WASHINGTON — For years, Susan Denningham has left her annual trip to the March for Life feeling hopeless. This year, with Republicans regaining control in Washington, she’s leaving re-energized in activists’ fight against abortion.
“Everything is so positive,” said Denningham, a 60-year-old Cranston, R.I., resident. “It’s so uplifting.”
Denningham joined tens of thousands on the National Mall on Friday for the 44th annual March for Life, the largest annual demonstration of antiabortion activists. This year’s event marked a turning point for attendees who say they feel more hopeful about their cause with the election of Donald Trump, who has promised an antiabortion agenda and who may have multiple Supreme Court picks.
Vice President Mike Pence and Kellyanne Conway, one of Trump’s top advisers, spoke at the rally before the march. Pence was the first vice president to speak at the event in its history.
‘‘Life is winning again in America,” he said. “And today is a celebration of the progress that we have made in the cause.”
Despite strong winds and low temperatures, marchers, including 800 members of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston accompanied by Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, descended on Washington to show their support.
The march came less than a week after the Women’s March, where an estimated 500,000 people filled the streets of Washington to protest Trump’s presidency, specifically his vulgar comments about women captured on videotape and his antiabortion stance.
In his first weekday in office, Trump issued an executive order reinstituting what is known as the Mexico City policy, which bars government funding to groups that offer abortion counseling overseas.
Antiabortion activists who attended Friday’s march are now eagerly awaiting Trump’s nominee for a Supreme Court vacancy, hoping that his pick to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia will move the court closer to overturning Roe v. Wade, the court’s landmark abortion decision. Trump said he would announce his selection on Thursday.
Antiabortion activists are also looking for Trump’s administration to defund Planned Parenthood. Members of Congress plan to defund the organization through the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, and Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa said she plans to introduce legislation on Monday that would redirect Planned Parenthood funding to other women’s health care providers.
Still, national polling shows most Americans do not support overturning Roe v. Wade or defunding Planned Parenthood. In polls this month, the Pew Research Center found 69 percent of Americans do not support overturning the 44-year-old Supreme Court ruling, and Quinnipiac University reported that 62 percent oppose stripping Planned Parenthood of its funding.
Trump expressed support for abortion rights before he ran for president. But as a candidate, he took a hard stance against abortion, even saying in a television interview that he thought women who obtain illegal abortions should be legally punished, a remark he later recanted.
Conway, who also served as Trump’s campaign manager, sought to reaffirm Trump’s antiabortion stance in her remarks.
“This is a new day, a new dawn for life,” Conway said.
She added, “This dismissive notion of out of sight, out of mind, is over. Science and medicine have joined religion and morality in causing many Americans to think how triumphant human life truly is.”
O’Malley, joining the contingent from the Boston area, tweeted about the march: “Blessings to the 800 pilgrims from the archdiocese as they raise their voices in support of a culture of life.’’
For many, the mere presence of Pence and Conway signaled an important shift in the anti-abortion movement.
“There’s almost a party atmosphere here today,” said Jennifer Apiado, a 43-year-old resident of Framingham, Mass. “To have [Pence and Conway] here legitimizes it and gives the people a sense of the promise that this year will be a life-changing year.”
Jen Alspach, a senior at Duke University, traveled to the march alone because she felt a new wave of momentum following Trump’s election. A first-time marcher, she said wanted to be surrounded by people who share her stance against abortions.
“The past eight years have kind of been getting people like me feeling so down, but now it’s something new and fresh and there’s so much energy,” she said. “The whole experience was really moving. I almost cried a couple of times. It’s amazing to know that there are people that believe in life and sometimes that’s hard to feel when you’re in such a liberal place.”
Marchers also sought to distinguish themselves from the Women’s March, which drew criticism from many in the antiabortion community because they felt excluded due to their stance on abortion. The Women’s March removed an antiabortion group as a partner organization and affirmed its event’s platform supported abortion rights.
“We consider ourselves true feminists because we’re fighting for the rights of all females including females in the womb,” said Jessica Fend, a 37-year-old resident of Orlando who held a sign that read, “True feminists protect human rights.” “The feminists that were here last week, they’re only for rights for some women. We’re for rights for all women.”
Both marches clogged Constitution Avenue, and the cadence of the chants was the same, even if the content was far different. This week, it was “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Roe v. Wade has got to go.” Demonstrators at the Women’s March shouted, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Donald Trump has got to go.”
Despite a smaller crowd than the Women’s March, antiabortion activists left feeling more optimistic. Denningham, the Rhode Island resident, said the backing from the White House has made all the difference.
“We were up against a wall,” she said. “We weren’t going to get anywhere, and now there’s hope. You can feel it.”
Tyler Pager can be reached at email@example.com.