WASHINGTON, D.C.-Thousands poured onto the National Mall Jan. 22, trampling the detritus from a presidential inauguration 48 hours earlier and carrying signs that read "Yes We Can Terminate Abortions," co-opting one of President Barack Obama's campaign slogans.
The occasion was the annual March for Life, held on the 36th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, which mandated legal abortion in the United States. Speakers at the march called on Obama to defend "all Americans," including the preborn, casting the movement in the light of other historic causes like civil rights.
Estimates of the march's 2009 size ranged from 100,000 to 250,000. Anyone over 30 years old was in the minority, and Catholic schools showed a strong presence, as they often do. Some turned out because they are concerned about having a pro-abortion president, others said the fight would continue no matter who was in office. "Young people, you are the inheritors of the great American tradition of seeking justice," said Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb.
Shaun Kenney, 30, executive director of American Life League, said the youth understand the toll abortion has had on their generation. "One in three of their friends they will never see," he told me. "How soon do we embrace the energy that's out there? There's a reluctance among the old guard in the pro-life community to let go and let the youth lead."
Minorities joined in, too, though they were few. St. Joseph's is a Yonkers, N.Y., Catholic church that used to be a mainly white congregation. But as jobs in the neighborhood disappeared, poverty grew, and now the church, pastored by Rev. George J. Kuhn, is majority Hispanic. Their signs read, "Thou shalt not kill. . . . No mataras!"
"Vamanos," said Kuhn to his congregation, as they took off for a rally before the march.
Liberal pro-life groups like RealAbortionSolutions.org, which advocates looking for ways to reduce abortions through adoption and support for single mothers, were not to be found, but they did run print ads in D.C. papers about alternative solutions to abortion. The array of youth that turned out don't want to see that kind of "compromise" if it means a continuation of legal abortion; they want Roe v. Wade overturned.
As marchers walked around to the back of the Capitol, they encountered a few pro-abortion demonstrators on the steps of the Supreme Court. Some argued with them, some stood beside them and prayed. The confrontations, though, were tame compared to previous years, said Polly Stanatopoulos, who stood with a "Keep Abortion Legal" sign. "I'm celebrating Roe v. Wade," she said.
Marcia Lane-McGee, an African-American and one of apparently few Obama supporters in the March for Life crowd, had a baby six years ago and placed him in an open adoption-so now she sees her son growing up in a healthy family. When she was pregnant and contemplating an abortion, she said one of her friends dragged her to a pro-life counselor who "showed me a basket of plastic babies and told me what a bad person I was."
Lane-McGee wasn't convinced by the accusatory tone, but instead by a conversation with another woman who told her about the life she had inside her. "As Christians, we think of Jesus meeting us where we are," she said. "We need to meet pro-choice people where they are."
And Lane-McGee thinks pro-lifers need to focus more on providing support for children after they're born, through better health care and helping moms get off welfare. "It's about dignity in life," she said. "There's no dignity in getting handouts your whole life."
The following day Alveda King, pro-life advocate and niece of Martin Luther King Jr., spoke in front of the White House to recognize the 1,400 African-American babies aborted every day in the United States. (Abortion rates are highest among minority groups, especially African-Americans.) King addressed President Obama, saying, "While he is living his dreams, those babies will be dying horrible deaths because of the policies he supports."
That same day, the president repealed the "Mexico City policy," a policy that prevented federal funding of abortions overseas. "For the last eight years we pro-lifers have had it easy," said Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis. "That's all changed."