Antiabortion activists who will assemble in Washington later this week for the annual March for Life plan to send a message that they believe there’s still a federal role for the government to take on abortion, even after the US Supreme Court kicked the issue back to the states.
Friday’s event will be the first March for Life since the Supreme Court overruled the federal right to an abortion in its Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision in June last year. As a result, antiabortion activists have refocused their message this year on Congress and want to make it clear they’re not done fighting for more abortion restrictions.
“Immediately, I think people on the pro-life side, I think, there were many that thought ‘well we won, this is over,’ ” said Marilyn Musgrave, vice president of government affairs at Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America and a former member of Congress, of the Dobbs decision. “But as the March for Life will indicate this year, the battle has just begun.”
While the fight over abortion access burns hot on the state level, the antiabortion movement sees the national political landscape as a priority, especially with a newfound toehold in Washington as Republicans have taken control of the House of Representatives.
“What we bring to the table in terms of being a prolife organization is rallying the prolife grass roots. And so for us strategically right now, we can’t lose that federal focus, but we also have to put a lot more energy into the states on a day-to-day basis,” said Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life.
While Mancini did not have an estimate for how many participants would descend on Washington for this year’s event, she said that in previous marches, it would typically draw around 100,000.
A large number of those tend to be young protesters.
“It’s go time for us,” said Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America. “These are young people who are passionate about social change, about transforming their communities to make abortion not only unavailable but also proceed as an unthinkable option. Now is their moment. Now is their opportunity to make that mark and to see that vision of a better world, a more humane and just world, come into existence. And that’s very exciting for them.”
Marchers will find receptive ears on one side of the Capitol, where the Republican-led House of Representatives voted on antiabortion legislation on Wednesday that serves as more of a statement of their priorities than actual viable policy given that the Senate and White House are in Democratic control. Among the lineup of speakers at the march is House Republican majority leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana.
The House narrowly approved the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, a measure similar to one rejected in Montana during the midterms that would require medical attention in the rare cases of a “born-alive infant” after an attempted abortion. It passed largely along party lines, with only Texas Democrat Representative Henry Cuellar joining Republicans in voting for the measure. Texas Democrat Representative Vicente Gonzalez voted “present” on the measure. Critics, including health care professionals, argue this type of legislation criminalizes the practice of medicine.
The House also passed a resolution “condemning the recent attacks on prolife facilities, groups, and churches.” During floor debate, Democrats decried the measures as misleading, with Massachusetts Representative Lori Trahan noting Republicans performed poorly in the most recent congressional elections compared to previous midterms.
“After such a resounding defeat for antiabortion politicians, you would think that my colleagues on the other side of the aisle would have gotten the message,” Trahan said. “But rather than listening to voters and bringing forward legislation to codify the reproductive rights our mothers and our grandmothers fought so hard for, the new Republican majority is catering to demands of extreme members in their conference who have called for a national abortion ban. The partisan bills on the floor today will do nothing to protect women.”
Already there has been discussion of a 15-week national abortion ban on Capitol Hill, proposed by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham in the last Congress after the fall of Roe.
Representative Buddy Carter, a Republican from Georgia, said the votes on antiabortion bills Wednesday should serve as proof of the importance of the issue to the Republican majority in the House.
“I think that the message they should take from it is that we’re not one to just ignore the issue and let them chip away at it or find a different way to approach the issue like they’re trying to do with abortion pills right now,” Carter told the Globe.
The abortion pill issue Carter referenced has become a rallying point on the right in recent days after a new Food and Drug Administration rule broadened access to the pills by making them available at retail pharmacies.
Those pharmacies must follow several steps outlined by the government agency to be eligible to dispense the medication. Medication abortions already account for more than half of “facility-based” abortions in the US in 2020, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
Politico reported plans for organized protests in February outside of major drugstore chains.
While the Supreme Court’s repeal of Roe v. Wade was cause for celebration among antiabortion activists, the fallout from the decision caused a flurry of activity on the state level to protect or deny access. In the months since Roe was overturned, 12 states are enforcing near-total bans on providing abortions, according to a January report by the Guttmacher Institute.
But the electoral front was a different story. Abortion access advocates won every abortion-related ballot test on the state level that followed Dobbs. In congressional elections, Republicans only won enough seats to rule the House by a slim majority, and even lost ground by one seat in the Senate, which is still controlled by Democrats.
Former president Trump, who paved the way to the Dobbs decision by appointing three conservative justices to the Supreme Court, was among those to criticize his party’s approach to the issue of abortion.
“It wasn’t my fault that the Republicans didn’t live up to expectations in the MidTerms,” Trump posted on Truth Social, his social media platform. “It was the ‘abortion issue,’ poorly handled by many Republicans, especially those that firmly insisted on No Exceptions, even in the case of Rape, Incest, or Life of the Mother, that lost large numbers of Voters.”
The response to the midterms by antiabortion groups was to press Republicans to run more clearly on the issue and more firmly promote their antiabortion stances, pointing to successful Republican gubernatorial candidates such as Greg Abbott of Texas, Sarah Huckabee Sanders of Arkansas, and Ron DeSantis of Florida as models.
“Everyone knew it was coming, but the Dems took it and ran with it,” Musgrave said. “It seemed like the Republicans didn’t really have a strategy and many of them just tried to ignore it and hope it would go away. We really saw that as political malpractice.”
Lissandra Villa Huerta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @LissandraVilla.