By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
Below-zero wind chills and an icy reception couldn’t stop pro-life advocates during the Iowa City March for Life. The 75-plus participants had the option of praying in St. Wenceslaus Parish Hall or walking through snow-covered sidewalks to the Emma Goldman Clinic, which provides abortions. Almost everyone chose to bundle up and make the half-mile trek. “Iowans, we’re a hardy bunch,” Johnson County Right to Life Director Sheryl Schwager told the group during the Jan. 20 event.
A dozen pro-choice protesters stood in front of the clinic to greet the march participants with expletive-laden chants. Though some appeared to be “looking for a fight,” according to one march participant, the pro-life advocates took a peaceful stance on the sidewalk across the street, armed with prayers and songs of praise. The voices of the protesters grew louder and neighbors blasted music in an attempt to get the marchers to leave. Catholics in the group countered by praying the rosary. Marchers stayed about 30 minutes, as planned, then walked back to the church to warm up with soup and hot beverages.
David Roggy, a St. Wenceslaus parishioner, provided security. He often keeps watch during pro-life events in the area, though the presence of police at the march allowed him to relax somewhat. He said the presence of pro-choice protesters has intensified — at the clinic and outside the church — since the overturn of Roe v. Wade in 2022. He believes it is essential to react to expressions of anger with kindness and compassion, such as offering coffee to protesters. Schwager encouraged participants to pray for the protesters as well as for the abortion workers, parents and the unborn.
Praying outside of the clinic isn’t about judgment or infringing on rights, marcher Art Gilloon of Dubuque, Iowa believes. It’s about asking, “What do you need? How can I help?” Last October, Gilloon and other pro-life advocates had the opportunity to assist an immigrant family who had second thoughts about aborting their child.
The father remembered the peaceful presence of pro-life advocates outside the clinic and returned to ask for help. “I was able to look them in the eye and promise accompaniment,” Gilloon said. The family was concerned about their ability to support the child financially. Johnson County Right to Life, local Knights of Columbus and community members responded by offering to pay the family’s rent and connecting them with additional services. “Now, they have a whole community of support around them.”
Gilloon has been praying outside the Emma Goldman Clinic since his days as a University of Iowa law student in the late 1970s. Turnout at the march encouraged him, especially the presence of college students and other young adults from the community. He encouraged them to maintain their prayerful presence throughout the year, as people coming to the clinic may be more comfortable speaking with peers. “When the women are going in, it makes a huge difference if they can see themselves.”
Young adult Catholic Marcus Mills of Letts participated in the march with his grandparents, Marilyn and Jim Mills of Lone Tree. He has attended marches in Washington, D.C. and in Wisconsin and knows that the discomforts of freezing weather and pro-choice chants are temporary. “My toes are cold, but even if one life is saved, it’s worth it,” he said.