Half a century after Roe v. Wade, March for Life supporters celebrated Friday the Supreme Court’s dismantling of that constitutional abortion right, ushering in the political battle sparked by the court’s decision. President Joe Biden pledged to do everything in his limited powers to restore basic abortion rights.
The first March for Life since the Supreme Court Roe v. Wade lifted in June had a new focus. Instead of focusing their attention on the courthouse, protesters vowed to push for action from the building directly across: the US Capitol.
Congress, leaders of the movement say, must be warned against making any attempt to curtail the numerous anti-abortion laws passed in a dozen states last year.
Thousands spread out along a portion of the National Mall for the event, with the Capitol in sight.
“For nearly 50 years you have marched to proclaim the fundamental dignity of women, their children, and life itself,” said Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch, whose office handled the case that brought Roe v. Wade picked up. “But this year is different.”
With constitutional victory behind them and lawmakers now to be persuaded, the protesters actually took a new route along the west side of the Capitol to their usual destination between that complex and the courthouse.
“I am the post-Roe generation,” read one sign. “Excommunicate pro-choice Catholics,” said another. Banners proclaimed “Love Them Both,” meaning mother and child.
Tammy Milligan came dressed as Patriot Wonder Woman and stood out from the crowd. She said she never thought Roe v. Wade would be overruled in her lifetime, but the fight doesn’t stop there. “We want it to be unthinkable for us to have a woman have an abortion,” she said.
During a counter-protest outside the courthouse, about 15 abortion rights activists held up signs of their own: “Body bans,” “Take care of your own womb.” They chanted, “Our bodies don’t need advice from a priest.”
They were slightly outnumbered and surrounded by the March for Lifers, but interactions were civil and police did not separate the two camps.
Biden offered his counterpoint in a proclamation recognizing Sunday – 1/22 – as the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Calf. “Never before has the court stripped Americans of such a fundamental right,” the statement said. “By doing so, it is endangering the health and lives of women in this nation.”
He said he would continue to use his executive powers in any way he could to uphold protections against abortion, while urging Congress to enshrine such rights in law.
The crowd appeared smaller than in previous years but carried several hallmarks of previous marches through the enthusiasm of the gathering, the large number of young people from Catholic schools across the country and many banners representing various churches and religious orders.
“The fight has changed,” said Marion Landry, 68, who is traveling from North Carolina for the sixth time with her husband Arthur, 91. “In a way, you don’t have that central focus anymore. Now it’s back to the States.”
Mike Miller, 59, who was from Boston, has taken part in at least 15 such marches over the years. “There’s still a lot to do,” he said, “it’s just one step, and the next step is education.”
From the stage, Treneé McGee, a representative of the Black Democratic Republic of Connecticut, addressed the crowd to show that the anti-abortion movement penetrates political parties and racial groups.
“I stand in the place of all black pro-life women around the world who suffer in silence,” she said. The crowd roared.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy offered his support in a statement promising the new Republican majority would stand with those opposed to abortion rights.
“While others raise their voices in anger and hatred, march with prayers, goodwill, camaraderie, compassion and devotion in defense of the most vulnerable in this country,” McCarthy said.
Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life Education and Defense Fund, said the march was “a somber reminder of the millions of lives lost to abortion over the past 50 years, but also a celebration of how far we’ve come.” and where we stand. A movement must join our efforts as we enter this new era in our quest to protect life.”
Some leaders of the movement are also hoping to sow seeds in Congress for a possible federal abortion restriction across the board. Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of SBA Pro-Life America, said she envisions an eventual “minimum federal standard” limit such as 13 weeks gestation, after which abortion would not be legal in any state. Dannenfelser’s scenario would still leave individual states free to impose their own stricter measures, including an outright ban.
This latest ambition is admittedly a long shot, because even if it passed the newly Republican-controlled House of Representatives, it would most likely fail in the Democrat-held Senate.
“We know it won’t happen in this session, but this is the start,” said Dannenfelser. “It is the responsibility of Congress to listen to the will of the people.”
In the absence of federal protection from Roe v. Wade, abortion rights have become a patchwork quilt from state to state.
Since June, near-total abortion bans have been imposed in Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia. Legal action is pending against several of these bans.
Elective abortions are also unavailable in Wisconsin due to legal uncertainties faced by abortion clinics, and in North Dakota, where the only clinic has moved to Minnesota.
Bans enacted by state legislators in Ohio, Indiana and Wyoming have been blocked by state courts while legal challenges are pending. And in South Carolina, the state Supreme Court on Jan. 5 overturned an abortion ban after six weeks, ruling that the restriction violated a state constitutional right to privacy.
But other states have experienced an unexpected setback on this issue. Voters in Kansas and Kentucky rejected constitutional amendments that would have declared abortion illegal; Michigan voters approved an amendment that enshrines abortion rights in the state constitution.
Biden’s government has limited options following the Supreme Court decision. Vice President Kamala Harris is scheduled to speak in Florida on Sunday, the 50th anniversary of the original Roe v Wade verdict, to emphasize that abortion rights remain a key government concern.
According to a July poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, 53% of US adults said they disapproved of the Supreme Court’s repeal of Roe, while 30% supported it. The same poll found that the majority think abortion after the first trimester of pregnancy should normally be illegal.
Anti-abortion activists are also eyeing the 2024 presidential election, essentially screening potential candidates for their views on the issue. Dannenfelser said she recently met with the Florida governor. Ron DeSantis, a potential leading Republican nominee, came away “incredibly impressed” but said it was too early for her organization to endorse anyone.
She predicted there will be some “fault lines” among Republican presidential candidates regarding abortion rights and protections, but cautioned that any candidate deemed soft on the issue “disqualifies himself as a presidential candidate in our eyes.” have and will have otherwise, he has very little chance of winning the nomination.”
AP video journalist Mike Pesoli contributed to this report. Staff writer David Crary contributed from New York City.
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