AUSTIN, Texas – The annual anti-abortion rally in the nation’s capital sounded more like a victory celebration as speakers expressed a growing sense of optimism that their long-sought goal, a sweeping rollback of abortion rights in America, was finally in reach.
Thousands of protesters rallied in the bitter cold Friday and marched to the Supreme Court, which has indicated it will allow states to impose tighter restrictions on abortion with a ruling in the coming months — and possibly overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that affirmed the constitutional right to an abortion.
“It doesn’t feel real. There’s so much hope and vibrancy and happiness and joy at this thing,” said Jordan Moorman of Cincinnati. “I really do believe that we’re in a post-Roe generation.”
The annual March for Life rally, held one day before the 49th anniversary of the Roe decision, took place amid a COVID-19 surge that limited turnout at the National Mall. Some abortion opponents posted on the event's Facebook page that they would not attend because of vaccine mandates for people going to restaurants and other places in the District of Columbia.
Still, the rally drew a crowd of thousands, with a heavy contingent of young people and students bussed in by schools and church groups. The mood was overwhelmingly upbeat, with many treating the end of Roe v. Wade as inevitable.
President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, in a statement released Saturday, said the right established under Roe “is under assault as never before” and they said they were committed “to ensuring that this country is not pushed backwards on women’s equality.”
“We must ensure that our daughters and granddaughters have the same fundamental rights that their mothers and grandmothers fought for and won on this day, 49 years ago,” they said.
On Friday, Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life Education and Defense Fund, told the crowd that Roe is not settled law and “we are hoping and praying that this year, 2022, will bring a historic change for life.”
“If Roe falls, the battle lines will change, but make no mistake the fight for life will need to continue in the states and here in D.C.,” Mancini said.
The Rev. Andrew Rudmann, a Catholic priest from New Orleans, was attending his 11th event. “Hopefully this will be the last March for Life,” he said.
“Sometimes I would come to the March and it would be great to be united with people who share my beliefs, but there would also be this heaviness,” he said. “This time the whole language and vibe is different.”
The celebratory and triumphant mood of the day was perhaps best encapsulated by a contingent from New York City that bounced past the Supreme Court building with dancing nuns and drummers playing Latin rhythms.
Abortion rights groups worry that at least 26 states are in line to further limit abortion access if Roe is weakened or overturned. In December, the court indicated in a major case that it would uphold a Mississippi ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, and allow states to ban abortion even earlier. The Mississippi case directly challenges Roe.
Courts have also dealt Texas abortion providers a string of defeats over efforts to block a law that since September has banned abortions once cardiac activity is detected, which is usually around six weeks and before some women know they are pregnant. Another loss for Texas clinics came Thursday, when the Supreme Court refused to speed up the ongoing challenge over the law, which providers say is now likely to stay in effect for the foreseeable future.
“This law is cruel and unconstitutional, and I am deeply disappointed that our judicial system has done very little to stop it,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, president of Whole Woman’s Health, which operates four abortion clinics in Texas.
Video journalist Nathan Ellgren contributed to this report. Weber reported from Austin, Texas. Pettus reported from Jackson, Mississippi.