Pro-lifers want to keep marching against abortion annually in Washington, but some are pushing to move national events from January to June to celebrate the end of Roe v. Wade.
Thousands of activists attended the 50th annual March for Life last month. That event marks the anniversary of the Jan. 22, 1973, Supreme Court ruling in Roe that legalized abortion nationwide.
Leaders of 40 Days for Life and Healing the Culture say it’s time to redirect national efforts to the June 24 anniversary of the high court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson last year. That decision overturned Roe and returned jurisdiction over abortion to the states.
“I’ve no interest in seeing the Roe v. Wade anniversary being kept on life support and serving as an annual reminder and motivation for the left that our nation had this barbaric law for 49 years,” Shawn Carney, co-founder of 40 Days for Life, told The Washington Times.
“Thousands of pro-lifers nationwide” are requesting the change because “students are out of school and families are more available to travel in the summer,” said Mr. Carney, who did not attend the march in Washington last month.
Mr. Carney said 40 Days for Life is planning a nationwide event on June 24. Officials at Students for Life of America, which also supports the January protest, say they are planning a national rally in Washington for the same day.
“June 24 is going to be a special day moving forward, and Students for Life of America has plans for a huge celebration in Washington, D.C., on that day,” spokesperson Kristi Hamrick said.
“Pro-life people should claim this day as a reminder of the great things that can be accomplished when good people are courageous and undeterred by evil’s perverted scare tactics,” said Camille Pauley, co-founder of South Dakota-based Healing the Culture.
The Washington-based March for Life, which organizes the January protest, has no plans to move it to June.
“The annual March for Life will remain in January, as announced in October, with our growing state marches occurring throughout the year when state legislatures are in session,” Jeanne Mancini, March for Life president, told The Times. “This board decision was made after conferring with many stakeholders.”
For the first time, organizers last month rerouted the March for Life from the National Mall to end at Congress. Still, most marchers passed the U.S. Capitol and ended at their usual point, on the steps of the Supreme Court.
That fixation on federal courts suggests that pro-life activists realize they lack popular support for further abortion restrictions in the federal and state legislatures after Dobbs, said Mary Ziegler, a leading historian of the U.S. abortion debate.
“It seems hard to imagine a national abortion ban coming from anywhere outside of the courts at this point,” said Ms. Ziegler, a law professor at the University of California, Davis.
Pro-lifers lost ballot initiatives to ban abortion in friendly states such as Kentucky, Kansas and Montana last year. Many political insiders say the end of Roe galvanized Democratic voters to limit Republican gains in November’s midterm elections.
Ms. Ziegler said those results confirm that pro-life and pro-choice activists have reversed their roles from 1973. At that time, it was pro-choice liberals who relied on the Roe decision to override the consensus of voters supporting many state pro-life ballot measures and laws.
“I think most folks are still in the middle on abortion, and it’s a fragile victory if you don’t have the popular support for a ruling,” Ms. Ziegler said. “Social change happens by changing hearts and minds, not by courts decreeing consensus.”
While pro-life groups wait to see whether January or June will emerge as the more compelling national event date, grassroots activists report upticks in protests at state legislatures.
Since Dobbs, conservative-leaning states have moved to restrict abortion and liberal-leaning states have loosened restrictions, leading to a patchwork of differing regulations.
Statehouse protests against abortion are scheduled for Thursday in Arizona, March 6 in California and March 22 in Connecticut.
On Tuesday, hundreds of pro-lifers gathered at the Maryland General Assembly in Annapolis to protest a bill that would establish a state constitutional right to abortion.
“In Maryland, we will be spreading the celebration of life to local towns statewide each June 24 in commemoration of the Dobbs decision,” lawyer Laura Bogley, executive director of Maryland Right to Life, said in an email. “This is the best way to spread the good news that life is winning and to grow our base.”
Some national pro-life activists say it will be hard to completely let go of a January march, even if more participants begin gathering in June.
Frank Pavone, head of Priests for Life, said he plans to return to Washington to participate in a June 24 “anniversary event” after walking in the January event. He wants pro-lifers to focus more on Congress and state legislatures than the courts at this point.
“Given this past and present emphasis on effecting legislation, one of the benefits of keeping the march in January is that it likewise sends a pro-life message to the new Congress or new session of the Congress as well as to the states as they begin their sessions,” said Mr. Pavone, a former priest. “The Dobbs events this year will certainly be smaller than the annual Roe commemoration, primarily and simply because of what people are in the habit of doing.”
Some activists say the January and June protests could complement each other if enough people attend both events.
“As the march in January is a time of committing ourselves to continued action and remembrance, the June anniversary date of the overturn of Roe is a time for its own celebratory remembrance and recommitment to the fight for equality for the preborn,” said Melissa Ohden, founder and CEO of Abortion Survivors Network.
Activists from Democrats for Life of America will be “outside the U.S. Capitol on June 24” but plan to attend both events in the future, said Jess Meeth, the group’s national communications director.
“We hope that a gathering on June 24 will be just as big as the annual March for Life in January,” Ms. Meeth said.