By William Wan
Saturday, January 23, 2010; B01
Chanting, yelling and singing their way down Constitution Avenue, tens of thousands of abortion opponents marched through the cold Friday in the annual March for Life , marking the 37th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.
This year, organizers from the Americans United for Life group also added a "Virtual March for Life," where online users unable to attend in person could create avatars and march along a Google Maps version of the Mall. Or, as their ad on YouTube put it: "Click and be heard."
But those who braved the cold and overcast weather to make it to the event heard a message that centered on fighting the now-stalled health-care reform package and ensuring that any future health-care plans would prohibit the use of federal funding for abortions.
Many at the rally cited the election of Republican Scott Brown to the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts as a sign of a shifting momentum to conservative causes such as theirs.
"Any people from Massachusetts here today?" asked Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), one of several members of Congress who spoke at the rally on the Mall. "Thank you, Massachusetts. Thank you for helping us kill the anti-life bill," he said, referring to the Democrats' filibuster-proof majority in the Senate that will be broken once Brown is sworn in.
The issue of health-care reform dominated the speeches and prayers blasted over loudspeakers at the protest. More than three decades since Roe v. Wade, the antiabortion movement has been mobilized during the past year against the health-care reform legislation.
For months, abortion opponents have campaigned vigorously against health-care reform over concern that federal funding might be used for abortions. Their efforts at times threatened to derail legislation and for weeks steered the conversation on Capitol Hill squarely into abortion-rights issues.
"We couldn't be happier that with Massachusetts, health care looks like it's all the way back to square one," said Keith Burkhart, a Catholic physician from Silver Spring who attended the march with his wife and son. "As physicians, we're really concerned about not just abortion, but end-of-life issues, embryonic stem cell research. It all weighs on you, what you may be forced to do."
Few counter-demonstrators were visible along the route, but some gathered in front of the Supreme Court. In a statement, the National Organization for Women said abortion-rights supporters are not giving up the health-care reform fight. "To those who tell us we should be willing to give up abortion rights in order to get other health-care reforms, we respond with a resounding 'No,' " the statement said. "We will not trade off the rights and needs of some women for the benefit of others."
Abortion opponents have held the annual march since 1974. The goal is to protest the Supreme Court's Jan. 22, 1973, ruling that most laws against abortion violate a constitutional right to privacy. Over the years, the march has grown into one of the largest events for abortion opponents.
The events began early Friday morning with a youth rally at the Verizon Center. The rally, organized by the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, featured religious bands, a Mass conducted by bishops from across the country, including Washington Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl, and a "confess-a-thon," in which more than 100 priests heard confessions at stations set up in the arena.
Friday afternoon, the march on the Mall went along Constitution Avenue, up Capitol Hill and then to the Supreme Court.
During his years in office, President George W. Bush (R) often greeted marchers with a message from Camp David or other locations where he was traveling, expressing support for their cause. Bush appointed two Supreme Court justices who have voted to uphold federal restrictions on some abortion procedures.
President Obama issued a statement Friday night reaffirming his support for a woman's right to choose. "I also remain committed to working with people of goodwill to prevent unintended pregnancies, support pregnant women and families, and strengthen the adoption system," he said.