WASHINGTON-A freezing rain fell from the sky and mud mixed with ice on the ground as pro-life marchers in the nation's capital mixed celebration with anger at recent setbacks.
The annual March for Life, held the day after the anniversary of the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, seemed to draw its largest crowd yet, despite the miserable weather. The mostly young crowd added up to at least tens of thousands, if not more than a hundred thousand. Teenagers gamely stood for hours and some marched shivering in soaked sneakers. At one point in the march, a teen couple kissed in the middle of the crowd, perhaps in a strategy to stay warm. One high schooler was dressed up as a Who from Whoville, a Dr. Seuss character-which didn't make sense until you saw her friend's sign quoting from the Seuss book Horton Hears a Who, saying, "A person's a person no matter how small."
"I like babies, yes I do, I like babies, how 'bout you?" chanted one group. Many carried signs that said, "I am the pro-life generation."
But more than rain clouds hung over the march. On Friday the Obama administration announced it would require most religious groups to provide their employees with full health insurance coverage for contraceptives, including abortifacients like Plan B and Ella (see "No change," Jan. 20). The only exemption from the requirement is for groups that have the "inculcation of religious values" as their primary mission and who serve and employ people of that faith-which essentially only covers churches. The narrowness of the exemption has angered not only conservative Catholics and evangelicals, but also a broad array of Jewish and Christian groups, including the Catholic Health Association, which supported healthcare reform.
On Sunday, the actual anniversary date of Roe, the Obama campaign sent an email to supporters trumpeting the contraceptive decision. The decision "ensures that being a woman will no longer be considered a preexisting condition," wrote Stephanie Cutter, President Obama's deputy campaign manager, in the message. "[Our] opponents have been waging a war on women's health … the president has stood firm against these attacks."
Very few people I interviewed at the march seemed to know about the decision, suggesting that the news hasn't filtered down to the man on the street yet. But the lawmakers that spoke at the rally mentioned it repeatedly.
"Mr. President, stop violating conscience rights," said Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., to a roar of cheers from the crowd. Smith chairs the House Pro-Life Caucus.
"Last Friday [Obama] took away conscience protections," said Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis. "We have to make sure that is reversed this year."
"Rick Santorum for President" campaign signs were everywhere. A contingent of Ron Paul supporters showed up, as well, trumpeting his years working as an obstetrician-gynecologist, but I saw not one sign for Newt Gingrich or Mitt Romney.
"Ron Paul has no record of getting things done," said Bonnie Borel, 53, who carried a Santorum sign. "[Santorum] is as principled as Ron Paul, but he can get it done." Borel also said the electability argument against Santorum is silly. "Romney is McCain warmed over, and McCain didn't win."
Many of the marchers are voting for the first time this year. "I like Santorum, but he probably won't get the nomination," said Stephen Wilson, 19, from Steubenville, Ohio. Abortion is the main issue he considers as a voter, Wilson said, but added, "I'm not really tied to either party."
"If all these young people vote, …" trailed off Wilson's buddy Connor O'Shea, also 19. "[In Washington] I see less movement than anything, in any area. If they could get movement, you definitely could change things."
One sign drew a lot of attention. It was white, and said on one side, "Steve Jobs was adopted." The other side showed the Apple logo and said, "Think different again." Caleb Longgrear, 28, came up with the sign after he read Walter Isaacson's biography about Jobs and learned that the Apple CEO had been adopted.
"If the world hadn't had Steve Jobs, it would be really sad," Longgrear said. "We'd have just had IBM. … Any Apple fan is going to appreciate that he was born. There were a lot of people that weren't born." A man came up and took a photo of the sign with his iPhone.
"You see tons of kids and that's a great thing," said Rob Eidle, 44, who has been coming to the march for about a dozen years and has watched it grow. "On one hand, I do think there's hope, but on the other hand, you just see the culture and it doesn't seem on a good trend." He turned and looked at his family clad-cheerfully-in ponchos and said, "I hope to not have to, someday, come here anymore."