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As March For Life Continues, Supporters, Opponents Plan More State Action

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(RNS) — Last January, March for Life participants gathered for the first time after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, celebrating a long-sought victory even as they shifted their focus to the state level — the new battleground in the enduring abortion debate.

Pro-life activists gather Jan. 20, 2023 in Washington D.C. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

A year later, after a series of disappointments for the organization, in which more than half a dozen state ballot initiatives strengthened access to abortion, pro-lifers gathered again for the annual D.C. march, even as March for Life also plans at least 16 state-level marches this year, double that of 2023.

“Yes, Roe has been overturned for a year and a half, which returns the question to the American people,” said Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life, in an interview. “But are we done building a culture of life? Is abortion unthinkable? No. So we continue marching at the states, at the national level.”

Mancini said she was expecting to see over 100,000 pro-life activists Friday (Jan. 19) at the 51st March for Life — whose 2024 theme was “With every woman, for every child” — followed by crowds at the growing number of state counterparts.

Nicole Hunt, life issues analyst for the evangelical organization Focus on the Family, said she would be in Washington and also at the Colorado March for Life on April 12.

“Given the fact that it is so divided and polarized right now in D.C., it’s very unlikely we’ll see federal legislation that could pass right now,” Hunt said. “I think we’ll see people engaged at both the federal and state level, but I think where we’re going to see the most engagement and the most action is at the state level.”

She believes the pro-life movement has improved its fundraising and messaging since 2022, when the outcome of half a dozen state ballot measures did not go their way, including their most recent loss in Ohio. Pro-lifers are pressing on, Hunt said, with hopes to continue to support “any measure that protects life.”

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She noted an upcoming ecumenical gathering at the Colorado Capitol, where they will oppose efforts by abortion advocates to gather signatures to support a proposed amendment to include a right to abortion in the state constitution.

“We’ve got the Catholic Church and the Protestants and the pregnancy resource organizations and everybody coming together to say, we need to rally together to turn out folks to speak against this, to have rallies at the Capitol and all of that,” said Hunt.

Mancini expressed gratitude for former President Trump’s opposition to abortion while he was in the White House and his presidential actions that helped lead to Roe’s overturn. But after Trump recently criticized his opponent Ron DeSantis’ signing of a six-week ban on abortion, she praised the action of the Florida governor.

“We applaud him for doing that and all others who stand for life and advance pro-life protection for the unborn and work to serve pregnant women in need,” said Mancini, who noted her organization does not endorse candidates.

She expects pro-life efforts on the state level might, at least initially, be more successful than any nationwide proposals to restrict the procedure because “right now, it’s difficult to pass anything with our specific Congress,” she said.

Still, the march route, as it did last year, followed a path directing participants past the western face of the Capitol en route to the Supreme Court.

Along that route, Catholics for Choice, which has unfurled banners and used projected lights to protest past pro-life events, planned to have placards on display with statistics about the majority of Catholics supporting abortion rights.

“We’re encouraging pro-choice Catholics at all levels, from the pews to the White House, to speak up about how they reconcile their faith, belief and their support of abortion access,” said Jamie Manson, president of the abortion rights organization. “The religious beliefs of one group should not infringe on the rights and freedoms of anyone else.”

Just as it had a field organizer in Ohio last year as it promoted training and messaging about its pro-abortion views, Manson said Catholics for Choice will likely do the same in Florida, which is one of about a dozen states that could have a ballot measure related to abortion this year.

Brent Leatherwood, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said he plans to represent his organization at the national march, as has long been its tradition. In contrast to Manson’s view about abortion and religious freedom, he said: “You can’t have rights that are at the expense of a life, especially a defenseless innocent life.”

Leatherwood said the road ahead will be a prolonged one for those who share his opposition to abortion.

“I think the recent setbacks at the state level with ballot initiatives, various proposals in legislatures,” he said, “(are) just a reminder that this is going to be a long path that we’re walking. And even though we may get various proposals passed or policy enacted, this question is not something that can be solved purely through policy. It is still very much a heart question.”

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Adelle Banks

Adelle M. Banks is a senior production editor and national reporter for the Religion News Service, where she has worked since 1995. She previously served as the religion reporter at The Orlando Sentinel as well as a reporter in Providence, Binghamton, and Syracuse, and her work has appeared in USA Today, The Huffington Post, and Jet magazine. Banks won the 2014 Wilbur Award for digital communications and multimedia for her work on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, and she has twice been honored by the Religion Newswriters Association.