During Saturday's Midwest March For Life, several speakers urged more than 1,000 participants from across the region to remain vigilant and continue fighting for fewer abortions.
People of all ages marched the streets of downtown Jefferson City before gathering inside the Missouri Capitol Rotunda as part of the ninth annual Midwest March For Life, hosted by Columbia-based nonprofit 40 Days for Life.
Several Jefferson City residents attended the march, including Debra Goldammer, with Lutherans for Life and Faith Lutheran Church. This was her first time participating in the march.
"It just crushes my heart to think of all the babies that have been killed through abortion at any stage of life," she said. "I have real problems with somebody who thinks that that's a positive answer in their life to do that."
Keynote speaker Kristan Hawkins is president of Students for Life of America, a nonprofit that helps recruit and develop young pro-life activists. Having recently returned from the March for Life in Washington, D.C., Hawkins said Missouri is "one of the leading pro-life states," adding abortions are declining in Missouri and across the country.
The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services reported 3,903 abortions in Missouri in 2017, according to a Friday news release from Gov. Mike Parson's office. In 2016, there were 4,562 abortions in Missouri, it states.
The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's November 2018 Abortion Surveillance study stated the total number of reported abortions decreased by 24 percent between 2006-15 — the year of the most recent completed survey — in 49 of its 52 reporting areas. The reporting areas include the 50 states, District of Columbia and New York City.
Hawkins said the pro-life movement is gaining momentum from all age groups, including the youth.
Kassidy Neuner, a junior at Helias Catholic High School, was one of several students who participated in Saturday's march.
"I just wanted to show my support for pro-life, and abortion is not something that is OK in the world," she said. "We need to tackle it at least one day at a time."
While the momentum is growing, Hawkins said, she urged participants to "remain vigilant."
She used the example of the children's fable "The Tortoise and the Hare," comparing the abortion industry to the hare and the pro-life movement to the tortoise. Hawkins said the abortion industry "raced off" following the 1973 United States Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade — where the court ruled that a woman's right to choose an abortion was protected under the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution. She added the abortion industry later "became lazy," which allowed the pro-life movement to gain momentum.
Hawkins said she wants Roe v. Wade overturned so states can make their own abortion legislation. She also encouraged attendees to help make Missouri "100 percent abortion free."
"We have a lot to do. The hare has woken up," Hawkins told the crowd. "I ask you to remain vigilant and to finish what you started. Be that proud little tortoise that wins the race."
Along with the march, the event included a "Joining the Pro-life Movement" presentation, where students and adults could attend and listen to Hawkins' advice for getting involved. The Selinger Center at St. Peter Catholic Church also hosted booths and vendors throughout the day.
The rally provides resources to women who believe their only option is to abort a pregnancy, said Kathy Forck, campaign co-director of 40 Days for Life. This includes providing information about pregnancy resources throughout Missouri and Missouri's Alternatives to Abortion program.
The state's Alternatives to Abortion program seeks to reduce abortions and improve pregnancy outcomes, families' economic self-sufficiency, and child health and development, according to the Missouri Department of Social Services.
"We're marching not only for these babies but for these mothers of babies who feel they have no choice," Forck said. "This march, it just brings it to light that Missouri is a pro-life state. We love babies and we love the moms and all we want to do is help them."
In October 2018, Planned Parenthood-Columbia Health Center's license to perform abortions expired after it was unable to receive exemptions from two state regulations. Missouri's law requires abortion providers to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals before they can perform abortions. The law also requires abortion facilities be categorized as "ambulatory surgical centers," also known as outpatient surgery clinics.
After the Columbia clinic's license expired, Planned Parenthood's St. Louis clinic became the only facility in Missouri that provides abortions.
Planned Parenthood also provides education classes, STD tests, pelvic exams, cancer and diabetes screenings, vasectomies, hormone therapy, and birth control, among other services.
In a Friday news release, Parson commended Missourians who participated in the march.
"As other states in our nation venture further and further away from the American ideal to uphold the unalienable right to life each human being has been created with, I'm proud to lead a state with so many people committed to standing up for those without a voice," Parson said in the news release.
New York recently enacted a law that, among other items, allows a "licensed, certified or authorized practitioner" to perform abortions on patients who are more than 24 weeks pregnant if "there is an absence of fetal viability, or at any time when necessary to protect a patient's life or health," according to the legislation.
Virginia currently permits abortions after the second trimester if a physician and two consulting physicians believe the "continuation of the pregnancy is likely to result in the death of the woman or substantially and irremediably impair the mental or physical health of the woman," according to the state's law.
A recently proposed bill sought to amend this language so it removed the phrase "substantially and irremediably" and allowed one physician to certify an abortion after the second trimester, among other changes.
There did not appear to be protesters at Saturday's march.