Tens of thousands rally at 20th annual Walk for Life West Coast

By Valerie Schmalz

Undaunted by rain and the dismal political outlook in California, tens of thousands of prolife supporters turned out for the 20th annual Walk for Life West Coast on Jan. 20 in San Francisco.

“We stand because we know that life is greater than death. And human life is the future, pro-life is the future,” Live Action founder Lila Rose, a Californian, told the crowd, many holding umbrellas against intermittent showers. “You truly, truly are shining lights in a dark city. California, our beautiful state is not the sum of … the evil we have permitted here. There is so much good here and every single one of you are living proof of that.”

Civic Center Plaza rally (Jose Aguirre/Walk for Life West Coast)

Just months after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and returned abortion to the states, California voters in November 2022 approved Proposition One, a state constitutional amendment enshrining abortion as a right up until the moment of birth.

“The situation we face has much darkness. When we look at the darkness in this state and our country it can be tempting to think that change is not coming, and that change is not possible. But we would be wrong to think that,” said Rose, the founder of a human rights nonprofit which has an international digital footprint and is known for its investigations of Planned Parenthood. Even though San Francisco has nine abortion facilities, and California has about 150, she urged hope.

Lila Rose (Jose Aguirre/Walk for Life West Coast)

“There are thousands of prolife families in California, and millions of prolife people in California,” said Rose, who is pregnant with her third child.  More than 32,000 children have been saved from abortion in the U.S. since the June 2022 Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling, she said. “So don’t let anyone tell you that darkness is winning. Thirty-two thousand boys and girls have a future.”

Twenty years ago, the Walk for Life West Coast was founded to bring a pro-woman prolife voice to the abortion debate in California and the speakers at the 2024 Walk rally continued that tradition.

Kaya Jones, a former girl band singer with the Pussycat Dolls, recounted some of her history of musical success, including winning a Grammy in 2019, but said it was marred by three abortions. Healing is possible with the power of God, she said, “Repent, forgive, love.” Jones urged the crowd to pray with her for the pro-abortion protestors whose chants across the plaza punctuated the pro-life speakers’ talks. “Pray for the people who are there. Lord, I ask you right now … that you would show them that life is the only way.”

Kaya Jones (pink scarf) walking with Archbishop Cordileone along Market Street. (Jose Aguirre/Walk for Life West Coast)

Kimberly Henkel, who with her husband adopted four children, founded Springs of Love, a ministry to equip Catholics to discern and live out the call to foster and adopt. She urged those at the rally to “say yes to helping vulnerable children in foster care or supporting a foster family and say yes to starting a Springs of Love chapter in your parish.”

Kimberly Henkel with husband Greg and four children, after speaking at Walk for Life rally. Rev. Childress on the right. (Dennis Callahan/Archdiocese of San Francisco)

Before the crowd departed to walk along Market Street, Baptist pastor Rev. Clenard Childress Jr., who spoke at the first Walk in 2005, and most since, told those present that God is with them. “No matter how depressing things get … give God a praise every day.”

“He says I will be with you always…we will be victorious. We shall overcome. We are the people who God has chosen to live in these perilous times.”

Rev. Clenard Childress Jr. (Photo by Jose Aguirre/Walk for Life West Coast)

The day began with a Walk for Life Mass celebrated by San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone at the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption. The archbishop was joined in the sanctuary by Santa Rosa Bishop Robert Vasa, and numerous priests helped distribute Holy Communion to the packed cathedral. Priests heard confessions before and during the Mass at stations located around the cathedral.

Archbishop Cordileone also opened the Walk for Life rally at Civic Center with a prayer, thanking God for the victory of overturning Roe v. Wade and asked for help bringing respect for all human life to the whole country, praying, “Endow us with the wisdom, perseverance and determination to build a Culture of Life in our country so that abortion will be unthinkable and undesired all throughout our land.”

Perhaps reflecting the fact that the abortion fight has now moved to the states, most of those at the San Francisco walk were from northern and central California, although people also came from out of state. A busload of college students from Portland, Oregon rode for nine hours arriving in time for the Walk for Life Mass. Oregon also has no legal limits on abortion. In Southern California this year, One Life LA is the focus of prolife Catholic efforts and it was also Jan. 20.

Maria Martinez-Mont, who runs the Archdiocese of San Francisco Gabriel Project ministry to pregnant women which supports them before and after birth, distributed literature and talked with participants at the Walk Infofaire set up at the side of the Civic Center Plaza. “Our Catholic parish volunteers work to help pregnant moms in need in our communities, so no one needs to feel that they are alone navigating a pregnancy they didn’t expect,” said Martinez-Mont. 

Valerie Schmalz is the director of the Archdiocesan Office of Human Life & Dignity.