By Cheryl Wetzstein
With a slogan created especially for the 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, hundreds of thousands of pro-life activists are expected to swarm the Mall on Friday for the annual March for Life.
As always, the marchers’ chants about choosing life, loving babies and “Roe v. Wade has got to go” will be answered by more than a few counterprotesters who say “Keep abortion legal” and “Not the church, not the state, women must decide their fate.”
But this year’s March for Life has a new message to convey — “40=55M” — meaning that since abortion’s national legalization in 1973, some 55 million unborn lives have been ended by the procedure.
“Abortion truly is the human rights abuse of today,” said Jeanne Monahan, the new president of the March for Life Education and Defense Fund. The march’s previous leader was its founder, Nellie Gray, who died in August at age 88.
March for Life speakers this year are expected to include Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican; Rep. Christopher H. Smith, New Jersey Republican; and Rep. Diane Black, Tennessee Republican. House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, and Rep. Daniel Lipinski, Illinois Democrat, are expected to speak via video.
Other scheduled speakers include Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ committee on pro-life activities; Georgette Forney, president of Anglicans for Life and co-founder of the Silent No More Awareness Campaign; Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council; former Sen. Rick Santorum, chairman of Patriot Voices; and Patrick Kelly, chairman of the March for Life Education and Defense Fund.
An estimated 400,000 marchers participated last year, and this year’s goal is to reach 500,000, said Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life. “And you’ll see more young people than adults. We are a pro-life generation,” said Ms. Hawkins, noting that her organization alone was bringing in students from 150 campus groups.
Abortion rights activists said they are planning a counterprotest at the march, especially with signs saying, “Abortion on demand and without apology.”
“Forced motherhood is female enslavement,” Sunsara Taylor of StopPatriarchy.org told 60 pro-choice leaders and supporters who chanted, carried signs and shivered at the Supreme Court steps at an evening vigil Tuesday, the Roe anniversary day.
“Abortion is not a murder. Fetuses are not babies,” said Ms. Taylor, echoing a chant by her allies: “A baby’s not a baby until it comes out — that’s what a birthday is all about.”
Too many states are attacking abortion with restrictive laws, Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation and veteran abortion rights leader, said at the vigil.
“We can’t take this any longer. We have got to step up this fight,” said Ms. Smeal. Democrats haven’t done all they could either, “but right now we have a full-scale war on women being conducted by the Republican Party,” she said. “So, fight on. Never give up. Never give in.”
Pro-life activists didn’t miss the Tuesday anniversary of Roe, either.
During midday, leaders and supporters of several pro-life groups gathered to lay 3,300 flowers near the Supreme Court steps to represent the average number of abortions performed each day.
“Without the right to life, there are no other rights,” said Lila Rose, president of Live Action, who attended the event with Ms. Hawkins, the Rev. Patrick Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition, Mark Harrington of Created Equal and Kristina Garza of Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust.
Ms. Hawkins noted later that Roe v. Wade was argued by a 27-year-old lawyer named Sarah Weddington.
“Well, I’m 27 [too], and Sarah Weddington’s generation got it wrong,” said Ms. Hawkins. They may have been trying to end gender inequality, she said, but instead “they set the wheels in motion for the ultimate act of discrimination, which is abortion.”