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story.lead_photo.caption Gov. Mike Parson and first lady Teresa Parson join in the Midwest March for Life on Saturday morning around the Capitol. Photo by Ken Barnes / News Tribune.

Gov. Mike Paron on Saturday became the first governor to speak at the annual Midwest March for Life, encouraging more than 1,000 people to continue fighting against abortions.

During the 10th annual Midwest March for Life, Parson said he was honored to be the first governor to speak at the rally and reaffirmed his commitment to the pro-life movement.

The Parsons recently welcomed their sixth grandchild into the family, and the governor said he was grateful his granddaughter was not "another statistic."

"All life is precious, and that's why we fight to protect the unborn — to protect those who can't defend themselves," he said. "I'm here to tell you, everyone has a right to life."

Missouri has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country, especially after the state Legislature passed anti-abortion bills last year. Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe acknowledged this, thanking participants for their persistence in helping to pass House Bill 126, also known as the fetal heartbeat bill.

Among its provisions, HB126 — which became state law last August — prohibits all abortions in the state, except when the mother's health is in danger, at about eight weeks of pregnancy.

Kathy Forck, one of the organizers of Midwest March for Life, said it's "amazing what God has done" in terms of helping pass pro-life legislation in Missouri.

"The laws that Missouri has passed protect women's safety and are making it harder for the abortion doctors to do what they do, which is ultimately harming women — not only their psyche and souls but also their bodies," said Forck, co-campaign director of Columbia's 40 Days for Life.

Legislation last year put several constraints on abortion clinics. This eventually led to there being only one clinic in Missouri that offers abortions — Planned Parenthood in St. Louis.

"Because of your hard work, we only have one abortion clinic — and I'll even say that's one too many," Parson told the cheering crowd.

Abortions have steadily decreased since the mid-1980s, with there being 2,910 abortions in Missouri in 2018, according to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. In 2017, there were 3,903 abortions in the state, the department notes.

There's still more work to be done, said Parson and keynote speaker David Bereit, founder and former CEO of 40 Days For Life. While Parson referenced legislation in other states, Bereit noted Planned Parenthood's new facility in Fairview Heights, Illinois, near the Missouri border.

"We're just part of the troops, in Army terms, because we've still got to fight battle after battle after battle," Parson said. "But I will guarantee you, sure as I'm standing here in front of you as governor of the state of Missouri, we're winning the war."

The hundreds of people in attendance Saturday shows they were ready to continue that battle, with many participants holding signs that read "Remember the unborn," "Choose life" and "Pray every day to end abortion."

The Midwest March for Life has a special place in Mary Helen Smith's heart. At 19 years old, she had an abortion.

"My mom took me to the clinic and assured it was no worse than pulling a tooth," Smith recalled. "I will tell you, there are two victims and more in an abortion."

Smith attended the March for Life in Washington, D.C., but when she moved to Lebanon, she had to find another way to participate in the pro-life movement.

Now a younger generation has "taken up the banner for pro-life," Smith said, smiling at her granddaughter, Grace Tillett, 19.

"I'm just really happy to be here and support the cause with my grandma and following in her footsteps and doing my best to fight the good fight," said Tillett, a student at Stephens College in Columbia.

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