Thousands of pro-life activists converged in front of San Francisco’s City Hall on Saturday for the annual March for Life in a festive mood, the day after federal health officials declared illegal a California rule that requires private insurers to provide abortion coverage.
The march, in its 16th year in San Francisco, protests the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion nationwide. On Friday, President Donald Trump became the first commander-in-chief to speak at the march in Washington, D.C., which has been held in the capital for more than four decades.
“The momentum is on our side,” Fr. Frank Pavone, director of Priests for Life, told a cheering crowd on Saturday.
Jessica Munn, chair of San Mateo Pro-Life who has come to the march in San Francisco every year, handed out literature, as well as plastic models of fetuses at different stages of development while attendees milled around.
“This is one major way to educate people,” she said, adding that she can talk to people individually and counter what she sees as misinformation about abortion in the media and popular culture.
“It sounds wonderful,” she said. “But we’ll see what happens in California.”
Several people held up signs representing various churches and religious groups in attendance, with some saying, “choose life” and “I am the pro-life generation.” Before the speakers started, informational tables set up in the civic center plaza distributed literature about contraceptives and abortion, and sold t-shirts such as those designed like the Starbucks logo that said “choose life.”
After several speakers addressed the crowd, described by some attendees as the second-largest pro-life gathering in the country after the one in Washington D.C., the group began marching down Market Street toward the Embarcadero. A handful of pro-choice counter-protesters stood alongside the largely peaceful walk. There were no official crowd estimates, but organizers said it was larger than in previous years, filling several blocks of Market Street at a time.
Charter buses brought people from throughout the state, including dozens of students from Thomas Aquinas College, in Ventura County. More than 100 members of the Vietnamese Martyrs Parish in Sacramento made the trip to the Bay Area, most of them in two large charter buses, according to organizer Dzung Hoang.
“We feel energized now that big government, especially the president, is listening,” Hoang said.
About 50 people came for the St. Lawrence the Martyr Parish in San Jose for the march, including Tim Crews, president of the San Jose chapter of the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organization.
“It’s obvious we have a position on this and we see things moving in the direction we would like to see, which is putting an end to legal abortion,” Crews said.
He was surprised over how big the turnout was, with attendees covering large swaths of the plaza.
“This is a much more peaceful one than we had a number of years ago,” he said, adding that previous marches had more aggressive confrontations with pro-choice activists.
Dolores Meehan, co-founder of March for Life West Coast, said she’s been happily surprised with how much Trump has focused on pro-life causes — she didn’t vote for him in 2016 because she didn’t think he would follow through on the issue. Now, she says, there’s momentum going into the 2020 elections, after which activists anticipate one or more Supreme Court seats could become vacant.
“I think that the issue is finally coming to a head and I think that’s appropriate,” Meehan said. “It’s a very serious issue, it should make people upset.”
In 2014, California’s Department of Managed Health Care required all health insurers in the state to cover elective abortions in all their plans. That led to a pair of complaints and, on Friday, a notice of violation from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights.
California’s requirement violated the Weldon Amendment, according to the federal department’s civil rights office. That amendment, in part, bars states receiving federal funding from requiring that health care plans pay for abortions. The state has 30 days to address the notice, or risk losing federal funding.
“We are putting California on notice that it must stop forcing people of goodwill to subsidize the taking of human life, not only because it’s the moral thing to do, but because it’s the law,” Roger Severino, director of the civil rights office, said in a statement on Friday.
California’s strong pro-abortion stance in the past might have served as a business advantage, according to Lisa Hammann, co-founder and chief executive officer of Rhia Ventures. The first invests in startups working on contraceptives and reproductive health.
According to the study, 61 percent of women would hesitate taking a job based in a state that has tried to restrict access to abortion. Hammann said she encourages businesses to make sure their insurance covers reproductive health treatments including abortions, and to be vocal about the issue if they want to be competitive in their hiring.
“It’s not really a should, it’s a, why wouldn’t you? Women make up half of the workforce in this country,” she said. “In the fight for talent, you want to make sure your company is in a state women want to move to.”
By age 45, according to the study, 99 percent of women have used contraceptives and a quarter of have had an abortion.