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March for Life returns to D.C. for 1st time since Supreme Court overturned Roe

Everything you need to know about the anti-abortion movement on the 50th anniversary of the landmark case — and where it goes from here.

People participate in the March for Life rally in front of the Washington Monument on Friday. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
The March for Life rally in front of the Washington Monument on Friday. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Anti-abortion activists gathered in Washington, D.C., on Friday for the 50th annual March for Life — the first such event since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, its 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide, last summer.

The mood was decidedly celebratory, and the march was a victory lap of sorts for those who supported the court’s conservative majority ruling, in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, that the Constitution does not guarantee a right to abortion, leaving the issue up to individual states.

“With Roe now behind us, we are empowered to save countless innocent American lives by continuing to advocate for commonsense protections at the state and federal level,” Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life, said in a statement. “This year will be a somber reminder of the millions of lives lost to abortion in the past 50 years, but also a celebration of how far we have come and where we as a movement need to focus our effort.”

The view from the march

Anti-abortion demonstrators
Anti-abortion demonstrators at the March for Life on Friday. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

Thousands of people gathered on the National Mall to hear speeches from anti-abortion activists and leaders of the so-called pro-life movement. Among them: Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch, whose office argued the case that overturned Roe v. Wade.

“We have returned abortion policymaking to the people — to you,” Fitch told the crowd.

Since June, near-total bans on abortion have been implemented in at least 12 states, including Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia.

But others who spoke urged those in attendance to put pressure on Congress to do more.

House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., pointed to a bill recently passed by the Republican-led House — called the Born Alive Act — which would prohibit a health care practitioner from “failing to exercise the proper degree of care in the case of a child who survives an abortion or attempted abortion.”

The legislation is unlikely to pass the Senate, where Democrats maintain a slim majority. Even if it somehow did, President Biden would almost certainly veto it.

“You’ve got to go support pro-life candidates because it matters,” Scalise said. “Life and death is at stake in this March for Life.”

The view from the White House

President Biden
President Biden at the White House on Friday. (Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

Hours after the Supreme Court overturned Roe, Biden called it “a sad day for the court and for the country,” and warned that the “health and life of women in this nation are now at risk.” But as the Associated Press pointed out, the Biden administration has “limited options” when it comes to protecting women’s rights to reproductive care.

Vice President Kamala Harris is scheduled to give a speech in Florida on Sunday, the 50th anniversary of the original Roe v. Wade ruling, to emphasize that abortion rights remain a core issue for the administration.

According to her office, Harris will “make very clear” in her speech that “the fight to secure women’s fundamental right to reproductive health care is far from over,” will “lay out the consequences of extremist attacks on reproductive freedom in states across our country” and will “underscore the need for Congress to codify Roe.”

The White House issued a proclamation from Biden on Friday ahead of the anniversary, calling on Americans to “honor generations of advocates who have fought for reproductive freedom, to recognize the countless women whose lives and futures have been saved and shaped by the Roe v. Wade decision, and to march forward with purpose as we work together to restore the right to choose.”

Republicans urged to support federal abortion restrictions

House Majority Leader Steve Scalise
House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., speaking at the March for Life rally. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

Abortion and the repealing of Roe emerged as a key issue in the lead-up to last fall’s midterm elections — galvanizing Democratic voters who helped thwart the expected Republican wave.

Nonetheless, the New York Times reported that the GOP’s socially conservative wing is “pushing the party’s lawmakers to embrace deeper restrictions” while “pressuring potential Republican presidential contenders to call for a national ban.”

“Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, one of the most powerful anti-abortion groups, said that any candidate who does not support federal restrictions should be ‘disqualified’ from winning the party’s nomination,” the Times said.

That would include former President Donald Trump, who blamed the “abortion issue” for the party’s loss of “large numbers of voters” in November.

The Susan B. Anthony group subsequently issued a statement urging Trump and his possible rivals to embrace an “ambitious consensus pro-life position.”

Former Vice President Mike Pence, who is positioning himself to be one of Trump’s primary opponents, retweeted it, adding: “Well said.”

“When you run from abortion and don’t talk about it, you forfeit the issue to the other side,” Marc Short, Pence’s former chief of staff, told Bloomberg News. “We have a responsibility, as a party, to explain our position and do it in a winsome way that is not judgmental.”

Where the anti-abortion movement goes from here

Anti-abortion demonstrators
Demonstrators at the March for Life on Friday. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

The official theme of this year’s March for Life was “next steps in a post-Roe era,” and anti-abortion activists want to use the legislative branch to enact a nationwide ban.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, told the Associated Press that she envisions an eventual “federal minimum standard” restricting abortion access to a certain period, such as 13 weeks of pregnancy, after which abortion would not be permitted in any state.

Dannenfelser’s proposal would still leave individual states free to impose their own, stricter measures, including a total ban.

“We know it’s not going to happen this session, but this is the beginning,” she said. “It’s [Congress's] responsibility to listen to the will of the people.”

Yet most Americans did not agree with the Supreme Court’s repeal of Roe.

According to a Yahoo News/YouGov poll conducted in late June, just 33% of respondents agreed with the court’s decision to overturn Roe, while the other two-thirds of Americans either disagreed with the court’s ruling or said they weren’t sure. The results were mirrored by an AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll conducted in July, which found that 53% of U.S. adults said they disapproved of the decision while just 30% approved.

But polling won’t stop March for Life supporters from marching.

“We don’t end as a response to Roe being overturned,” Mancini said Friday. “Because we’re not yet done. While this year marks our most significant victory, the human rights abuse of abortion is far from over.

“We know that in every abortion, one life is taken and at least one life is wounded,” she added. “And so we will continue to march, we will continue to march until the human rights abuse of abortion is a thing of the past. We will march until abortion is unthinkable.”