Storm Jonas did more than derail a tailgate this past weekend. For the first time in years, Villanovans For Life (VFL) were prevented from participating in the March for Life, held annually in Washington D.C. The march went off without a hitch, despite the 29.2 inches deposited across Maryland and D.C. over the past four days.
This year marks the 43rd annual March for Life, held every year on Jan. 22, the anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in Roe vs. Wade. The Court voted seven to two in favor of Roe, legalizing abortion in the United States as an extension of the 14th Amendment. Proposed during the Reconstruction era following the Civil War, the 14th Amendment addresses citizenship rights and equal protection of citizens under the law.
Participants begin with a rally beneath the Washington Monument before traveling to the steps of the Supreme Court. Representatives of VFL are usually in attendance, but they overcame their disappointment this year by hosting events on campus to commemorate the national event. Gabriella Berman, a junior, Humanities and Theology double major and President of VFL, shared her experience with previous trips to the March for Life.
“It’s not like anything I’ve ever experienced before,” Berman said. “Just the sheer crowd that assembles, and the vibrancy and the excitement of these people that are all there because they respect the dignity of human life. This is why they’re marching, this is why they’re there. It’s really beautiful.”
This year’s event featured speeches from businesswoman and Respublican Presidential Candidate Carly Fiorina, former Baltimore Raven Matt Birk and US Senator Joni Ernst, among others.
“You’ll hear people chanting, you’ll hear people praying and singing. There’s unity though, even though there’s all these people doing different things, there is this crazy intense unity,” Berman said.
The 2016 theme was “Pro-Life and Pro-Woman go Hand-in-Hand,” a concept that, according to Berman, comes as a shock to many.
“There’s a lot of misconceptions about being pro-life, saying you’re taking away the rights of women, you’re taking away the right to your own body, women’s autonomy,” Berman explained.
At the Fall Activities Fair, VFL advertised the phrase, “Ask me why pro-life is pro-woman.” Students approached the table out of curiosity and walked away saying, “Oh wow, I never thought about it that way,” Berman said. “So it was really interesting, and definitely a push back against what culture is saying about feminism.”
VFL does not usually enjoy such a positive response from the student body. Berman described the way VFL presence on the Oreo is often completely ignored by passerby.
“This is something that’s happening on this campus, with the women on this campus, with the men on this campus, and this is where we need to be out there, and advocating and helping and loving and caring,” Berman said, citing statistical evidence that shows most abortions are performed on college-age women.
Despite the relevance of the issue, Berman expressed frustration at the lack of constructive criticism from the student body.
Backlash from students in opposition to the cause has manifested mostly in the form of vandalized displays, including the Cemetery of Innocents constructed annually on campus.
“Our things always tend to get torn apart and thrown on the ground, crumpled up, left in stairwells,” Berman said.
Being that a primary mission of VFL is the engage in dialogue with students on both sides of the issue, this response is disheartening to club members.
“We need to be able, as students, to enter into these conversations respectfully in order to grow,” Berman explained. “If we don’t do that, if we just put up barriers, we’re never going to get anywhere. Hearts aren’t going to be moved. There’s no change, or growth.”
In the spring VFL will host it’s annual dinner to award a member of the Pro-Life movement. This year’s recipient is Father Dennis Gallagher, an Augustinian who used to live at Villanova and now works for Priests for Life. The annual recipient is chosen by VFL club members following careful research. Students with opinions on either side of the issue are invited to join Villanovans for Life in discussion and prayer.
“There’s a lot of things on this campus that are moving,” Berman said, “and this is one of them.”