Closing Mass the most important part of the day.

“Having marched and listened to all these great talks, we come to the altar,” he said. “We come with thanks to Almighty God for the gift of life.”

As it was the feastday of St. Joseph the Worker, Bishop Rice pointed out Jesus’s foster-father’s role as a man of action.

“Obedient and strong and faithful, patron of the poor and the dying and protector of the Holy Church, St. Joseph shows us the way!” Bishop Rice proclaimed. “He challenged us to work with women in need, doing what we can to support women who are facing a crisis and help them choose life.”

He called everyone to unite their pro-life convictions with God’s, through frequent attendance at Mass, Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament, and praying the Rosary.

“Let us always be convinced that life will be victorious,” he said.

Next year’s March will take place on May 1, 2025.