WASHINGTON — More than a thousand anti-abortion activists, including many young people bundled up against the cold weather gripping the nation’s capital, gathered at a stage on the National Mall Friday for their annual march in the long-contentious debate over abortion.
Signs reading “Choose love, Choose life,” “I am the pro life generation,” and “Defund Planned Parenthood” dotted the crowd gathering under hazy, wintry skies at the morning rally.
Although President Donald Trump addressed last year’s rally in a video feed, Vice President Mike Pence will carry the administration’s message at this year’s events, including remarks at a post-march dinner.
Rep. Daniel Lipinski, D-Ill., who is one of the only anti-abortion Democrats in the House, planned to address the morning rally. Ben Shapiro, a popular conservative commentator, is the featured speaker.
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This year, the march unfolds against the backdrop of a change in political power in Washington, with Democrats taking control of the House.
March for Life president Jeanne Mancini conceded that things in Washington have “changed quite a bit” over the last 12 months.
“Last year we could lean in and expect people to be really courageous on the Hill on our issues and we had all sorts of champions,” she said. “This year, we’re in the place of fighting for the status quo.”
On the other side, the new Democratic House majority vows to block Trump actions affecting birth control access and abortion services.
“We are systematically going to dismantle these restrictions on women’s health care,” Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., co-leader of the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus, said at a news conference Tuesday where one caucus member donned pink boxing gloves. “So here we go!”
To many participants, the annual march, which draws many young people from Catholic and other religious schools across the country, is a moment to stand up publicly with like-minded activists.
Nathan Elfrich, 19, and Carolin Quinn, 18, both students from Xavier University, see the annual event as a way to bond with others.
Quinn, who is attending for the fourth year, said she has found a strong community of friends in the movement and the march. “It’s important every year,” she said. “The issue is an ongoing issue.”
Elfrich called the march a “positive” movement unlike violent protests. He sees the march as something that can grow as anti-abortion youth grow up and “become leaders of the country.”
He said it’s important to keep the march going so that their voices continue to be heard. “The message can get lost” without it, he said.
Anna Demeuse, 23, from Green Bay, Wisconsin, who is at her 6th march, says she keeps coming back because abortion is still legal.
“Until it is overturned we will still march,” she said. “And even if it is overturned we can still march to celebrate life.”
She called abortion “the greatest injustice in our nation,” Demeuse said, adding that she marches not only to save unborn children but also women who may choose to have an abortion.
For an issue that is often portrayed in black-and-white terms, some activists also reflected nuances found within the movement.
“I’m a Christian and I believe that all life matters, including those who are unborn,” said Brianna Kress, 24, from outside Annapolis, Maryland.
“I’m not saying women shouldn’t have rights,” she added. “I’m a woman, but we shouldn’t forget the rights of the unborn”
Quinn also said that the notion that the march can’t exist with other feminist movements is wrong. “I’m a women and I stand up for life,” she said. “It’s a pro-woman movement.”
Contributing: Maureen Groppe, USA TODAY