Antiabortion Activists March on Washington After GOP Ditches Bill

Abortion opponents are descending on the National Mall on Thursday, a day after lawmakers canceled a vote on antiabortion legislation.

Participants at the March for Life rally in Washington, January 22, 2015.
National Journal
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Priscilla Alvarez and Marina Koren
Jan. 22, 2015, 6:56 a.m.

Wheth­er they like it or not, a ma­jor fight over abor­tion is land­ing on Re­pub­lic­ans’ door­steps Thursday. It’s the 42nd an­niversary of the land­mark Roe v. Wade de­cision on abor­tion rights. It’s the day after House GOP lead­ers pulled an an­ti­abor­tion bill off the floor after push­back from mem­bers of their own party. And it’s the day of the March for Life, an an­nu­al an­ti­abor­tion rally that has drawn tens of thou­sands of par­ti­cipants, on the Na­tion­al Mall.

The House was sched­uled to vote on the bill Thursday af­ter­noon, around the same time as the march. The Pain Cap­able Un­born Child Pro­tec­tion Act would ban abor­tions after 20 weeks of preg­nancy, the point at which some say a fetus can feel pain, and which abor­tion-rights ad­voc­ates dis­pute. Some Re­pub­lic­ans wor­ried that the meas­ure would ali­en­ate mil­len­ni­als and fe­male voters, two groups the party already has trouble reach­ing. And many fe­male law­makers were out­raged at a pro­vi­sion that stated wo­men can be ex­empt from the 20-week ban in cases of rape only if they re­por­ted the rape to law en­force­ment.

So, what does this mean for the March for Life? “There’s not any hope dimmed today,” March for Life Pres­id­ent Jeanne Mo­n­ahan told Na­tion­al Journ­al be­fore the rally, adding that she doesn’t think the dy­nam­ic of the event will change. House lead­er­ship had aler­ted march or­gan­izers that the bill was go­ing to be dropped, but this wasn’t what abor­tion op­pon­ents had in mind.

“We’re dis­ap­poin­ted, as you can ima­gine,” Mo­n­ahan said. “We’re really dis­ap­poin­ted that that happened.”

But Mo­n­ahan’s sense of op­tim­ism wasn’t shared by many of the march­ers on the Mall.

Some par­ti­cipants at the march had not heard about the bill be­ing pulled. Patti Smith, who was there with about 20 mem­bers of Voice of Truth, a nondenom­in­a­tion­al church in Ar­ling­ton, Ga., was sur­prised. All she wants, she said, is to “stop abor­tion.”

Stephanie Kern of Vir­gin­ia was not happy when told about Re­pub­lic­ans drop­ping the bill. “I’m go­ing to kick their tails,” she said.

Kern had two abor­tions as a teen­ager. She was raped when she was 15 and be­came preg­nant with her daugh­ter, Loni, 16, who was at the march with her. Kern said she un­der­stood wo­men law­makers’ con­cerns about the bill’s rape pro­vi­sion. After all, she didn’t file a po­lice re­port when it happened. “I would have been painted as the biggest har­lot in county,” if she had, she said. 

Kern said she be­lieves a GOP Con­gress could suc­cess­fully push an­ti­abor­tion le­gis­la­tion, but she’s not get­ting her hopes up. “I can only put my hope in one en­tity,” she said. Kern turned to Chris­tian­ity around the time she was preg­nant with Loni. “But it’s a great­er hope than we had last year.”

Chris Lesh­er was there lead­ing a group of 17 high school stu­dents from Mar­ist High School in Chica­go. This was his 10th march, and he didn’t know about the House vote, either. “Hear­ing about it for the first time, my re­ac­tion is curi­os­ity,” he said. “To me, it’s not an is­sue of Re­pub­lic­ans and Demo­crats. Let’s stand up for life.”

Dav­id O’Bri­en, who came to the march from Chica­go, said, “We worked hard for le­gis­la­tion to pro­tect life. But work­ing through le­gis­la­tion is hard in this coun­try.”

Joe Haer­tel, of Ar­ling­ton, Va., said he’s not hope­ful that any le­gis­la­tion could pass un­der this pres­id­ent, re­gard­less of the GOP-con­trolled Con­gress.

“We can push for pro-life le­gis­la­tion,” said Haer­tal, who has at­ten­ded the rally for 39 con­sec­ut­ive years,” but I don’t think any will be passed while Obama is pres­id­ent. “

There were also scores of high-school age par­ti­cipants on the Mall, stand­ing huddled to­geth­er in tight circles against the wind. A 16-year-old boy walked through the crowd hand­ing out posters as part of a com­munity-ser­vice re­quire­ment for his school.

With the 20-week ban le­gis­la­tion out, the House de­cided to vote on the No Tax­pay­er Fund­ing for Abor­tion Act, which pro­hib­its fed­er­ally fun­ded abor­tions. The bill, ori­gin­ally passed by the House in a 227-188 vote last Janu­ary, blocks the use of tax­pay­er money for abor­tion ser­vices offered through private in­sur­ance plans. It passed Thursday af­ter­noon, 242-179.

The White House warned Thursday that Pres­id­ent Obama would likely veto the bill if it reaches his desk. “The ad­min­is­tra­tion strongly op­poses le­gis­la­tion that un­ne­ces­sar­ily re­stricts wo­men’s re­pro­duct­ive freedoms and con­sumers’ private in­sur­ance op­tions,” it said in a state­ment.

Mo­n­ahan said Re­pub­lic­an lead­ers in both the House and Sen­ate have as­sured her that they will push for an­oth­er vote on the 20-week ban in the com­ing weeks. But the bill might not look the same. Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham of South Car­o­lina, one of the law­makers who Mo­n­ahan says prom­ised her that GOP law­makers wouldn’t back down, says that the bill will have to be changed, Bloomberg re­ports.

“We need to find a con­sensus po­s­i­tion on the rape ex­cep­tion,” Gra­ham said dur­ing a Fam­ily Re­search Coun­cil event Wed­nes­day night, after the bill was dropped. “The rape ex­cep­tion will be part of the bill. We just need to find a way defin­i­tion­ally to not get us in­to a spot where we’re de­bat­ing what le­git­im­ate is. That’s not the cause. We’re not here de­bat­ing le­git­im­ate rape. We’re talk­ing about sav­ing ba­bies at 20 weeks.”

Mo­n­ahan said she trusts Re­pub­lic­ans to get an­ti­abor­tion le­gis­la­tion back on the floor. “Let’s be hon­est—this is the most pro-life Con­gress we’ve had in his­tory,” she said.

As for the Re­pub­lic­ans who op­posed the bill over fears about turn­ing off key voters, “I would in­vite them to come to the March for Life,” she says. “You will see the hun­dreds of thou­sands of mil­len­ni­als and young wo­men who are ar­dently fight­ing for the rights of the un­born.”

The March for Life has been held on the an­niversary of Roe v. Wade every year since 1974. Ori­gin­ally, about 30 people par­ti­cip­ated in the demon­stra­tion. Today, it’s the world’s largest an­ti­abor­tion event. Check back here for up­dates from the march this af­ter­noon.

Cor­rec­tion: An earli­er ver­sion of this story mis­stated the vote count of the No Tax­pay­er Fund­ing for Abor­tion Act’s pas­sage last year. It was 227-188.


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