The March for Life, an annual mega-gathering of anti-abortion activists in Washington, D.C., started out as a protest of the 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade. On Friday — ahead of the 50th anniversary of Roe, which was overturned last year — the March for Life carried on as a celebration and put on display that the goals of the nation’s anti-abortion movement go far beyond the end of a federal right to abortion.
The next steps for the movement were illustrated by the march’s new route this year: Instead of ending at the steps of the Supreme Court as they have for nearly five decades, activists ended their march at the U.S. Capitol — underscoring their continued push for Congress to enact a federal abortion ban.
Thousands of anti-abortion activists attended this year’s march. The crowd, which was largely White and included many students and church groups, seemed largely joyful.
“I’m hoping that abortion will be federally banned and not just left to the states to decide,” said Carlton Kampfe, 21, of Lincoln, Nebraska, at a rally before the March for Life.
“I wanted to attend the march because it’s important for people to realize that people and lives are important. They’re not just a clump of cells. It’s important that we advocate for the lives of the unborn,” he added.
The rally attracted some Republican lawmakers, including Republican House Majority Leader Steve Scalise. They pledged support for anti-abortion proposals in Congress, to loud cheering from the crowd, including a bill that would compel physicians to practice life support on any infants born as a result of an abortion — which experts say occurs rarely, and could complicate health care in cases where the fetus has a fatal abnormality. The House approved the measure earlier this month.
Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey said that in the “coming weeks” lawmakers would take up a bill to permanently ban the use of federal funds to cover health care or health insurance plans that cover the cost of an abortion.
While a federal 15-week abortion ban remains politically far from view, the end of Roe ushered in abortion bans and restrictions in about half of all states. Some states, like Virginia, are considering new abortion bans, and others, like Florida, are weighing proposals to further restrict access to the procedure.
Some rally goers said they want to see more states go further with their restrictions.
“It’s really important to come out here and show that there are people who believe life starts at conception,” said Redi Degefa, 22, of Washington, D.C. “I’m hoping now that Roe v. Wade is out of the picture, states will have the freedom to make decisions that will affect future generations.”
Elianna Geertgens, 19, of Cooperstown, New York, said she’s attended the event five times and remains motivated by its cause.
“It’s important to come this year because the fight is not over. We have a lot of victories in pro-life states. We need to focus on the pro-choice states. The value of human life is not determined by state lines. Human life is valuable in every state and our laws should reflect that.”
President Joe Biden on Friday pledged to use the power of his office to restore reproductive rights, rebuking the U.S. Supreme Court over its decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the case that led to Roe’s overturn. Vice President Kamala Harris is expected to make a speech Sunday on what would have been the 50th anniversary of the decision in defense of the right to abortion.
Biden, in a statement commemorating the 50 years since the Roe decision, chided the U.S. Supreme Court for doing away with a federally protected right. “In doing so, it put the health and lives of women across this Nation at risk,” he said.
“Today, trailblazers who fought heroically for the Roe v. Wade decision are watching the next generation grow up without its protections,” the statement read.
Juanita Londono, 11, traveled with her mother Maria Alvarez, 37, from Toledo, Ohio, to the March for Life in order to collect signatures for a letter to be sent to Biden.
“I started praying for abortion clinics and this touched my heart,” she said. “So far I have 127 signatures for the president because I want to tell him that abortion is wrong.”
Alyssa Schukar contributed additional reporting to this piece.