WASHINGTON — Thousands of opponents of abortion rights rallied under falling snow on Friday at the annual March for Life, as speakers urged the impassioned crowd to capitalize on the movement’s major victory in the Supreme Court and keep fighting until abortion is eliminated.
Months before a presidential election that could be heavily influenced by abortion politics, anti-abortion activists packed the National Mall carrying signs with messages such as “Life is precious” and “I am the pro-life generation.” After listening to speeches, the crowd, braving frigid temperatures, marched past the U.S. Capitol and Supreme Court. One group planted in front of Court, beating a drum and chanting: “Everyone you know was once an embryo.”
Friday’s March for Life is the second such event in the nation’s capital since the June 2022 Supreme Court ruling that ended the federal protection for abortion rights enshrined in Roe v. Wade. Last year’s march was triumphant, with organizers relishing a state-by-state fight in legislatures around the country.
Speakers praised the Dobbs decision that overturned Roe v. Wade but said it was more important now than ever to keep up the pressure on lawmakers to advance abortion restrictions.
“Roe is done, but we still live in a culture that knows not how to care for life,” said Benjamin Watson, a former NFL player who is now an anti-abortion advocate. “Roe is done, but the factors that drive women to seek abortions are ever apparent and ever increasing. Roe is done, but abortion is still legal and thriving in too much of America.”
Friday’s event appeared smaller than in past years as ice and snow complicated travel plans. But the crowd was fired up as speakers, which included members of Congress and Michigan University Football Coach Jim Harbaugh, urged participants to keep fighting until abortion becomes “unthinkable.”
“Let’s be encouraged, let’s press on and hope that we can join together and make this great difference,” House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La. “We can stand with every woman for every child, and we can truly build a culture that cherishes and protects life.”
The snow fell heavily throughout the speeches as young people built snowmen and had snowball fights behind the stage. Near the Capitol, the crowd celebrated as a group on a balcony of the Cannon House Office building cheered on the march.
“I almost didn’t come when I saw the forecast, but this is just incredible,” said Stephanie Simpson, a 42-year-old grocery store employee from Cleveland, who has attended the last four marches.
Roberto Reyes, a Mexican native and Carmelite friar, said: “All these people are going to remember this year’s march for the rest of their lives!”
Members of the crowd described overturning Roe v. Wade as a victory, but said the anti-abortion fight rages on.
“The key message this year is that our work is not done,” said Bishop Michael Burbidge, chair of the committee for pro-life activities for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The movement has seen mixed results. The ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization reverted abortion lawmaking back to the states, and 14 states are now enforcing bans on abortion throughout pregnancy. Two more have such bans on hold because of court rulings. And another two have bans that take effect when cardiac activity can be detected, about six weeks into pregnancy — often before women know they’re pregnant.
But abortion restrictions have also lost at the ballot box in Ohio, Kansas and Kentucky. And total bans have produced high-profile causes for abortion rights supporters to rally around. Kate Cox, a Texas mother of two, sought an abortion after learning the baby she was carrying had a fatal genetic condition. Her request for an exemption from Texas’ ban, one of the country’s strictest, was denied by the state Supreme Court, and she left Texas to seek an abortion elsewhere.
Movement organizers now expect abortion rights to be a major Democratic rallying cry in President Joe Biden’s reelection campaign.
“The pro-abortion forces, that’s one of the major things they’re going to run on,” said Susan Swift, president of Pro-Life Legal and a veteran anti-abortion activist. “That’s one of the only things that seems to animate their base.”
Biden campaign officials openly state that they plan to make Biden synonymous with the fight to preserve abortion rights.
Vice President Kamala Harris has led the charge on the issue for the White House. She will hold the first event in Wisconsin on Monday, which would have been the 51st anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the lawsuit that led to the landmark 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision establishing a constitutional right to abortion.
Associated Press writer Alanna Durkin Richer reported from Boston. AP National Writer David Crary contributed to this report from New York.