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‘Good afternoon, fellow fanatics!’ What I saw at the March for Life

Why did 5,000 march? 'To give the unborn a voice'

London’s second March for Life was preceded, like last year’s, by an all-night Vigil for Life at the Dominican Rosary Shrine. It nearly didn’t go ahead: the organiser, Fr Lawrence Lew OP, was laid up in bed. “I prayed to be well so that the Vigil for Life could go ahead,” he remarked, “and on the third day God raised me up from my sickbed!”

The morning after the vigil, there was a new, enlarged LifeFest, featuring a wide programme of talks, workshops, performances and films. Outside, a pro-choice academic stood for three hours in torrential rain diligently counting and photographing those entering the venues. Eventually Stuart McCullough, husband of Clare McCullough who runs the Good Counsel Network for women in crisis pregnancies, put love into action and took her a cup of hot tea and a bar of chocolate. “She’s got real dedication,” he said. “She’ll make a great pro-lifer one day, Lord willing.”

Soon it was muster-time for the march itself. The sun came out, and Little Smith Street overflowed with marchers clutching signs and, in many cases, pushchairs. “We’re here with our children because we value life and as woman, as the bearers of life, the best thing we can do is to give the unborn a voice,” said Chiara Finaldi of the Catholic Mothers Apostolate.

Michele Bhanji, from Southend-on-Sea, said she had come “to respectfully, peacefully and lovingly defend those who cannot defend themselves”. She hopes to return next year with a coach-load of fellow parishioners.

Catholic priests turned out in force. “We are defending the future,” said Fr Armand de Mallerary. “It’s a matter of demography even for those who don’t believe. And as a Catholic priest I worship a God who was a little baby.”

Fr Marcus Holden said: “Our civilisation is on the brink of collapse after nine million abortions. Things have to change and as a priest I have to lend my voice to change.”

The march seemed particularly ecumenically diverse this year. Fr Nicholas Price, from Cardiff, and Fr Thomas Cook, from Nottingham, said that they were there “to establish an Orthodox presence in the march.”

Later, I saw three young women whose clothing identified them as members of the Bruderhof. “I came to be encouraged by the amount of other people who are pro-life because at University I am surrounded by so few pro-life people,” said Marcella, a student. “There are very difficult situations,” she said, “but ultimately God has a plan for everyone’s life.”

Not everyone took a warmly ecumenical attitude, though: when Bishop John Keenan prayed an Act of Reparation, one old-fashioned Protestant yelled “No Popery!”

As the 5,000 of us (according to organisers, 1,000 more than last year) reached Parliament Square at last, the rain made a reappearance. But the sun came out for abortion survivor Melissa Ohden. As an unborn baby, Ohden was soaked in a scalding saline solution for five days – almost twice as long as would normally would be required to kill a child. It was her grandmother’s idea, Ohden said, and when Ohden was born alive “my grandmother insisted I be left alone in that hospital room to die. But despite what my grandmother tried to do I love her. This is how we change things. We love the lives of all the people we encounter, no matter what.”

Before the next speaker, word went round the crowd: someone who had started the medical abortion process and immediately regretted it had just found out that their baby was fine. It was an appropriate lead-in to the testimony from the next speakers, Danny and Carla. On February 23 this year, Carla had already been inside Marie Stopes Birmingham for half an hour when Danny texted her, “Get out now.” Mercifully, he was in time. Their baby is due later this summer.

Bishop John Keenan wrapped up the march. He quoted William Wilberforce: “If to be alive to the sufferings of my fellow citizens is to be a fanatic, then I am proud to be a fanatic,” he said, to applause. “So, good afternoon, fellow pro-life fanatics! Let’s commit ourselves never to let a pro-life opportunity pass us by. This is not primarily a political battle but a spiritual battle. For if not us, who? If not now, when?”