In the United States, January marks the unfortunate anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized elective abortion throughout that country. In response, Catholics and others engage in various public activities during this month to promote a virtuous civic engagement on this issue and bring God’s people together for prayer, collaboration, and mutual support.
While much has been written these days about the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., which took place on January 24, the parallel demonstration that takes place 3,000 miles west in San Francisco, California, is no less impressive. In its present form, “The Walk for the Life West Coast” began in 2005 to give the pro-life movement in the Western United States the opportunity to attend an event that parallels the March in Washington, D.C. It takes place on the Saturday closest to the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. This year it took place on January 25.
The event, which begins at the San Francisco Civic Center and takes the protesters almost 3 miles along Market Street, the city’s main thoroughfare, is already the second-largest pro-life demonstration in the country, surpassed only by the March in Washington, D.C. Indeed, its growth in just 15 years has been exponential.
Zenit contributor and San Franciscan Richard Maher attended the event and interviewed Eva Muntean, co-founder, and co-President of “The Walk for Life West Coast.” He began by asking about the origins of the events that take tens of thousands of peaceful protesters through the heart of what is arguably one of the most secular cities in the United States.
Here is our interview …
Zenit: What is the history of the Walk for Life West Coast? What is your personal involvement with the Walk?
Eva Muntean: I am a co-chair and co-founder (with others) of the Walk. I met [another co-founder,] Dolores Meehan in the 1990s. At that time, both of us were volunteering at San Francisco’s Gift of Love hospice, run by Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity, which ministered to men dying of AIDS.
Bound by common religious and pro-life, pro-family view, we became friends and traveled regularly to Washington D.C for the March for Life and thought how wonderful it would be to have a similar march on the West Coast.
In 2004, when Mayor Gavin Newsom directed San Francisco’s County Clerk to illegally issue ‘marriage’ licenses to same-sex couples, we were part of a number of San Franciscans opposed to this. Among others, we organized a rally in Defense of Marriage at San Francisco’s Sts. Peter and Paul Church. The surprising turnout of around 1,500 people made us realize that a Walk for Life West Coast was, indeed, possible.
The core group from the marriage rally became the core group for the first Walk for Life West Coast, first held in January 2005. That core group, which has since been joined by others, is still there. The first Walk drew an astonishing (to organizers) 7,500 people. Estimates of attendance (which varies from year to year) have been as high as 55,000-70,000 people.
Zenit: The West Coast is known to be especially secular, what resistance have you faced in organizing the event over the years?
Eva Muntean: The Walk for Life West Coast drew immediate and virulent opposition from the political establishment of San Francisco. The opposition to the first Walk, ginned up by then-Mayor Newsom, the Board of Supervisors, and the local abortion industry was so bad that the groups which seek to portray themselves as “mainstream” have distanced themselves from the annual protests against the Walk, because of the behavior of our opposition. Even some local press squeaked (they hardly roared) about the counter-protestors. That opposition continues to this day. At least three times the Board of Supervisors has issued resolutions targeting the Walk, most recently at 2014’s 10th Annual Walk. Every year a small group of counter-protesters objects to the Walk, often in the most loutish manner. But they are outnumbered generally by at least 500 to one. We would say now that the city has gotten used to us. The police like us because we follow their instructions, and we have a special crew of high school students who leave the Civic Center Plaza cleaner than it was when we arrive.
Zenit: The event is nonsectarian, but what role do faithful Catholics have in the event?
Eva Muntean: Faithful Catholics are still by far the largest group of volunteers, and the largest numbers of attendees, although we are joined by many Christian denominations, people from non-Christian religions, and even pro-life secularists.
Zenit: Have there been special fruits or graces that are notable resulting from the Walk?
Eva Muntean: So many! It is by now by far the biggest Catholic weekend of the year. The Walk for Life West Coast Mass is the only Mass of the year when the Cathedral [of the Archdiocese of San Francisco] is full to overflowing, standing room only, and there are special vigils, all-night adorations, a Traditional Latin Mass, barbeques for the young people, and more at various Churches all over San Francisco and the surrounding area.
And this, which I shared at the Walk this year:
I want to tell you about a man named Michael. Three of Michael’s children were lost to abortion. Michael heard about the Walk and started Walking with us in 2011, and every year since. He started by himself, carrying a Walk for Life sign, as a way to come to terms with the abortions. Those around him probably wondered what he was doing, but each year he shared his experience and more and more men decided to join him—eventually 70 or 80. That’s great, but nothing all that unusual, right? Well, what is unusual and what I have not told you is that all this is happening in the California Prison system where Michael is serving a life sentence. The walks I am telling you about are happening in the prison yard. Michael’s wife tells us that this year Michael has organized enough men to Walk in four of the yards of Valley State Prison. As we walked on Market Street there were 70, 80, maybe 100 tough, hard men walking slowly around the prison yards in solidarity with the smallest and most defenseless among us. So if we ever again wonder are we changing hearts and minds, think of Michael and his fellow inmates.
Zenit: What do you hope the Walk for Life West Coast accomplishes, immediately and in the long-term?
Eva Muntean: To help people realize that abortion hurts women, that abortion is never an answer. That there are many resources for women in crisis pregnancies. That as one of our past speakers OB-GYN Dr. Vansen Wong said, “Abortion is barbaric, abortion is intolerable, and abortion has no place in a civilized society!” When that message gets through, political change will follow.