The annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., has always been identified with the anti-abortion hard-liners, the ones who openly call for the overturn of Roe v. Wade and insist, “No exception! No compromise!”–not even for cases of rape or incest, or to save a woman’s life. But this year, the harsh rhetoric relaxed a bit, as, at least in this crowd, the end of Roe had gained the air of inevitability. Gone were the posters of bloody fetuses and shouts of “baby killers,” replaced at Monday’s march by images of cute fetuses, even cartoon fetuses, sonogram images with captions reading “Month 2: I can suck my thumb now” and “Month 8: I like to listen to my mommy’s voice.”
The women of Silent No More, who’ve made a career out of regretting their abortions, were the guests of honor on stage, marking the ascendance of the new “pro-woman” regime. One of them, Luana Stoltenberg, claimed she’d ended up sterile after having three abortions. President Bush, too, tried to drop some love, not hate, when he phoned in his greetings from somewhere in Kansas: “We’re sending a message to women with a crisis pregnancy: We love you, we love your child, and we’re here to help you.” Representative Steve King of Ohio dished out an extra helping of schmaltz when he spoke of holding a “snowflake” baby==a child resulting from the implantation of a frozen embryo–in his arms.
This year, the march was as big as it’s ever been, with well over 50,000 crowding the Ellipse in D.C., and as young, too. Mothers with their teenaged daughters in tow; groups of guys styling themselves after Ashton Kutcher; bus after bus from Catholic schools and archdioceses in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and New Hampshire pouring out their blond, rosy-cheeked charges into the rain and mud. They overwhelmed the occasional tearful older women with a party atmosphere, despite the drizzle, cheering for their local bishops as if they were rock stars and booing the names Clinton, Kennedy, and Schumer with enthusiasm. Some were new to the pro-life scene, such as Ryan Costello, 16, of Fairfax County, Virginia, who studied the abortion debate under the tutelage of a strongly pro-life teacher in her Catholic high school; she came dressed to her first protest in a sweatshirt scrawled with the words, “If it’s not a baby then you’re not pregnant, so what are you aborting?” Others were already emerging as young leaders, such as Angelo Capria, 16, of Doylestown, Pennsylvania, who had organized a anti-abortion protest at his local Planned Parenthood clinic as a school project and was now active in the pro-chastity, pro-life group Generation Life.
Many seemed to have been raised on anti-abortion politics with their mothers’ milk; they were as mild in their language as they were certain that abortion would soon be a thing of the past. Sam and Sara Kiesinger, 16 and 19, who were home-schooled in their small town of Mexico, New York, had volunteered with their mom at their local crisis pregnancy center since they were kids, collecting donated clothes and diapers and raising money for infant formula. “A lot of older people used to blame women,” says Sam. “But I would never be angry at a girl for doing that. It’s a hard situation to be in. The critical thing is that we have a support system in place for the day when abortion is illegal.”
Just days before the event, the Supreme Court’s decision in Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood had thrilled anti-abortion forces, because the court had declined to reject an entire law over its lack of an exception for the health of the woman. “I would think that shudders are going through the abortionists,” said Jordan Lorence of the Alliance Defense Fund, a leading Christian right legal organization. “Not that Roe v. Wade is going to topple tomorrow. But this is not good news for them.” Family Research Council president Tony Perkins said that revisiting Roe was “the unfinished business of a future Supreme Court,” and he reveled in the successes of the Roberts and Alito nominations. “The efforts to force them to pledge allegiance to Roe v. Wade failed,” he said. “This is a serious change in the politics of abortion.”
Earlier in the day, at a gathering for pro-life bloggers before the march, Family Research Council vice-president Charmaine Yoest spoke of the dawn of a new era in the abortion debate. “The legal change may take awhile,” she said, “but I really do see us moving into a post-Roe America.”
As the Los Angeles Times reported on Sunday, state legislatures across the country are already busy proposing major new abortion restrictions, with the goal of forcing a challenge to Roe.