At the Ellipse, they were literally shouting into the wind. But politically, they are no longer.
The anti-abortionists, gathered to mark the twelfth anniversary of the Supreme Court decision, believe they are now being heard -- if not by a majority of Americans, who still favor, or at least, tolerate abortion, or by Congress, which refuses to pass an anti-abortion Constitutional amendment - by those who matter in this world.
They have President Ronald Reagan on their side, wholeheartedly, unequivocally. He telephoned a message to their frigid gathering, and had an exchange with their indomitable leader, Nellie Gray, in which he went further than ever in support of their amendment to ban all abortions.
Cries of "God bless HIM" went up from the crowd, 71,500 strong.
They have, of course the Pope, who has reiterated his uncompromosing opposition, by the threat to expel dissident religious who signed an ad calling for "dialogue" on this most painful subject.
They have the Rev. Jerry Falwell, who never lost his smile while the red roses wilted in the freezing air.
They have modern science working for them. Advances in fetal experimentation and sonics have made possible a harrowing film called "The Silent Scream", which shows a fetus cringing away from the instruments of an abortionist. The Rev. Falwell said that if it were shown on the networks, the American people would rise up and cry "Stop."
But most of all, the antiabortionists have time on their side. During Reagan's second term it is entirely likely he will have the naming of at least two Supreme Court judges. His choice would not fall on a pro-choice candidate. The pro-lifers look forward to bringing a new case, and a reversal of Roe V. Wade.
The anti-abortionists compare themselves to the Abolitionists, possessors of a cause with an absolute moral imperative. Do not speak to them of a "woman's right to control her own body."
Their responsibility is clear to them. They must stop an abortion as they should strike a gun from the hand of a would-be murderer.
A middle-aged mother of seven who had ridden a bus from Glassboro, N.J. said, "It's a crime against all of us; we have to stop it."
And if the pregnant mother does not want the child, might neglect or abuse it, or be unable to care for it and might not feel constrained to bear it just because someone else says she must?
The woman said, "God wants that child to be born. He will take care of it."
The abortionists have lately had other crimes committed in their names. Most speakers condemned the terrorists who have bombed or burned abortion clinics -- there have been 30 such violent actions in the last two years. As defenders of life, they are chagrined at such dangerous witness. But as Rep. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) said, while they must condemn the destruction of buildings, their enemies must condemn the destruction of babies.
No thought was given to the notion of calling off their march to Capitol Hill. The temperature was marginally less murderous than that which led, the day before, to the cancellation of the Inaugural parade, but faintheartendess is not in their agenda.
Said Rep. Bob Smith (R-N. H.), "No matter how cold it is here, it is a hell of a lot colder on the metal tables at the abortion clinic", to enthusiastic cheers. He was one of a dozen congressmen from the pro-life Congressional Caucus, another evidence of the political muscle of the anti-abortionists.
They do not mind being called extremists. They know their tactics repel even those who agree with them. They do not care. They hounded Geraldine Ferraro every step of the way in the fall campaign. She went nowhere without hearing or seeing herself called a "baby-killer." They know their heroes, Sen. Jesse Helms and Archbishop O'Connor are not universally admired. They know that congressmen dread their coming to Capitol Hill. They shout a lot, make scenes.
Lately, they have been adopting the self-sacrificing methods of the civil rights and anti-war protesters and have committed acts of civil disobedience. They are serving time in jail. But rhetorical moderation escapes them. They are going after Sen. Robert Packwood (R-Ore.), who favors choice. They call him "Senator Death."
They know they are faulted because they focus so obsessively with the child in the womb and have so little to say for the child in need. They have heard Barney Frank's famous barb about the administrations's concern for children -- "begins with conception, ends with birth." But they feel they are gaining on their enemies, who so matter of factly promote abortion as an entirely acceptable form of birth control and a matter of right.
Pro-lifers are not longer dismissed as pale-eyed fanatics. They make a difference. They expect to make more.