Prolife supporters participate in the annual New Jersey Right to Life Rally held Jan. 14 at the New Jersey Statehouse Annex. Jeff Bruno photo
Prolife supporters participate in the annual New Jersey Right to Life Rally held Jan. 14 at the New Jersey Statehouse Annex. Jeff Bruno photo
" It was meant to rally us to fight for life from conception to natural death. " Father James F. O’Neill diocesan respect life chaplain for Ocean County, pastor, St. John Parish, Lakehurst

Individuals dedicated to the protection of the child in the womb had ample reasons to be disheartened as they gathered for a rally outside the Statehouse Annex in Trenton Jan. 14. Just as the pro-life community prepared to mark another sad anniversary of the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion throughout the United States, the Freedom of Reproductive Choice Act was passed and signed into law in New Jersey, expanding access to abortion services, including late-term procedures.

But the estimated 450 rally-goers -- representing all ages, backgrounds and walks of life -- set aside their emotions and instead directed their energy toward promoting the sanctity of all human life with even greater determination. Attendees were buoyed by an inspiring slate of speakers, including religious and community leaders, and the solidarity of so many pro-life people taking part in the two-hour event sponsored by the New Jersey Right to Life organization. Some attendees had come directly from a Mass for Life held in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral in Trenton, at which Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., presided.

Claire Howson of Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish, Moorestown, said of the rally, “My experience was not one of anger and frustration, but one of hope.” Howson, who led the 40 Days for Life Campaign at the Cherry Hill Women’s Center for 10 years and is a partner in the non-profit organization Helpers of God’s Precious Infants of NJ, acknowledged, “Yes, we had a setback this week, but the speakers inspired us to keep fighting the good fight.”

“We expected a somber crowd in view of recent events,” said Ellen Conaghan, a member of the pro-life ministry in St. Peter Parish, Point Pleasant Beach. “But this was a large, full-of-life crowd that showed no sign of defeat whatsoever. The speakers were informative and optimistic for the future and were met with cheers and applause. We were so happy to be with [them].”

“As we continue our work, we look forward to the upcoming 40 Days For Life,” Conaghan continued, “participating in future pro-life rallies, fundraising and donating to our local pregnancy help centers, and meeting with other pro-lifers to continue to receive encouragement and hope. We are never defeated.”

Catholic Witness

Metuchen Diocese Bishop James F. Checchio was among the roster of speakers at the Trenton rally who included clergy of various faith traditions and others who shared their witness stories about their support for life. Prior to taking the podium outside the Statehouse Annex, Bishop Checchio had visited St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral and spent some time with Bishop O’Connell following the Mass there.

Bishop Checchio told the rally-goers, “Be assured of my gratitude, but more importantly my prayers for all of you, that the Lord will bless you and your efforts on behalf of life.”

He continued, “In our faith, Jesus told us ‘whatever you do for the least of your brothers and sisters, we do for Him’; so we respect and protect life, the unborn, the sick, disabled, elderly, those in prison, the homeless, the hungry, the immigrant and the list goes on and on and is inclusive.

“May God give us the energy and wisdom we need to love our pregnant sisters in need, their families and yes, all our unborn brothers and sisters. God bless you all,” he stated.

Father James F. O’Neill, diocesan respect life chaplain for Ocean County, and pastor of St. John Parish, Lakehurst, was pleased to see the number who attended and was impressed by their enthusiasm for the prolife cause.

“It was meant to rally us to fight for life from conception to natural death,” said Father O’Neill, one that captured the intensity needed to “continue the long-term strategy” that “allows us to help women in need and continue to petition lawmakers” for support.

Instead of being angry or frustrated by the bill signed into law Gov. Murphy that codified late-term abortion in New Jersey, Father O’Neill said, it’s a time to recognize that this is still a long, ongoing battle, one likely best served with increased focus on the local level.

“We can see these efforts locally more than what’s happening in D.C.,” he said.

“When it comes to local, real people, we can make a difference and that will have an impact in D.C., and hopefully change the culture,” he said, adding that after the March for Life on Jan. 21, “we need to get more local because of the state’s importance.

“We need to work on the state level,” Father O’Neill emphasized. “We’ve got the New Jersey Catholic Conference to pay attention to and interact with.”

The Way Forward

Jim Meyer, a member of St. Rose of Lima Parish in Freehold, has been active in pro-life advocacy for 49 years. When he first joined, he thought: “This won’t take long. I thought it would be over in a year. I had no idea I would be so active for all these years: fundraising, picketing, praying, always following the rules [and] lobbying at the local level.”

Meyer has been on 42 of the annual Marches for Life in Washington, missing only the ones when he was on active military duty. He, too, took heart from the turnout at the rally and agreed that the cause will continue unabated despite the new legislation.

“There are days when you win and when you lose,” he said. “You can’t have thin skin. You can’t get upset. We recognize this is a sensitive issue and that you have to keep the emphasis on non-confrontation.”

But with “more and more (scientific) technology – with children born earlier and earlier in pregnancy” with diligence and prayer, he said, the day will come.