AUGUSTA — Despite Saturday’s cold, Susan Rowland traveled from Lisbon to join about 500 people who gathered in the capital city for Hands Around the Capitol.

The annual event marks the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 that made abortion legal, and draws people from across Maine who are working to end legal abortion. They come to the state capital for worship, a rally and march to the State House for a silent protest while the capitol bell is rung once for each year since that decision.

Following church services at Penney Memorial United Baptist Church and St. Mary’s Church, and after the rally, Rowland paused briefly before heading over to the State House.

Rowland said when she became pregnant as a teenager, her parents took her for an abortion because they thought it was the right thing to do for their young daughter. She had thought she would give the child up for adoption.

Now married with four grown children, she said her opposition to abortion started then, and she considered taking her own life.

“It sounds empowering, right?,” Rowland said. “My right, my body? It makes sense, it really does. Between a woman and her physician? That makes sense. But the reality is that this is a human life that is being destroyed. Although you may be thankful that your baby is gone and the problem is gone, we wouldn’t advocate for killing domestic violence partners (for example).”

She said her child would be 45 years old now.

The rally brought together representatives of church organizations, and groups like the Maine Right to Life Coalition and the Knights of Columbus to recognize both elected officials and those running for office who are anti-abortion, talk about the progress of their initiatives and reflect on both failures and successes.

The Most Rev. Robert Deeley, bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, said the past year was difficult because the state enacted laws that don’t align with what we’re celebrating today, the right to life, with taxpayer-funded abortion, for example, and physician-assisted suicide.

“I’m very disappointed in that and in the inability to overturn that,” Deeley said, by failing to gather enough signatures to bring a People’s Veto to a statewide vote.

“We have some things to be thankful for,” the Rev. Bob Emrich said. “The tide is turning on abortions, including the abortion rate and the abortion ratio are on the decline. And we have our nation’s most pro-life president. In addition to defunding Planned Parenthood everywhere he can, President Trump has made massive changes in the judicial branch by appointing pro-life judges whose influence will have far-reaching impact for generations to come.”

In addition to Emrich and Deeley, speakers included Maine Right to Life Executive Director Karen Vachon, state Rep. Mary Anne Kinney, and Haywood Robinson, medical director of the international anti-abortion organization 40 Days for Life.

“I’ve had this opinion in my head a long time,” said Carl Maddaleni, director of the Maine Vitae Society, the advertising arm of the Maine Right to Life Committee. “Despite the struggle we’re in, we’re all happy people, we really are. We’ve got God on our side, we’re happy. Our opponents are miserable. They aren’t happy. They’re sad, they’re angry. They really are. So keep that in mind.”

Rowland said she attends the rally every year because she knows what abortion means, and she doesn’t want that for other women. While she believes in choice, that choice comes before pregnancy, she said.

But more, she said, it’s a moral dilemma.

“That’s the other reason I am here. I had this experience, and now I’m being forced to pay for this for other people and I really don’t want to do it,” she said. “What am I supposed to do?”

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