By Christopher White, The Tablet’s National Correspondent
WASHINGTON, D.C. – While the federal government may have been shut down for nearly a month, both President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence were on the job Friday calling for new action to protect human life.
At the rally for the 46th March for Life, the annual protest event that draws tens of thousands of pro-life activists to the nation’s capital to mark the anniversary of the 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion, Pence made a surprise appearance that included a taped video message from the president.
“When we look into the eyes of a newborn child, we see the beauty and the human soul and the majesty of God’s creation. We know that every life has meaning,” said Trump in a nod to March’s theme “Unique from Day One,” which is meant to emphasize the role of science in debates over abortion.
Both the president and vice-president touted the pro-life accomplishments of their administration, and Trump vowed to veto any legislation that “weakens” the cause of life.
Pence, with his wife Karen beside him, repeated a slogan he used on several occasions since the 2016 election: “Life is winning in America once again.”
Citing a passage from Jeremiah, Pence said, “Know that He who said, ‘Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you’ also said, ‘I will never forsake you.’”
On Friday evening, Pence will also headline the annual Rose Dinner, which caps off the day’s events and is organized by the March for Life Education and Defense Fund. In 2017, he became the first sitting vice president to speak at the March for Life, and in 2018, Pence was at the president’s side in the White House Rose Garden when he addressed the crowd via a live video feed.
Activities for the March began with a noon rally, with other speakers including Senator Steve Daines (R-MT), Congressman Dan Lipinski (D-IL), Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ), Archbishop Joseph Naumann, chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Pro-life Activities Committee, and Ben Shapiro, editor-in-chief of The Daily Wire.
While the march is often known for widespread turnout despite frigid January temperatures, this year’s marchers were greeted with relatively balmy 40 degree-Fahrenheit weather and sunshine. While those attending the rally on the National Mall were forced to battle slush from last weekend’s snowstorm, the capital was mostly sleepy due to the shutdown adding ease of movement for those trekking along the 1.5 miles from the National Mall to the steps of the Supreme Court.
Along the way, attendees held a range of signs reflecting different stances and motivations of those involved in the pro-life movement – among them being ones stating “Abortion is a Flesh Tax on the Poor,” “End Abortion, End Capitalism,” and “Love Saves Lives.”
Despite the presence of a wide range of groups, including the likes of “Secular Pro-Life” and “Democrats for Life,” – the event is largely organized and attended by a more traditionally conservative crowd.
While this year’s rally included bipartisan representation, as it has for 35 of its 46 years, Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life, took to the pages of the Washington Post on Friday to lament the “unwelcoming” stance leaders of the Democratic party have had toward pro-life voters and candidates.
“As president of the March, I can say we hope and pray this will change. Or I should say change back to an earlier time, when abortion wasn’t as partisan an issue for political parties,” wrote Mancini.
In response, a former Obama administration staffer and author of the book Reclaiming Hope: Lessons Learned in the Obama White House about the Future of Faith in America, Michael Wear told The Tablet, “The ideological consolidation in the Democratic Party around abortion is both morally dissonant with so many of the party’s other priorities and politically unhelpful.”
“The question for the professional pro-life movement is whether their strategy has resulted in making this problem worse or better,” Wear said.
“Unfortunately, it has been the work of both pro-choice and pro-life groups that has led to our present situation, a situation where pro-life groups count it as a success that Joe Donnelly is no longer in the United States Senate while they’re willing to mute criticism of Republicans Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins who voted against Hyde just last night,” Wear continued, in a reference to Thursday’s Senate vote on whether to ban taxpayer funding for abortion.
During the procession up to the Supreme Court, 36-year-old Melissa Miles from Dallas, Texas, told The Tablet that “this is the one-spot where Democrats are entirely wrong.”
Miles is a registered Democrat and attended the March with the group known as “New Wave Feminists,” and said “Justice has to begin with life. This issue is where I side with everyone who usually sides against me.”
Meanwhile, 17-year-old Andreas Pantazakos, attending the march for the first time with his Catholic high school in Long Island, told The Tablet that he agrees with Pence that being “pro-life is winning in America.”
As he held a “Make Unborn Babies Great Again” sign in the style of President Trump’s “Make America Great Again,” campaign banners, Pantazakos said that for him, “Republicans are more pro-life.”
He continued, however, “Regardless, if I were not religious or conservative, the facts and science are what inform me.”
The March for Life was founded in 1974, one year after the Roe decision by Nellie Gray, a Roman Catholic convert who quit her job as a lawyer in the U.S. Department of Labor to dedicate her life to pro-life advocacy and pledged to work to end abortion in this country.
While it remains one of the most culturally explosive and politically divisive topics in the United States, earlier this week, a new poll conducted by the Marist Institute for Public Opinion found 75 percent of Americans support a ban on abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
Further, sixty-five percent – or nearly two-thirds – of Americans believe that if the Supreme Court revisits Roe v. Wade, either abortion should be made illegal or that states should be allowed to set their own restrictions on abortion law.
The polling was sponsored by the Knights of Columbus.
Despite those poll numbers, Naumann – as the U.S. bishops’ point person on pro-life activities – told The Tablet that the movement for life is one that takes the long view.
“We have to persevere. Abortion wasn’t made legal overnight. Those that were proponents of it began in the 1920s and ’30s. To bring about a social change like this in our culture takes time,” he insisted.
“We have to persevere because we know the Lord is with us and on our side, and we have to do our part and prepare ourselves as a nation and country to once again hopefully in the not too distant future, protect human life,” he said.