Sharon Ketchum went with her daughter to the nation’s capitol to spread the word of God, as she believes it, and to call for an end to abortion in the country.
While such a protest has clear political implications for the law and how it affects others, she described it as more of an emotional journey for her. It was a chance for her to bond with her 16-year-old daughter, Katelyn, who was attending the March for Life for the second time.
“This was a pilgrimage for my daughter and I,” Ketchum said. “Hearing the speakers, witnessing how many people feel the same way we do, it was a needed boost to our faith.”
The March for Life is an annual rally opposing women’s legal right to abortion as decided by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe vs. Wade ruling in 1973. This year, the speakers included Vice President Mike Pence. The event came the weekend after nearly 500,000 women marched in Washington in protest of President Donald Trump and in support of women’s rights -- including access to abortion.
Ketchum and her daughter, who live in Wentzville, Missouri, left on Wednesday in a caravan of chartered buses taking thousands of St. Louis-area students to the march. The night they arrived in D.C., the group attended a program in which an energetic priest put on a show in the style of late-night talk show host Jimmy Fallon. He even did a lip-sync competition with a nun.
“The kids just loved it,” Ketchum said. It got more serious when they heard from Melissa Ohden, a well-known speaker among anti-abortion activists. She speaks about her experiences as a survivor of her birth mother’s attempted abortion.
The next day, they marched from the Washington Monument to the steps of the Supreme Court building. Ketchum’s group found other students from Missouri, and they chanted: “We love babies, yes we do, we love babies, how about you?”
Thousands of teenagers and college students attend the march each year, but the discussion about abortion starts much younger for some. Ketchum said her children probably learned about it in fifth or sixth grade, when their parochial school begins teaching about puberty. Children learn about the various ways a fetus can be aborted and the church’s stance against it.
Ketchum said the ultimate goal is to end all abortions, including in the case of rape or incest, because she believes life begins at conception. This raises difficult questions, such as what to do with all the embryos created and stored for IVF treatments, but Ketchum says the larger issue is about the consequences of individual decisions.
“I don’t think it’s man’s decision that we can scientifically manufacture a baby,” she said. “It’s God’s will.”
The abortion rate in the U.S. has dipped to its lowest level since the Supreme Court’s landmark 1973 decision that legalized the procedure nationwide, according to a study released by the Guttmacher Institute. In 2014, 19 percent of pregnancies in the U.S., excluding miscarriages, ended in abortion.
About 926,200 abortions were performed nationwide in 2014, the report found, compared with 1.06 million abortions in 2011.
Better birth control access and use is a key to the declining number of abortions, said Megan Donovan, a senior policy manager at the Institute, in news reports about the study.
Ketchum said that with her own children, she wants to focus on the importance of chastity, making moral decisions and responsibility.
“Don’t ask me what I believe on contraception,” she said. “That’s not what I want to talk about. I didn’t go on this trip for the politics. I went on it because I knew it would be an awesome experience with my daughter.”
Her daughter agreed, saying that having her mother attend with her was the most meaningful part of the march. Katelyn also said seeing the large crowd of people standing up for the same issue as her was a favorite moment.
The day after the march, their group gathered in front of the White House to pray for the country and its leaders. Ketchum felt an overwhelming feeling of warmth. She said she voted for Trump because she feels it is what God wanted her to do based on Trump’s stated anti-abortion position.
“I’m trusting Trump and his administration will do what they say,” she said. “We’ll just have to wait and see.”