SALT LAKE CITY — Francesca Rose says she’s here because one young woman made a difficult decision.
“My birth mother chose life instead of aborting me. Her boyfriend wanted to have her abort me and run off with him, and she told him no. And she made a hard choice ... but she gave me life, and then she gave me a life through adoption,” Rose told KSL as she walked along with thousands of others during the annual March for Life Utah at the Capitol.
Her birth story makes the anti-abortion cause especially personal, she said.
“I think we shouldn’t sacrifice innocent lives just on the altar of convenience, and I think that we should support women and help them with what they need, and make better choices. Abortion is not a good choice. There are better choices,” Rose explained.
“Women sometimes find themselves in very sad circumstances, and it’s not always of their own choice. But there are support systems that we have, and we can help them make better choices that can help them heal instead of to spiral downward,” she added.
The march, organized by Pro-Life Utah, began with speakers as supporters of all ages packed into the Capitol rotunda, some wearing T-shirts with slogans about protecting unborn children. Many also wore name tags prepared by march organizers with the 3,000 most popular children’s names from last year, to remember the 3,000 babies aborted in Utah — a yearly average for the past several years.
Larry Pollack, another march attendee, wore two tags pinned to his shirt with the names Braden and Huxley.
“I would’ve loved to have a child like Braden or Huxley,” Pollack said, explaining that he didn’t have any children of his own but recently lost a friend with special needs, who he said was like his child.
“There are so many people without children, that they can’t conceive. ... It’s so sad. They don’t know until they lose something like I’ve lost,” Pollack said.
The national march falls around the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, this year marking the 47th year since the Supreme Court ruled that women have the Constitutional right to choose abortion.
Dusty Johns, a post-abortive woman and keynote speaker at the march, told the story of her own childhood facing abuse at the hands of a family member and the influences that led to her decision to abort her child conceived in an abusive relationship.
She feared if she put the baby up for adoption, he would end up in an abusive home like the one she grew up in. At the urging of her boyfriend and mother — who had also aborted a second child — Johns went through with the procedure.
She described the abortion at a Planned Parenthood as extremely painful and compassionless. She said other options weren’t explained to her, and workers wouldn’t tell her whether the procedure would cause pain for her unborn child.
“I felt violated, humiliated ... and that I had just made the biggest mistake of my life,” Johns recalled.
But she said she’s using her loss for good by telling others her story in the hope of preventing other mothers from going through the same experience.
A few state legislators also spoke, describing bills they plan to run this session that they say will protect unborn children, including a bill like one in Kentucky that would require women to receive an ultrasound before deciding to abort.
Organizers said at least 2,500 people attended.
Among the crowd were members of the controversial far-right group Proud Boys. Deanna Holland, Pro-Life Utah vice president, said the group was not specifically invited to the event, which was open to the public.
Many of the marchers said they were there to stand up for life. They said resources need to be offered to women that would help them choose not to abort.
“I want people to understand that life is precious at every stage, and that no one should be killed because someone else finds them inconvenient. And for me, there was a weight on my life, and I needed to do something about it,” said Krisy Nielsen, who’s involved with Pro-Life Utah.
She said the past four years she’s attended, the march has grown. This year was the biggest, she said.
“It feels really unifying. Looking at everybody, sometimes it feels like you’re overwhelmed, that the opposition is really huge. But it’s really great to see so many turn out, and to see that there really is a lot of support. And I hope the legislators see that, too,” Nielsen said.
Her mother, Wendy Shelton, traveled from Cache Valley to attend.
“We’ve been standing for the sanctity of human life every year. Every year we go, and it’s just a little, small handful. So coming down here to this, where you see the large group of people, it’s very encouraging,” Shelton said.
Richard Sherlock said he marched as part of “a commitment of 50 years” that began before Roe v. Wade.
“The assault on life is at all stages, abortion, the handicapped, end-of-life care, is a central moral abomination of our time,” said Sherlock, a professor of philosophy at Utah State University who describes himself as a devout Catholic.
Valerie Byrnes said when she was in college, her roomate got pregnant and asked her to help her with an abortion. Byrnes said she did help pay for it — a decision she came to regret with age.
“And then my own story was, it took me quite a few years after I was married to get pregnant myself. ... And so, during that time, the whole issue of life becomes extremely precious, when you can’t have one and you want one,” Byrnes recalled.
“So having only one, and then having a miscarriage after that, and only getting one in my life, it just helped me to value life more. And of course now that I’m a Christian, I realize what God thinks of life and how precious it is to him, and we have no right to take any life,” Byrnes explained.
Lori Jenkins, who has held vigils outside Planned Parenthood, said to those who would argue that abortion represents a woman’s right to control her own body: “The thing I think a lot of people don’t think about is, the majority of babies aborted are girls, the vast majority. ... In some other countries, the boys outnumber the girls by the millions. But what about those women? Those are women, too, those are girls who will become women.”