March for Life draws Boston-area college students

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WASHINGTON – On Friday, hundreds of thousands of activists plan to converge on the Washington Monument for a noontime rally and then march to Capitol Hill at the other end of the National Mall, where they will gather at the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court to commemorate the 43rd anniversary of its Roe v. Wade ruling, which legalized abortion.

This event is the 2016 March for Life,  an annual demonstration that has grown from the first march in 1973, a small demonstration to become the largest pro-life event in the world. The theme of this year’s March is “Pro-Life and Pro-Woman Go Hand in Hand.” Organizers say it won’t be canceled because of weather – a major blizzard is forecast to hit the city starting Friday.

The Boston area will be well-represented at the March.

Katherine Sennott and Catherine Daniels, two Boston-area college students, could not be happier to be heading to Washington. Sennott, a 22-year-old Boston University senior biology major who serves as president of BU Students for Life, plans to attend with two other BU students as part of a group of 28 people from Harvard Right to Life.

Katherine Sennott

Katherine Sennott

It will be Sennott’s first time participating in the March.

“I’m excited to go,” she said, adding that it will give her “the opportunity to experience pro-life culture on a larger scale. I only became pro-life a few years ago as a freshman in college, so my only experiences with the movement have occurred on a campus with a Planned Parenthood between the gym and the supermarket.”

“I actually entered college casually pro-choice, feeling that although abortion was wrong for religious reasons, so was forcing a woman to carry a child she didn’t want,” said Sennott, whose studies are concentrated on neurobiology. “However, I majored in biology and was surprised to find that my professors, many of whom were not religious at all, were extremely straightforward about the fact that life begins at conception.”

Sennott and some of her BU friends volunteer at a variety of pro-life agencies, including the Boston Center for Pregnancy Choices.  Additionally, they promote on-campus childcare services for student mothers, and advocate for women on BU’s campus. In that they’re doing what national advocates say they should.

“We need to work harder than ever to reach those cultural trend-setters, the young people of this nation,” Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, wrote in a Jan. 14 email to supporters. “We need to be there, right where they are, offering an alternative voice to the rhetoric of the abortion lobby, a message that we know will appeal to the majority of students.”

Planned Parenthood, the nonprofit women’s health organization, performs nearly 324,000 abortions per year, according to its 2014-2015 annual report. That amounts to 888 abortions per day. The organization also reported spending $39.3 million on “public policy,” $22.8 million to “engage communities,” $23.7 million to “build advocacy capacity” and $3.8 million to “refresh our brand” for the period. In other words, almost $90 million in all on these activities.

Pro-life students in Boston are working hard to counter Planned Parenthood’s local reach.

Catherine Daniels

Catherine Daniels

Their efforts are not lost on Jane Riccardi,  the New England regional coordinator for the Spotsylvania, Virginia-based Students for Life. She has had the privilege of working with students at both BU and Boston College recently.

Riccardi said she has been “extremely impressed by the work and time they have dedicated to leaders of Students for Life groups on their campuses. Representing their schools at the March this year is one of the many ways that the students of New England are stepping up to reclaim the culture of life.”

Like Sennott, Daniels is well-versed in that effort. The 21-year-old Boston College junior, who is pursuing a double major in English and political science, is also the president of BC’s Pro-Life Club. This year marks Daniels’ fourth time participating in the March for Life.

Doing so used to be easier for her than it is now. A Maryland native, in high school Daniels only faced a 15-minute ride into Washington to join the March.

“Now that I’m away at college in Boston,” says Daniels, “travelling to the March every year has become much more of a pilgrimage.”

In 2015, Daniels helped organize BC’s bus to take participants to the March. Within two days of sending out an email to her Pro-Life Club, Daniels and her group had filled the 54-seat vehicle.

“One of the nicest surprises was all the people who, even if they couldn’t attend, sent us messages supporting our trip, even people who had long since graduated,” Daniels said.

Even after a 10-hour overnight ride to Washington, Daniels said, the group was enthusiastic and ready to go once they arrived to join fellow marchers.

“That to me is amazing – that 50-plus college students wholeheartedly stepped back from their daily lives and took time to travel to an event that only lasts an afternoon,” she said. “I think the March really gives us a chance to publicly show that we are proud to stand in solidarity with the pro-life movement.”

This solidarity, Daniels added, is consistently accompanied by joy.

“The March is such a great rallying point for the pro-life cause because of the sheer joy evident on the faces of so many marchers— it’s a reminder that to be pro-life means to see the joy in our lives. If we’re setting out to be true pro-life witnesses, the best way to start is having that joy.”

Lori Brannigan Kelly is a freelance writer in South Boston. She can be reached at [email protected].