WASHINGTON — Thousands of anti-abortion demonstrators filled church buses from around the country to cheer, chant and pray Friday through the 44th annual March for Life, where Vice President Mike Pence declared, “Life is winning in America.”
Pence also said President Donald Trump will “end taxpayer funding of abortion and abortion providers, and we will devote those resources to health care services for women across America . . . and we are in the promise-keeping business.”
“We’ve come to a historic moment in the cause of life,” Pence said. “The truth is being told and compassion is overcoming convenience, and hope is defeating despair.”
Pence called life at every stage a God-given, unalienable right.
“Be assured, we will not grow weary,” he said.
Trump’s senior counsel, Kellyanne Conway, also spoke. She and Pence were the March for Life’s highest-ranking speakers in its history
“This is a time of incredible promise for the pro-life, pro-adoption movement,” Conway said. She said Trump and Pence “work just steps away . . . and as they sit there, they stand with you.”
No official estimates of crowd size were immediately reported.
News outlets reported that organizers estimated on its permit that the march would attract 50,000 people.
The Women’s March last Saturday attracted more than 500,000 people to Washington to protest Trump’s agenda on abortion and other issues.
Trump, who disputes the size of the Women’s March, had predicted the March for Life would attract as many as 600,000 people.
Trump also has accused the news media of trying to undermine his legitimacy by understating the size of the crowd at his inauguration Jan. 20. Photographs have shown significantly fewer people at Trump’s swearing-in than for Barack Obama’s inaugural in 2009.
The March for Life lacked the anger and outrage evident at the Women’s March, or the isolated violence of the anti-Trump protests the day before on Inauguration Day.
Mary Hale, 60, of Sterling, Mich., chaperoned a 12-hour youth bus trip Friday. “We’re here to speak for the unborn and plead for their lives,” she said.
Hale, a retired computer programmer, and others at the demonstration said they were excited by the new president’s support. Trump has promised to overturn the landmark 1973 Supreme Court ruling Roe v. Wade that made abortion legal nationwide.
“It is a lot of hardship, but we offer that up to the babies,” Anna Stanczak, 18, also of Sterling, said of the trip to Washington. She said she recognized that Trump through his appointments to the Supreme Court might not be able to overturn Roe v. Wade soon, but she is hopeful he will take additional action to further restrict abortions.
Trump has promised to make his pending appointment to the Supreme Court a jurist who will oppose Roe v. Wade. That appointee will replace Justice Antonin Scalia, who died last year. The court, with nine seats, currently is divided 4-4 among liberals and conservatives.
Yet the reality of popular opinion and strong abortion-rights blocs in Congress mean the effort isn’t going to be easy, and outlawing abortion in most states may be impossible, experts said.
“At least in the short term, I do not think that the Supreme Court will overturn Roe v. Wade or Planned Parenthood v. Casey,” said Kyle C. Kopko, associate professor of political science and director of pre-law programs at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania.
In the 1992 Planned Parenthood case, the Supreme Court affirmed its Roe v. Wade decision in a 5-4 vote.
“It is possible that in the coming years the Supreme Court could chip away at the Roe/Casey precedent, but I would be surprised if the court outright reversed these decisions,” Kopko said.
Linda Greenhouse, a lecturer on law and distinguished journalist in residence at Yale Law School who has written extensively about the court and abortion, agrees.
“The court didn’t have the votes to overturn Roe when Scalia was alive, so this Trump appointment won’t make a difference on that score,” she said in an interview.
“The important thing to realize, however, is that the right to abortion can be whittled away to nearly nothing without a formal repudiation of Roe v. Wade,” Greenhouse said.
But many demonstrators said Friday they hoped to make strides over the next four years even if Roe v. Wade stands.
“I want an end to all abortions, but we’ll take what we can for now and keep on pushing,” Stanczak said.
In New York, state laws guaranteeing the right to abortion were among the nation’s strongest before Roe. But New York Civil Liberties Union executive director Donna Lieberman said “shamefully inadequate” state statutes need to be updated to match provisions of federal law, including those that allow for late-term abortions.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, head of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, told Newsday as he mixed with demonstrators, “New York is a tougher case, isn’t it? There really is a strong abortion bloc and it’s well-oiled. They seem to have Albany and they seem to have the media.”
But Dolan said he saw hope for fighting expansion of abortion and increasing access to adoption.