When 82 people showed up to a meeting in August to recruit volunteers for a pro-life booth at the Umatilla County Fair, organizer Marge Rolen couldn’t believe her eyes.

“It was shocking,” she said. “We didn’t even have a microphone.”

The overwhelming response prompted Rolen, Deanna Leonard and Bethlehem Lutheran pastor Mark Adams to decide the time was ripe for Hermiston to get its own chapter of the pro-life organization Right to Life.

Adams said after 42 years of legalized abortion under Roe v Wade, energy in fighting it had waned. But recent national controversy over Planned Parenthood has reinvigorated those who believe life begins at conception.

“I honestly think it was the videos on Planned Parenthood that got people awakened again and got people angry and motivated to step up,” Adams said.

The videos, covertly recorded by an anti-abortion group, purport to show employees discussing the harvesting and sale of organs from aborted fetuses. Planned Parenthood claims the videos were doctored to make it sound like employees were selling the tissue instead of donating it for scientific research. But the graphic discussion of abortion procedures caught on camera has spurred a resurgence of pro-life protests around the country.

In Hermiston and Pendleton supporters will come together for a silent demonstration of their own on Sunday. The annual “Life Chain” event, held in cities around the country, asks participants to spread out in a chain along the side of a major thoroughfare, praying and holding signs with messages like “Abortion hurts women” and “Adoption: The loving option.”

“It’s a public witness,” said Leonard, who is organizing the Hermiston event. “It’s just for an hour once a year but does give a visual testimony that’s quite striking.” Hermiston’s Life Chain will take place on Sunday from 2:30 to 3:30 along Highway 395 near Main Street, with participants meeting at 2 p.m. in the Banner Bank parking lot, 101 E. Main Street. Pendleton’s Life Chain will take place on Sunday from 3-4 p.m. along Southgate/Highway 395 near Hailey Avenue, with participants meeting beforehand at the First Church of God parking lot, 712 SW 27th Street.

Adams said Right to Life doesn’t want to be a negative presence in the community, but rather help educate people. The group plans to provide resources and speakers to churches and other groups to help arm people with strong arguments against practices like abortion and physician-assisted suicide.

“We want to educate and encourage people to be life advocates, to be able to speak in a non-adversarial way but also to calmly hold their own,” he said.

Adams said protecting life from conception to natural death is a “complicated issue.” He said as a pastor he has worked with many dying parishioners whose lives became richer and more full even as their bodies declined.

“We’ve allowed the phrase ‘quality of life’ to become the mantra of the day,” he said. “It’s so subjective. Who am I to judge what is a quality life? If we make a mistake why don’t we err on the side of life?”

He emphasized that Right to Life is a non-sectarian group, open to any religion and those who are not religious at all but believe that what is in a pregnant woman’s womb is a human being.

“It’s natural law,” he said. “By nature, people have to do some mental and verbal gymnastics to call it something other than a baby, to make it an option.”

Rolen said organizers are hoping to get an offshoot called Students for Life started in order to reach out to young people. She also said they would look for ways to work together with other organizations in the community, although in some cases, such as the Pregnancy Care Center, Right to Life wants to avoid a formal tie so as not to discourage women who disagree with Right to Life’s mission from seeking care.

“They want to walk with the woman no matter what she chooses,” Rolen said.

The new Hermiston Right to Life branch’s next meeting is scheduled for Nov. 3 at 6:30 p.m. at the ARC. Adams said people interested in joining can contact him before then at pastor@bethlehemhermiston.org.

Pendleton also has a Right to Life branch. Peggy Wallis said the small group rents a billboard across from McDonalds that displays a different pro-life message every few months. As part of that, Right to Life hosts a poster contest for students each year and puts the winning image on the billboard.

The group also provides materials to churches that want them and participates in national events such as the Life Chain and marking the anniversary of Roe v Wade every January.

Wallis said anyone interested in joining the Pendleton Right to Life can call her at 541-276-1540.

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Contact Jade McDowell at jmcdowell@eastoregonian.com or 541-564-4536.

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