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"Thanks to the repugnant behavior of city officials and the boorish behavior of several hundred pro-abortion activists, San Francisco went a long way on Jan. 22 to solidify its reputation as one of the most intolerant cities in the nation." - Catholic San Francisco editorial, Jan. 28, 2005

San Francisco’s elected officials incited intolerant and potentially dangerous behavior with their intemperate condemnation of the city’s first Walk for Life West Coast, the city’s archdiocesan newspaper says in an unusually strong January 28 editorial.

On January 11, the board of supervisors approved a resolution, signed by Mayor Gavin Newsom, declaring the anniversary of Roe v. Wade "Stand Up for Choice Day" and held a press conference specifically condemning the Walk for Life West Coast. The news conference was held in conjunction with Planned Parenthood Golden Gate and NARAL Pro-Choice California.

Newsom and several supervisors railed in favor of abortion rights at a rally held up the street from the Walk rally on January 22, before abortion rights activists marched down downtown’s Market Street, yelling and using bullhorns in an attempt to disrupt the peaceful Walk rally.

"Thanks to the repugnant rhetoric of city officials and the boorish behavior of several hundred pro-abortion activists, San Francisco went a long way on Jan. 22 to solidify its reputation as one of the most intolerant cities in the nation," wrote Maurice Healy, the editor of Catholic San Francisco, the weekly diocesan paper of San Francisco.

The Walk drew more than 1,000 hecklers who gestured obscenely, threw condoms, jeered, chanted and berated the more than 7,000 walkers, many of them families with small children. More than a hundred police officers lined the route, separating the Walk for Life participants from the counter demonstrators. Police arrested two abortion rights demonstrators.

"In declaring "Stand Up for Choice Day" – in reaction to plans for Walk for Life West Coast – San Francisco Supervisors sent a bellicose message to pro-choice activists and a call for aggressive action," wrote Healy, director of communications for the Archdiocese. "Local Supervisors, who like to think of themselves as liberal and progressive, called for a reactionary and intolerant response. In the process, San Francisco’s elected officials raised their voices against freedom of speech and right of assembly."

"Despite the Supervisors’ innate message of "Don’t come, don’t speak, don’t march," a peaceful Walk for Life — West Coast rally at Justin Herman Plaza featured noted women and movements calling for better treatment for women. At noon, the pro-life throng of 7,000 people – young, old, and many families with children – began a procession along the Embarcadero to Marina Green. As the praying, singing and smiling pro-life people began their route, they were met with loud insults and vile invective thrown at them by pro-abortion zealots. Many insults were specifically anti-Catholic," Healy noted in the Catholic San Francisco editorial.

"What was the object of their hatred? The Walk for Life participants who quietly and purposefully walked behind a banner that simply said, "Abortion hurts Women." The pro-choice activists were enraged to see thousands of people proceeding under a sea of posters with the simple message, ‘Women deserve better than abortion.’"

San Francisco’s archdiocese supported the Walk, which was organized by a group of San Francisco area residents, mostly women, including sponsoring an essay contest for school children. Ignatius Press, which publishes, was one of the Walk sponsors and Walk Co-chair Eva Muntean is a marketing assistant at the Press.

San Francisco Archbishop William Levada said a prayer at the beginning of the rally and Walk and walked the route, behind the "Abortion hurts Women" banner held by group of young women. Hundreds of walkers held signs that said, "Women deserve better than abortion," the copyrighted slogan of Feminists for Life of America.

The Walk’s goal was to reach women, particularly women who had had abortions or who were pregnant.

Nellie Boldrick, who was a Walk participant and one of the Walk’s organizers, said a number of women came up to her during the Walk to tell her they had had abortions. Georgette Forney, president of Silent No More Awareness Campaign, and a speaker at the Walk rally, said several women hugged her along the way and she is corresponding with others via email.

"We must have passed out about two dozen brochures and cards to people just saying–a lot of people say they have a friend. Sometimes it’s really a friend, sometimes it’s code," Forney said. "There were other people who would step up alongside and put their arm around me and say ‘thank you for having the courage to speak for us.’"

Mayor Newsom calls himself a practicing Catholic but created a storm of controversy last year when he decided to begin issuing same sex marriage licenses from City Hall, a fiat which was later halted by the courts. He is strongly pro-abortion.

Supervisor Alioto-Pier, a co-sponsor of the board of supervisors’ resolution, attends the same Catholic parish church as one of the Walk co-chairs, Dolores Meehan, a fourth-generation San Franciscan.

Calls to the Mayor’s office and to the office of Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier were not returned.

Forney, who came to speak at the San Francisco event from her home in Pennsylvania, was amazed by the reaction from City Hall. She told Catholic World Report, in an article to be published in its February 2005 edition: "There is a pompousness among the cultural elites there where they’re almost in their own cultural state and no one else matters and how dare you disagree with them."

In the Catholic San Francisco editorial, Healy likened city officials’ response to that of racist Southerners against the Freedom Riders who traveled to the South to try to break the segregationists’ hold.

"San Francisco officials had tried to villainize the pro-life group as ‘outsiders,’" wrote Healy, "This is an epithet that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. easily would have recognized. When King participated in marches for civil rights in various U.S. cities, he often experienced the same kind of insults that were thrown at the participants in the Walk for Life. Worse still, the angry shouts of pro-abortion activists, telling the marchers to ‘Go back to the Central Valley,’ were thinly veiled racist attacks on Hispanic Americans.

Read "Shame on San Francisco," the Catholic San Francisco editorial.

Valerie Schmalz is a writer for IgnatiusInsight. She worked as a reporter and editor for The Associated Press, and in print and broadcast media for ten years. She holds a BA in Government from University of San Francisco and a Master of Science from the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. She is the former director of Birthright of San Francisco. Valerie and her wonderful husband have four children. She was a participant in the Walk for Life West Coast.

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