Buses from across the country, mostly chartered by Catholic schools and organizations, brought groups of people to the Mall for a pre-march rally in which politicians, religious leaders and activists decried the 55 million abortions they said had been performed since the Roe v. Wade decision.
The archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, read a message posted early Friday by Pope Benedict XVI from his personal Twitter account: “I join all those marching for life from afar, and pray that political leaders will protect the unborn and promote a culture of life.”
House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) appeared on a giant video screen and vowed to work for passage of a bill banning taxpayer funding for abortions. Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.) told the crowd that she would fight for a bill she has introduced that would prohibit family planning grants from going to groups that provide abortions, such as Planned Parenthood.
Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.), chairman of the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, called President Obama, who has stated his commitment to protecting abortion as a constitutional right, the “abortion president.”
“Know this, Mr. President,” Smith said to loud cheers from the crowd of protesters. “We will never quit.”
The March for Life is typically held on Jan. 22, the actual anniversary of Roe v. Wade. This year, it was delayed until Friday to allow for cleanup after Monday’s presidential inauguration and make it easier to travel to the District.
Despite a bitter, arctic cold that descended over the region, Friday’s crowd was large. Police no longer estimate crowd size, so it is difficult to judge how many people attended.
The march permit was for 50,000 people, though organizers said the attendance was several times that number. People at the rally were concentrated on the Mall between Seventh and 12th Streets, and the march up Constitution Avenue stretched for at least five blocks.
The most commonly carried posters simply said, “Defend Life,” or showed a black-and-white photograph of a newborn infant, plump and healthy-looking. Posters with graphic images of aborted fetuses were rare.
Jeanne Monahan, the new head of the March for Life, said the movement is making progress in changing laws and attitudes. She noted about 200 antiabortion measures introduced in state legislatures, and said Americans are becoming growing more “pro-life.”
“Pro-life is the new normal in the United States,” she told the crowd.
Many who participated came in groups, identifiable by the banners they carried or the matching scarves they wore. Chartered buses dropped off people several blocks away, and they approached the Mall on foot, often carrying placards, crosses and flags bearing the name of the college, high school or diocese they represented.