Missourians fight fog, ice to protest abortions in annual march
WASHINGTON - Joining hundreds of other demonstrators from the St. Louis area, Tom Lacey endured an all-night bus ride through fog and over icy roads to take part in Monday's annual "March for Life" in the nation's capital to protest abortion.
It was the 36th consecutive annual march to Washington for Lacey, 86, of St. Charles County -- who started making the trek in the year following the first march, held in 1974 to protest the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe vs. Wade decision.
"I'm encouraged to see so many young people taking part in the march," Lacey said. "I really think the mood of the country is changing, with more people against abortions."
Lacey was among about 2,500 Missourians who traveled by bus in the "Missouri Life Caravan" or by other modes of transportation to take part in the march from the National Mall to the Supreme Court on a cool and hazy day. They ranged from kids to octogenarians, including many from local church groups.
About 300 of the Missouri marchers gathered Monday morning in an auditorium at the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center, where U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., four U.S. House members and staffers representing two other lawmakers spoke to the group.
"It makes a difference when you come to Washington every year -- whether this is your first year or your 25th year," said Blunt, who began work Monday in the Senate GOP's fifth-ranking leadership post. He also co-chairs the "Values Action Team," which holds talks with conservative leaders on abortion, adoption and other social issues.
"I'm the only chairman of the Values Action Team ever to sit at the Senate leadership table," Blunt told the anti-abortion gathering. "Pray for me that it will make a difference."
The group gave standing ovations to both Blunt and Rep. Todd Akin, R-Wildwood, who compared abortion to slavery. "Abortion one day in America will go on the dust heap, in the garbage can of history -- just as slavery did . . . The only question is when."
Maggie Bick of St. Louis County, a co-coordinator of the "Missouri Life Caravan," said seven buses from the St. Louis region made the drive on Sunday and early Monday. Fog and icy conditions along the route delayed some Missouri buses, and many of the marchers had trouble finding the Capitol auditorium where the lawmakers spoke.
The gathering was overtly political at times, with Bick saying that the marchers' top goal was to replace President Barack Obama, who reiterated his support of abortion rights in a statement this weekend, and to elect more anti-abortion senators. The majority of the U.S. House already votes for measures limiting abortions.
Bick expressed the group's political motto this way: "Hold the House, secure the Senate, and win the White House."
Akin, one of three Republicans vying to be the GOP nominee to face the U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., in the November election, told the crowd that unseating the incumbent should be a priority. "If we work hard in this race, we can replace Claire McCaskill, by God's grace," he said.
While Akin and others at the rally described McCaskill as being "pro-abortion," a spokesman for the senator, John LaBombard, said her position is more nuanced.
McCaskill "thinks early-term abortions should be rare, but safe and legal," said LaBombard. "She is most concerned with the radical anti-abortion movement that is seeking to make birth control illegal, even denying the opportunity of rape victims to access the morning-after pill."
All of the lawmakers who spoke to the Missouri gathering in the Capitol were Republicans, including Reps. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-St. Elizabeth; Billy Long, R-Springfield; and Vicky Hartzler, R-Harrisonville. Staffers for Reps. JoAnn Emerson, R-Cape Girardeau, and Sam Graves, R-Tarkio, also addressed the crowd.
As the Beacon's Jo Mannies reported this weekend, a national anti-abortion group -- Americans United for Life -- lists Missouri as No. 6 in its Top 10 ranking the most successful states in restricting the procedure or in adopting related measures.
Bick said that the number of abortions performed in Missouri decreased by more than 9 percent last year, to 9,796, a decline which she interpreted as showing declining support for abortions in the state. That compares to almost 11,000 in 2009 -- and more than 21,000 in 1980, the peak year for abortions in Missouri. The Missouri Department of Health has not yet confirmed the 2010 abortion statistic.
While it appears unlikely that this year's march will have much of an impact on federal abortion policy, Bick said marchers held out high hopes for next year -- after the November election. "This is the longest-running peaceful protest in the United States," said Bick. "And we're going to keep going."
Contact Beacon Washington correspondent Robert Koenig.