Anger and disgust over comments by Virginia politicians supporting abortion even when a woman is delivering her baby inspired hundreds of people with two days' notice to attend the pro-life Resist Infanticide Rally outside South County High School in Lorton Feb. 2.
Rally participants said the callous statements about late-term abortion had shocked them and compelled them to protest though the bill that sparked the controversy failed and the delegate who sponsored the bill and was hosting a town hall meeting in Lorton canceled her event the evening before.
"We are mortified, terrified, horrified, all of the '-fieds' you can think of that Virginia is going to go the same way as New York," said Erin Caines, a parishioner of Holy Spirit Church in Annandale, who came to the rally with her husband and five children, ages 1 to 13.
"We want to make sure that people know Virginians are not for (that bill). Virginians are for life and we don't want extreme abortion laws passed through our state," she told the Arlington Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Arlington Diocese.
Earlier in the week, Virginia Republicans released a video of Democratic Del. Kathy Tran defending her late-term abortion bill. In the video, Republican Del. Todd Gilbert questions Tran, asking: "How late in the third trimester could a physician perform an abortion if he indicated it would impair the mental health of the woman?"
"Through the third trimester," she responds during the Jan. 28 subcommittee hearing at the General Assembly in Richmond.
He then asks, "Where it's obvious that a woman is about to give birth, would that still be a point she could request an abortion?"
"My bill would allow that," said Tran.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam further inflamed the situation when, in a Jan. 30 interview about the video, he said: "So, if a mother is in labor, the infant would be delivered, the infant would be kept comfortable, the infant would be resuscitated if the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and mother."
Angela McGuire, a parishioner of St. Patrick Church in Fredericksburg, said she was heartbroken after learning about Tran's bill. Five and a half years ago, McGuire's son, Jude Lucas, died at 18 weeks gestation. "This rips that wound wide open for me," said McGuire. "It's like it was yesterday."
Jennifer Brandi from Hyattsville, Maryland, said she normally doesn't come to events like the rally, but in this case, she felt it was her civic duty to attend.
"I just found it very upsetting. I think it upsets a lot of people," she said. "I can't see any justification for it. Even for the reasons that were given, none of it really makes any sense and it really devalues human life. I just hope (the politicians) have a change in their own hearts."
Before the speeches, men, women and children who were bundled up for the cold weather lined the sidewalks carrying signs that read, "Love them both," "Life is good" and "Stop abortion extremism in Virginia."
At noon, the crowd gathered around the podium to hear speakers from several pro-life organizations, including Susan B. Anthony List, Students for Life of America, The Family Foundation, Virginia Society for Human Life, March for Life and Concerned Women for America.
Many speakers urged pro-lifers to use their voices and their votes to advocate for life. Currently, pro-lifers hold the state Legislature majority by one delegate and two senators. Many believe the General Assembly will flip to a "pro-choice" majority after November elections.
"We need to be prepared because (this bill) is going to come back in Virginia," said Tina Whittington of Students for Life.
A speaker from Care Net, a pregnancy resource center chain, and Amy McInerny, Arlington's diocesan director of Respect Life, highlighted how pro-lifers offer support to pregnant women in need.
"Until that day that every life is protected in law and welcomed in love, the Diocese of Arlington stands ready to continue to offer assistance to expectant families in need, as well as healing to those who are suffering after abortion," said McInerny. "We can make abortion not just unnecessary, but unthinkable."
Chaney Mullins of Divine Mercy Care, the education arm of Tepeyac OB/GYN in Fairfax, said studies show when mothers are presented with support and the option of perinatal hospice for their sick unborn child, up to 85 percent of women want to continue to their pregnancies.
"The proper medical intervention, even in the case of a fatal diagnosis for an unborn baby, is not murder but perinatal hospice. That child is loved (and) cherished for the short time a family is given to be with him or her," said Mullins. "What a contrast to our governor's strategy, treating the sick child like property whose value is left up to discussion."
Marjorie Dannenfelser of the Susan B. Anthony List gave an impassioned message to politicians.
"Any legislator in this nation (who) is considering allowing abortion up until birth, and infanticide itself, here's one thing we want you to know: if you seek to build women's rights upon the broken bodies of America's children, you will fail," she said. "You are failing, and we will defeat you."
After the rally, an extended Vietnamese family stayed to display their homemade signs to passing drivers. Anthony Cao's sign included a famous photo from the Vietnam War of a girl screaming as gas from a Napalm blast burns her skin. Cao said he was sick to his stomach when he heard that Tran, a fellow Vietnamese person, had introduced this bill.
"Vietnamese people are nonviolent. We went through a lot. We witnessed a lot of evil. And this is just a bill to introduce evil and we cannot let that happen," said Cao, a parishioner of St. Philip Church in Falls Church. "I don't care what religion or politics you have. I appreciate all these religious signs, I'm a Catholic, no doubt, but life is a universal principle."
When asked by another man what he would like to tell Tran, Anthony, paused, then said, "I would say you're a loved human being. You deserve love. And love does not mean killing."
Zoey Maraist is a staff writer at the Arlington Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Diocese of Arlington.