For more than 30 years, Father Patrick Forman has been present for the January pro-life activities in Montpelier, and this year was no different: He was one of the concelebrants at the Mass for Life at St. Augustine Church and one of the participants in the Rally for Life at the Statehouse Jan. 28.

Now pastor of St. Monica Church in Barre, he came to the events through the years because, he said, “we have to constantly support and pray for respect for human life because there are constant attacks on life at different stages.”

He also came to support “people working so hard on the local level” to promote respect for life so they would know their priests support them.

But what was different this year? Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion 50 years ago “is now on the ash heap of history,” said Mary Beerworth, executive director of the Vermont Right to Life Committee Inc., who gave brief remarks at the Statehouse gathering.

In last year’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the court ruled that the Constitution of the United States does not confer a right to abortion. The decision overruled both Roe v. Wade (1973) and Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), giving individual states the full power to regulate any aspect of abortion not protected by federal law.

Before the march from City Hall to the Statehouse, the Respect Life Mass was celebrated at the Catholic church with Burlington Bishop Christopher Coyne delivering the homily.

“I would offer that the Dobbs decision is what one might call a ‘split decision’ not because it was unclear in its intent but because of its cultural outcomes,” the bishop said. “Our country is even more divided or ‘split’ than ever over the issue of abortion.”

This division is manifested most clearly in the fact that there are now states where abortion is illegal in any form, and there are states where abortion is enshrined as a legal right up to the moment of the natural birth of the child, he said. “The latter is the reality that we face here in the State of Vermont.”

In November, Vermont voters passed Article 22 which held that an individual’s right to personal reproductive autonomy is central to the liberty and dignity to determine one’s own life course and shall not be denied or infringed unless justified by a compelling state interest achieved by the least restrictive means.

In his homily, the bishop called for conversion and evangelization. “I am not so much calling for us to do something new because evangelization and conversion have always will been a part of who we are as Catholics and Christians, but it is more of a refocusing in a positive direction.”

He quoted the First Letter of Peter 3:15: “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope” and said that when one reads of the early Church, there was an eagerness, a readiness to share their reason for hope, that Jesus Christ through His life, death and resurrection has opened the way to eternal life for all who believe in Him and accept the baptism of new life. It wasn’t just the work of priests, or deacons or preachers.  It was the witness of all, in word, yes, but also in testimony by the way in which they lived their lives.”

The work of evangelization is not just the work of the clergy or the religious or the professional evangelizers. It is a work of each disciple. “One of the ways in which all of us evangelize is to witness to the truth of Christ in our lives by our words but especially by our actions,” Bishop Coyne said. “In the present culture in which we find ourselves we will be more successful in spreading the Good News if we use the means of attraction rather than persuasion. In other words, drawing upon the example of the early Church and bringing it into our own present culture and time, can we see ourselves as a community not separate from the culture but one immersed within it … a community that is attractive by the radiance of its witness.”

How can Catholics promote a gospel of life in Vermont? “By being people of life, people of charity, people who accompany others along the way of salvation, not just in words, but by actions,” he said.

While others are promoting abortion as a solution to poverty, Catholics must offer other options, he said. “We must continue to create a culture of life.”

One initiative in the Diocese is “Walking with Moms in Need.” This initiative is designed to supply guidance and goals to prepare every Catholic parish or parish cluster to connect local pregnant and parenting women in need to every helpful resource.

“It is good for us to be here today, to encourage and support each other in the great work of protecting all human life from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death,” the bishop said. “It is also good for us to be here to simply celebrate the Eucharist, the font and summit of our faith. Here we encounter the body of Christ in the gathering with each other. Here we encounter the word of God in the proclamation of the word. Here we encounter the resurrected glorified Christ under the appearance of bread and wine. And from here we go forth to spread the Good News.”

The 2023 Rally for Life was the final such wintertime rally in Vermont. “All across America and here in Vermont pro-lifers marched in January because the wrongly decided U.S. Supreme Court case, Roe v Wade was handed down on Jan. 22, 1973,” Beerworth said. “However, abortion remains legal throughout all nine months of pregnancy and for Vermont pro-lifers, there is much work to be done.”

She expects Planned Parenthood to try to expand abortion access in the state and to work to keep pro-life voices out of the debate, so the Vermont Right to Life theme for this year is “We Will Not Be Silenced.”

Beerworth said Vermont Right to Life will continue to monitor the legislature and increase outreach to local communities with an emphasis on young people.

This year’s guest speaker at a lunch that followed the rally, Savannah Craven of Students for Life, has attracted high school and college-age young adults to the movement. She told the Statehouse gathering she was “appalled” by the passage of Article 22 and encouraged young people to form Students for Life chapters.

Speaking to a crowd of hundreds — including a large contingent of students from Thomas Aquinas College in Northfield, Massachusetts — on the front steps of the Statehouse, Beerworth said it is hoped that there will be a gathering in the spring “to celebrate Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health that dealt the crushing blow to Roe and sent abortion back to the states to set policy.”

Supporters of legal abortion “have marred the Vermont Constitution with the ugly language of Proposal 5/Article 22,” she said, but the Vermont Constitution still says “that we have ‘certain, natural, inherent and unalienable rights, amongst which are … defending life.’”

After the Statehouse rally, Sue Stone of St. Monica Parish in Barre, said she attended “because life is so important.” The mother of three and grandmother of 12 said her participation is an outward act of appreciation for them. “I hate to see women deprive themselves of a lifetime of the tremendous blessings children bring.”

As for Father Forman, he plans to continue to support the pro-life cause: “There is a continued need for people to support and encourage the ongoing activities” of the pro-life movement.