March for Life eyes Congress for post-Roe abortion limits

With the U.S. Capitol in the background, anti-abortion demonstrators march toward the U.S. Supreme Court during the March for Life, Friday, Jan. 20, 2023, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A half century after Roe v. Wade, March for Life supporters on Friday celebrated the Supreme Court’s dismantling of the 50-year decision and heralded the political struggle set loose by the court’s decision. President Joe Biden pledged to do all in his limited power to restore core abortion policies. 

The first March for Life since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June came with a new focus. Instead of concentrating their attention on the court, the marchers vowed to push for action from the building directly across the street: the U.S. Capitol. 

Congress, movement leaders say, must be warned against making any attempt to curtail the multiple pro-life laws imposed last year in a dozen states. 

Tens of thousands spread across a section of the National Mall for speeches, the Capitol Building in sight, then marched. 

“For nearly 50 years, you have marched to proclaim the fundamental dignity of women, of their children and of life itself,” Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch, whose office argued the case that overturned Roe v. Wade, told the crowd. “But this year is different.” 

Indeed, with the constitutional victory behind them and lawmakers now the ones to be persuaded, marchers took a new route along the western face of the Capitol, to their usual destination between that complex and the court. 

“I am the post-Roe generation,” read one sign. “Excommunicate Pro-Choice Catholics,” said another. Banners proclaimed “Love Them Both,” meaning mother and child. 

Tammy Milligan came dressed as “patriot Wonder Woman” and stood out in the crowd. She said she never thought Roe v. Wade would be overruled in her lifetime, but the fight doesn’t stop there. “We want it to be unthinkable for a woman to have an abortion,” she said. 

In a counter-protest outside the court building, 15 or so activists in favor of abortion rights held signs of their own: “Bans off our Bodies,” “Mind your own uterus.” They chanted, “Our bodies do not need advice from priests.” 

They were easily outnumbered and surrounded by March for Lifers, but interactions were civil and police did not separate the two camps. 

Biden offered his counterpoint in a proclamation recognizing Sunday — Jan. 22 — as the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. “Never before has the Court taken away a right so fundamental to Americans,” his statement said. “In doing so, it put the health and lives of women across this Nation at risk.” 

“The struggle has changed,” said Marion Landry, 68, who came from North Carolina with her husband, Arthur, 91, for the sixth time. “In some ways you don’t have that central focus anymore. Now it’s back to the states.” 

In the absence of Roe v. Wade’s federal protections, abortion laws vary by state. 

Since June, near-total bans on abortion have been implemented in Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia. Legal challenges are pending against several of those bans. 

Elective abortions also are unavailable in Wisconsin, due to legal uncertainties faced by abortion clinics, and in North Dakota, where the lone clinic relocated to Minnesota. 

Bans passed by lawmakers in Ohio, Indiana and Wyoming have been blocked by state courts while legal challenges are pending. And in South Carolina, the state Supreme Court on Jan. 5 struck down a ban on abortion after six weeks, ruling the restriction violates a state constitutional right to privacy. 

Pro-life activists also have their eye on the 2024 presidential elections and are essentially vetting prospective candidates over their views on the issue. SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser said she met recently with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a potential leading Republican candidate, and came away “incredibly impressed,” but said it was still too early for her organization to endorse anyone. 

She predicted that there will be some “fault lines” among Republican presidential contenders over abortion rights and protections, but warned that any candidate perceived as being soft on the issue will have “disqualified him or herself as a presidential candidate in our eyes, and having done so has very little chance of winning the nomination.”