WASHINGTON — Despite temperatures that dipped into the teens and snow blanketing the ground, thousands of abortion activists converged on the National Mall Wednesday and marched to the Supreme Court to mark the 41st anniversary of the landmark 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision, which affirmed women’s right to the procedure.
The March for Life, an annual gathering of abortion protesters that dates back to 1974, continued as planned, with speakers including House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., Reps. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo., and Chris Smith, R-N.J., urging anti-abortion activists to keep up the fight to abolish what they deemed a barbaric and immoral practice.
“This is not a political truth subject to the whims of man, but a moral truth,” Cantor told the crowd. “You are our movement’s not-so-secret weapon.”
Organizers estimated that about half a million demonstrators attended the 2013 rally, but they said the final crowd count might be smaller this year because of the weather. Proponents of abortion rights were also on hand throughout the day, staging their own events as a counterargument.
Although 41 years have passed since the ruling was handed down, the politics surrounding abortion remain as contentious as ever, with public opinion equally fractured.
A 2013 Gallup poll showed that 52 percent of Americans support access to legal abortions under certain circumstances, with 26 percent holding it should always be legal and 20 percent in favor of an outright ban — not far from where those figures stood in the 1970s. Meanwhile, 48 percent of Americans identify themselves as “pro-life,” the term used to describe those opposed to legal abortion rights, and 45 percent identify as “pro-choice,” used to describe those in favor of abortion rights.
The inflamed passions could be seen in the heated rhetoric of participants in Wednesday’s events. March for Life President Jeanne Monahan denounced abortion supporters’ “war on motherhood,” while elected officials lamented what they said was expanded taxpayer-funded coverage for abortion under the Affordable Care Act.
In fact, the law mandates that each state has a plan on its exchange that has no abortion coverage at all. When a woman chooses a plan that does cover abortion services, she pays into a separate account to make sure no federal dollars are used to subsidize the procedure.
Still, Smith, co-chair of the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, said the Obama administration was using “stealth deception” and the “coercion of the state” to promote abortion.
Although there has been little movement on the abortion issue at the federal level, new GOP majorities in state legislatures have passed a flurry of laws in the last three years curtailing access, imposing new restrictions on abortion clinics and instituting bans on obtaining the procedure at various points during pregnancy, reinvigorating the anti-abortion movement. According to NARAL Pro-Choice America, an advocacy organization in favor of abortion rights, 24 states enacted 53 such measures in 2013 alone.