Thousands of people gathered in Times Square May 4 to celebrate the dignity of human life with song, prayer, inspirational stories and a live ultrasound screening of a baby in the third trimester of development.
Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family, said the “Alive from New York” rally organized by his group was the “largest pro-life event in New York history.” Organizers said 10,000 participants registered for the experience.
Focus on the Family is a Colorado-based Christian evangelical organization that was moved to help reinvigorate the pro-life movement in New York after the Jan 22 passage of the aggressive Reproductive Health Act in New York.
Daly and Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life, were emcees for the event, appearing on a stage with a screen just north of 43rd Street. A second screen was set up north of 45th Street. Ms. Mancini said the New York law “is out of step with mainstream America. In the last 10 years, eight out of 10 Americans would limit abortion in some way.”
Cardinal Dolan welcomed the participants via a video message introduced by Auxiliary Bishop Peter Byrne. The cardinal said New York is “seeing an unprecedented attack on the unborn.”
“Through your efforts, many hearts have been converted. We’re live from New York, and it’s good to be alive!” the cardinal said to applause.
The fast-paced program included appearances by pro-life activists, celebrities and survivors of abortion. Musicians Francesca Battistelli, Phil Stacey and Phil King performed throughout the event. Protesters on the west side of Seventh Avenue tried unsuccessfully to drown out the proceedings with vulgar chants.
Rev. Alveda King, niece of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., said pro-life action is an extension of the civil rights movement. She punctuated her remarks with song and recalled her uncle’s words, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” She described her personal experience with live birth, abortion and miscarriage. “A woman has a right to do what she wants with her body, but the baby’s not her body,” she exclaimed.
Christina Bennett of the Family Institute of Connecticut said, “In New York, there are more black children aborted than born each year. Abortion is the number one cause of death in the black community.”
Retired National Football League player Benjamin Watson, father of newborn twins and five other children, addressed men who think they might not have a voice in the abortion debate. “It’s time to step up and step into this conversation with boldness, grace and conviction. We must expose the lies that are being told. We were made to be protectors and providers,” he said.
“You have what it takes to be the man God wants you to be. Fatherhood begins in the womb and with the relationship you have with the mother. Talk to the child in the womb,” Watson said.
Ms. Mancini introduced three adults who survived abortion in their mothers’ wombs. “Abortion proponents say there is no need for legal protection for those who survive abortion. Here is living proof that there are survivors.”
Melissa Ohden, who survived a failed saline abortion in 1977, said, “We’re not imaginary! We exist! We put the alive in ‘Alive from New York’!”
The event’s culmination was a live ultrasound performed on Abby Johnson, the former Planned Parenthood manager whose story was told in the movie “Unplanned.” While Ms. Johnson was in a medical trailer behind the stage, a narrated ultrasound examination of her unborn baby pointed out well-developed features on the child’s face and thrilled to the baby’s movements. Ms. Johnson then appeared on stage with Ashley Bratcher, the actress who portrays her in the movie.
“Those who speak out against life are people who are hurting. We pray for them to find truth because we want them to know peace,” she said.
Ms. Johnson predicted, “We will see a day where abortion in this country is unthinkable.”
Earlier in the day, worshippers gathered for a concelebrated noon Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Bishop Byrne was the principal celebrant and homilist. He explored the theme “Do not be afraid” as written in the Gospels, explained by St. John Paul and lived by the pro-life community.
“In a sense, Mary represents all pregnant women, especially women left alone,” the bishop said. “One of the purposes of the pro-life movement is to give reassurance to the woman in distress, to say, ‘Do not be afraid.’”
Paraphrasing the words of St. John Paul, Bishop Byrne said, “Life belongs only to God, and whoever attacks life attacks God.”
“We can only pray that the legislators who passed the bill ‘know not what they do.’ It’s an awful thing to declare yourself an enemy of God,” the bishop said.
He said the legislation attacks the most defenseless, the child in the womb, and the Alive from New York event was an opportunity to be tell truth to those in power.
“We’re here because we want to be witnesses,” said Michael Tiesi, who came with with his wife, Christine, to the Mass and rally from Harrison where they are parishioners at St. Gregory the Great.
Lorena Finnell of St. Augustine parish in Larchmont said having many people turn out is important to spread the message. “Abortion is murder,” she said simply.
Father Peter Pilsner, chaplain at Cardinal Spellman High School in the Bronx, said he was there “to be part of this great event for the pro-life community and share support and excitement for what Focus on the Family is doing.”
Alive From New York was the conclusion to New York Life Week, an initiative sponsored by the archdiocesan Respect Life Office. It was intended as an opportunity for parishioners to “See Life Clearly,” uphold life in New York and promote the dignity of every human life. Parishioners were urged to contact their state legislators to express opposition to physician-assisted suicide.