Hundreds of thousands of students, activists and congregants will take to the streets of the nation’s capital Friday, as the March for Life, no longer mired in the shadow of a pro-choice president, renews its fight to eradicate the practice of abortion.
Ashley McGuire, a senior fellow at The Catholic Association, said the annual march allows the pro-life movement to reflect on the accomplishments of the previous year and prepare for work still to be done. She said this year’s event will be “extra special” because of the gains the movement made in the general election.
“This is the first time I’ll be at the march when there’s a real opportunity to enact pro-life policies,” Ms. McGuire said.
With President Trump in office and pro-life policy already churning out of a Republican-controlled Congress, the pro-life movement is perhaps as close as it has ever come to accomplishing some of its biggest goals, including a federal ban on abortions after the unborn can feel pain, defunding Planned Parenthood and appointing a pro-life majority to the U.S. Supreme Court.
A pre-march rally at the Washington Monument will feature two high-ranking members of the Trump administration, Vice President Mike Pence and presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway, and a cadre of pro-life Republican lawmakers including Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa, Rep. Mia B. Love of Utah and Rep. Christopher H. Smith of New Jersey.
Other speakers include pro-life activist Abby Johnson, Christian author and radio host Eric Metaxas, and Baltimore Ravens tight end Benjamin Watson.
PHOTOS: Demonstrators crowd National Mall in annual March for Life
The largest pro-life gathering in the world, the March for Life convenes every year on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade to protest the 1973 Supreme Court decision creating a constitutional right to an abortion. Dozens of other pro-life rallies are held in major cities around the world.
The mood at this year’s march will be drastically different from last year’s, Ms. McGuire said.
On Monday, Mr. Trump signed an executive order reinstating the Mexico City Policy, which bars the federal government from funding organizations that promote or perform abortion overseas — stripping $100 million in annual funding from the International Planned Parenthood Federation.
Weeks before last year’s march, President Obama cast a pall over the proceedings by vetoing a bill to defund Planned Parenthood.
“Last year’s march took place after seven years of President Obama’s aggressive, hostile pro-abortion policies in pretty much every direction,” Ms. McGuire said. “I think ‘uncertainty’ is the right word to describe the direction we were going.”
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton appeared to be the front-runner to succeed Mr. Obama, with Republicans locked in an acrimonious primary that threatened to divide the party.
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Last year’s precarious political atmosphere was matched by an equally cloudy day that eventually brought a blizzard. This year’s forecast calls for sunshine.
The pro-life generation
One of the reasons the March for Life is such an uplifting event, Ms. McGuire said, is the number of young people who attend. Tens of thousands of high school and college students from across the country bolster its ranks every year.
“The first year I ever went, it seemed more like a rock concert than a political march,” she said. “The fact that the most pro-life generation is the one coming up is real cause for optimism.”
A group of students from Colorado Christian University in Lakewood is among this year’s participants.
Mikayle Jacquot, a junior, said she is attending the march “for all those who will never get a chance.”
“I think it’s important to march because, as of now, 56 million lives have been lost to abortion, and that is a grave injustice,” said Ms. Jacquot, 20. “Those are brilliant minds and brilliant people, and the world will never know of their gifts because they were lost before we could even meet them.”
The Colorado Christian University students flew Wednesday into Washington and attended a March for Life Conference and Youth Rally on Thursday.
AnnieLaurie Anton, a freshman involved with her school’s Students for Life chapter, called her participation in the march a “dream come true.” She said she is not surprised by the stronger pro-life sentiment among the youngest generation.
“Especially since our generation has been the generation that has been most hurt by abortion,” said Ms. Anton, 18. “I mean, 25 percent of our generation I don’t even know, because they’ve been killed. Can you imagine not knowing some of the people that you know now?”
Stephanie Schlabach, a junior, said she was inspired to attend because of her work in crisis pregnancy centers.
“The experience for me has been really heartbreaking,” said Ms. Schlabach, 21. “You see the women’s stories and how much they have been hurt by abortion, and there are so many lies that are told by society about abortion. They think that they’ll be able to move on with their lives like normal, but they’re not, and there is a grieving process there. It’s really hard to watch that and to hear their stories.”
The Women’s March
The March for Life is taking place less than a week after the Women’s March on Washington, a decidedly pro-choice demonstration that attracted hundreds of thousands to protest the inauguration of Mr. Trump.
Ms. McGuire said the pro-life march provides a compelling counterpoint to some of the views espoused at the Women’s March.
“It serves as a reminder that women are not united on this issue,” she said. “If you go to the March for Life and see how female it is, how many women are there, I think it offers an important contrast.”
But Maureen Ferguson, a senior policy adviser at The Catholic Association, said it’s not fair to compare the staying power of one women’s rights rally to a march in its 44th year.
“In a sense, it’s like comparing apples and oranges,” Ms. Ferguson said. “That was the first major outlet after this very divisive election, whereas the March for Life is something that has happened for 44 years. Rain, sleet, freezing temperatures — it happens year after year after year across the country to stand up for life.”
A report published by the Media Research Center this week showed that the Women’s March received 129 times more coverage than last year’s March for Life.
“I’ve never seen the media add up all the state marches, all the people that march around the world like they did with the Women’s March,” Ms. Ferguson said. “We know every year that the March for Life is vastly undercovered. Maybe that will change this year.”