Taking a stance: Annual anti-abortion march met with protest, dialogue

  • Anti-abortion advocates walk past the Equality Health Center during the annual March For Life in Concord on Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018. Pro-abortion rights advocates met the march with a counter rally. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Abortion rights advocates and opponents hold opposing signs outside the Equality Health Center during the annual March For Life in Concord on Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Anti-abortion advocates walk past the Equality Health Center during the annual March For Life in Concord on Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018. Pro-abortion rights advocates met the march with a counter rally. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Monday, January 15, 2018

As a chilly Saturday morning aged into the afternoon, a ringing chant could be heard in the south end of Concord’s downtown.

“My body!” Dalia Vidunas, the director of Equality Health Center, shouted. Across the sidewalk, dozens of pro-abortion rights supporters answered, “My choice!”

“Her body!” Vidunas cried. “Her choice!” the crowd answered.

Making their way down Main Street to the St. John the Evangelist Activity Center were equally passionate anti-abortion marchers, their leader bearing a small, white coffin. Some sang as they passed in front of the abortion rights supporters; others urged their ideological opponents to join them. More simply prayed.

The scene was not unusual for anyone who has lived in Concord for some time. N.H. Right to Life’s annual March for Life has been ongoing for more than 30 years, and is always held in the days before the anniversary of the passage of Roe v. Wade.

Jennifer Robidoux, president of N.H. Right to Life, said 333 marchers participated with their group.

The Equality Health Center’s counter protest has been around since 2011. Since then, the two sides have traded places several times, at least physically. In some years, the pro-abortion rights faction is allowed on the sidewalk – other times, they must stay on the health center’s lawn.

But despite this yearly back-and-forth on protest positions, members of both groups say they fear an increasingly-divided nation is keeping people from having a real conversation about a topic as emotional as

abortion. And 11 days before Roe v. Wade turns 45, some took the time to remember why they were so involved in the cause – and why it’s important to keep talking about it. ‘Women shouldn’tbe judged’

Nancy Greenwood, 63, of Concord, remembers pooling money with four of her high school friends to buy a one-way bus ticket to New York City. But it wasn’t a trip for her – it was for her 16-year-old friend, who was pregnant. Her friend’s family was deeply religious, Greenwood said, and she was afraid of what would happen if they found out about her situation.

So, armed with a phone number and $125, Greenwood said her friend traveled to NYC, alone, and had an illegal abortion.

That memory still stands out to Greenwood as to why she rallies women’s abortion rights. “Each situation is very personal,” she said. “Reproductive choice is incredibly important to a woman; without it, you can control a woman’s heath, her well being, her financial situation.”

Lisa Spring, 58, who works at an abortion provider in the state, has seen the weight of that choice firsthand. “Women shouldn’t be judged for making a decision, because it’s not an easy one,” she said.

Though Spring was too young to remember the passage Roe v. Wade, she’s grown up with it; the idea of that choice not being there, she said, is “scary.”

Vidunas, standing inside the center after the rally, said she was heartened by what she said was a larger amount of men participating in the rally than in previous years.

“I think people forget that men have to be involved, too,” she said. “It’s everyone’s issue.”

But despite progress in that arena, Vidunas said the discussion and the tone around abortion hasn’t changed in several years. She wasn’t sure if it ever would.

“The country is growing more and more divided,” she said. “I don’t think it’s going to change in my lifetime, or in my time working here.

“I think the world needs healing on this,” she continued. “But not all wounds have been opened yet.”

‘Women deservebetter’

Charlotte Antal, 45, of Bradford said she developed her anti-abortion activism because she remembers being dissatisfied with the level of care she received while pregnant with her two sons.

In both instances, the N.H. Right to Life board member said she was told her sons had “fetal anomalies,” which turned out to be markers for Down’s Syndrome. In both instances, she said she was told to “think about her options.”

The insinuation that she abort her children, Antal said, angered her. “It made me wonder how much pressure women are under to abort when there’s an anomaly,” she said. “It made me more aware of what women are going through.”

To Antal, the world after Roe v. Wade is one that has given up on young women. No longer do people try to support women through a moment as challenging and scary as pregnancy can be; instead, they offer abortion as a “quick fix,” Antal said.

“When you’re sitting on the table at your doctor’s office, that’s when you’re the most vulnerable,” she said. “You don’t need someone talking to you about your ‘options’ – you need someone who is going to say, ‘It’s going to be okay.’ I think women deserve better than abortion.”

Kathleen Hedstrom, 73, agreed. She runs an anti-abortion group out of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in the Heights of Concord, and has been approached by several women who were hurt by and regretted their decision.

“It ruins women,” she said. “I don’t want anyone to experience that.”

Hedstrom said she is a frequent member of the walk, and her group often goes down to the Equality Health Center during the 40 Days for Life vigil, an event that anti-abortion groups hold during March.

Those vigils, Hedstromsaid, are supposed to be moments of quiet prayer, although she said people sometimes do engage her in conversation.

“I think the exchange of thoughts is okay,” she said.

It’s that exchange of ideas Antal wishes would happen more often.

“I fear we’re living in a  more polarized world than ever,” she said. “I f it keeps going like this, I don’t know when the world is ever going to heal.”

(This story was updated Jan. 15.)