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Tens of thousands of pro-life supporters descended on the nation’s capital Friday for the 45th annual March for Life—hoping positive rhetoric leads to action to protect the unborn.
This year’s march marked the first time a sitting president has addressed the event live. President Donald Trump, along with Vice President Mike Pence, delivered an uplifting message via a live-streamed video from the Rose Garden touting the administration’s commitment to restrict abortion and protect the consciences of those who don’t want to participate in the practice.
A year ago, pro-life groups anticipated a historic season to advance pro-life policies with a friendly White House and a Congress sympathetic to their cause. Twelve months later, many agenda items remain on the to-do list, but that hasn’t soured expectations for 2018.
“The March for Life is a movement born out of love,” Trump said. “We are with you all the way."
Peg Howson, from Massachusetts, cheered as she watched Trump deliver his prepared remarks. She was a junior in high school when she attended the first march in 1974: “It was much smaller back then,” Howson said with a laugh.
That first March for Life started as a small demonstration to protest the Roe v. Wade decision and has grown into the largest annual pro-life event in the world.
Howson gushed about the progression of the pro-life movement and continues to be excited about its future. She pointed to the collection of young people surrounding her.
At just 9 years old, Kevin Judge is a three-year veteran of the march. Julio Ramirez, a 15-year-old high-school student from New Jersey, joined the march for the first time. University of Tennessee sophomore Rachel White skipped out of Friday classes to attend.
White told me she doesn’t follow the political back-and-forth on the abortion debate but comes to the march for inspiration: “It’s super exciting to be here with all these people who feel the same way about the preservation of life.”
Tom Trykowski from Virginia started coming to the march 15 years ago. Now 73, Trykowski limps while attempting to keep up with the hundreds of school and church groups: “It seems like there are more young people here every year,” he said.
Pence spoke onstage at the event in 2017 and declared life was “winning” again in America. He delivered a similar line this time, but advocates point out significant work still lies ahead.
Students for Life of America President Kristan Hawkins met with Pence on Thursday with dozens of college students. Hawkins told me Pence promised her Congress would vote to defund Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider. But he could not commit to a timetable with Congress still lacking the needed votes.
The House has enough pro-life lawmakers to defund Planned Parenthood and pass other legislation to curb the number of abortions, but that’s not the case in the Senate. Without 60 pro-life votes in the upper chamber, pro-abortion lawmakers can filibuster bills to weaken the abortion industry.
“The Senate is really a legislative straightjacket,” U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., told me.
The House passed a bill Friday to protect children born alive during abortion procedures, but it’s doubtful the Senate will ever take up the bill. And legislation to ban abortion after 20 weeks of gestation—a ban more than 15 legislatures have already approved at the state level—passed the House in October, but has stalled ever since.
Advocates lament the state of stalled pieces of pro-life legislation but remain positive for the future.
For many march attendees, the Trump administration has brought hope for 2018 and years to come—a sharp turnaround from the previous White House.
“I was pro-life even before I even knew what it meant,” Maureen Trettel from Boston claimed. She now volunteers in a crisis pregnancy center and said simply having a White House that acknowledges the pro-life movement makes all the difference to raise awareness: “The majority of this country is pro-life, and they just need to see more of the truth to shut down abortion.”
Bill Peters is the pastor of Unified Baptist Church in San Bernardino, Calif. He traveled with his wife Candy to the march for the first time this year, and Trump was a large motivation for the trip.
Peters told me many of his evangelical friends turned their backs on Trump because of the president’s brash style and colored past, but he’s remained supportive for one reason: “The proof is in what he does and not the sometimes awkward words that he uses.”