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Crowd rallies downtown against abortion in vastly different political landscape

A little less than a year ago, Brylee Green got a positive pregnancy test.

She was 18, soon-to-be single and in shock.

Green didn’t believe she was ready to be a mother, leaving her with a decision that millions of others have faced: Should I get an abortion?

On Saturday, Green was one of the speakers at San Diego’s 11th annual Walk for Life, an anti-abortion rally downtown organized by the local Catholic diocese and a range of other organizations.

This march — organizers counted around 1,700 people — took place in a markedly different political reality.

The U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last summer, yet the pro-life movement’s long-sought victory was followed by red states and blue voting to protect local access, including California, which overwhelming enshrined the right to abortion in the state constitution.

“In the Proposition 1 campaign, I believe the way it succeeded was by simply excluding from consideration the unborn child,” Roman Catholic Cardinal Robert McElroy told the crowd. He urged attendees to change minds by talking with their communities about the “moral identity” of life in the womb.

“Then the pro-life cause will be victorious,” he said.

Few issues in the United States are more divisive, and there is even disagreement among Christians over the procedure’s morality.

Pockets of Saturday’s event felt partisan or combative. One man at Waterfront Park wore a Trump hat, another waved a flag with a double-headed eagle he said was reserved for wartime and, on stage, the conservative writer and activist Star Parker railed against “left-wing pagan” worldviews that defied God.

But most of the morning felt more like a peaceful church service.

Prayers were recited in Spanish. Speeches that mentioned Roe were met with cheers while references to California law received mostly silence. A lone heckler was quickly drowned out by an a cappella worship song.

Among the throngs was a couple from Escondido, Ryan and Elisa Thomas.

They’d wanted a child for years and started the adoption process around 2020. One woman agreed to give them her baby, then backed out.

Last year, the Adoption Center of San Diego told them about another young woman, 18-year-old Green, who had chosen against abortion and was looking for, in her words, two “amazing parents.”

However, it would be an “open adoption.” Green would stay in contact with them and the baby.

The Thomas’ wondered: What would that look like?

Pro-life supporters have long pushed for programs that make it easier to birth and raise a baby, especially as some research has shown that criminalizing abortion can just push women toward riskier procedures.

The adoption center the Thomas’ were talking to was one of about 50 organizations that set up booths at the park.

Branch Church, in Kearny Mesa, advertised its Embrace Grace ministry, which hosts support groups and baby showers for single mothers.

“Most moms, when they’re not planning to get pregnant, they’re scared,” said Mari Hoffman, a group leader. “Walking alongside them, that’s a huge step.”

McElroy, the cardinal, has frequently spoken about how opposition to abortion needs to be coupled with a bigger safety net.

In an interview, McElroy acknowledged that an abortion prohibition was “not likely to occur in California,” but he still said the state should bolster its pregnant and parental leave initiatives and the federal government should expand the child tax credit.

“Economists across the board say that’s the most effective way with providing aid to those who are poor,” he said.

McElroy adheres to a Catholic teaching sometimes known as the “Seamless Garment,” a holistic stance that opposes everything from the death penalty to malnutrition. As several banners at the rally put it: “We respect life from conception to natural death.”

McElroy spoke by a sidewalk not far from Green and the Thomases.

Left to right, Ryan Thomas, Brylee Green, Marleigh, 12-weeks old and Elisa Thomas

At the Waterfront Park, left to right, Ryan Thomas, Brylee Green, Marleigh, 12 weeks old and Elisa Thomas were among supporters of the San Diego Walk For Life event.

(Nelvin C. Cepeda/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The three adults walked together, pushing a stroller.

About three months ago, Green went into labor.

The Thomases came to the hospital soon after she gave birth to a girl. Green was committed to the adoption process, but she was still devastated to leave her daughter.

“That was definitely one of the hardest moments I’ve ever been a part of,” said Ryan Thomas.

Marleigh Thomas is now 12 weeks old.

Green and the Thomases took turns passing her around. Even with her eyes open, she didn’t make a sound.

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