'Joyful' March for Life groups rally in D.C., despite some political differences

Thousands of people gathered at the National Mall in Washington, D.C., on Friday for the 44th March for Life, with many saying they feel renewed hope for the pro-life movement. But the post-election political climate could also change up traditional alliances.

Susan Walsh/AP Photo/File
Pro-abortion and anti-abortion protestors rally outside the Supreme Court in Washington in January 2014, during the March for Life.

Tens of thousands of people gathered at the National Mall in Washington on Friday for the 44th March for Life, with many participants expressing newfound hope in light of a Republican-controlled House, Senate, and White House.

President Donald Trump proposed some anti-abortion measures on the campaign trail, and has already reinstated the 'Mexico City policy' blocking international aid to groups that perform or provide information about abortions. Meanwhile, however, a majority of Americans still support the right to an abortion, at least in some circumstances.

But as the new administration takes office, some advocates see a chance to go beyond the simple labels they've typically been branded with: seen as either "pro-choice" or "pro-life," the first assumed to lean Democrat and the latter, Republican, without much nuance in-between.

“It's been us against them for so long ... and now we're actually seeing people find common ground,” says Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa, the president of the New Wave Feminists, a Texas-based group that calls itself pro-life. “We might disagree on the abortion issue, [but] let's talk about the issues we do agree on. There are so many things as women we can be standing together on, even if we disagree on this one issue.”

She continues, “At the end of the day, we have to address the root of the problem. Until we figure out what it is that is leading [women] to this choice – the lack of a support system, which is what I think it is – law is not going to do a whole lot.”

Charlie Camosy, a board member of Democrats for Life of America, says he does not welcome Mr. Trump's involvement in the pro-life movement. He tells The Christian Science Monitor in an interview that Trump's shadow could undermine his group's efforts to seek common ground with other women's causes.

“While we might win the short-term battle with Trump, ... with somebody who's been using women's bodies most of his life – both sexually but also to make money via pageant or strip club – we risk losing the long-term struggle,” Dr. Camosy, a Fordham University professor, tells the Monitor. He worries that being associated with Trump could lead to the movement being “labeled anti-women and misogynistic.”

Others say they are skeptical of Trump's commitment to the issue.

“I personally was never a Trumper. I couldn't even believe he was truly pro-life. It seems like he is having his feet held to the fire and he's trying to pro-life policies,” says Ms. Herndon-De La Rosa.

For many, however, the Trump-Pence White House is a promising sign for the pro-life movement. During his time as governor of Indiana, Vice President Mike Pence signed one of the state's toughest abortion laws to date.

"Life is winning again in America," he told the crowds in Washington on Friday.

Herndon-De La Rosa's group, the New Wave Feminists, illustrates both the challenges and possibilities of what new partnerships could look like. The group wanted to participate in last Saturday’s Women's March in Washington as one of its hundreds of formal partners, and was initially accepted. But they were turned away after a backlash on Twitter, as the Women's March organizers listed support for reproductive rights as one of their core principles.

Herndon-De La Rosa says her group will be at the anti-abortion march on Friday. The first March for Life was held in 1973 after the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision affirmed Constitutional protection for abortion.

This year's March featured speakers including Kellyanne Conway, who managed Trump’s campaign and is now a White House counselor, and Mr. Pence. 

The crowd did not approach the size of last Saturday's Women’s March, which drew hundreds of thousands of people to Washington – over a million, by some estimates – and more than one million more to simultaneous demonstrations around the country and the globe.

But organizers for Friday’s march had said they anticipated tens of thousands of attendees. “Tomorrow is going to be an exciting day, the crowd is going to be pumped up,” Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life, told the Monitor on Thursday. “It's going to be joyful, it's going to be looking forward to the future and the next four years.”

Despite Republican majorities in both houses of Congress and Trump in the White House, some experts point to obstacles for the pro-life movement.

The latest Pew Research Center poll shows that nationwide, 57 percent say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, whereas 39 percent think the opposite. This trend has stayed relatively stable since 1996, according to the report.

Support for reproductive freedom also seems to have grown more vocal since Trump's election.

“We've seen, since the election, a tremendous outflowing of support for NARAL, for the pro-choice movement, for progressive politics more generally,” says James Owens, a spokesperson for NARAL Pro-Choice America. “The election was a real wake-up call, and the American people are responding with historic level of enthusiasm to take on this administration.”

Mr. Owens cites the historic number of participants in last Saturday’s Women’s March as evidence for an national and international surge in concern for women’s reproductive health, and says he doesn’t expect the support to dissipate over the next four years.

"The take-away from the last few weeks is that there is going to be a growing and robust movement to resist these movements to roll back our rights,” he says. 

That resistance might come from beyond the United States. On Wednesday, two days after Trump reinstated the "Mexico City policy," the Dutch government announced plans to create an international abortion fund to offset the decline in US aid.

Going forward, some in the anti-abortion movement are still hopeful about the prospect that various women's groups can cooperate, despite their differences.

“It's difficult to have the conversation because we imagine the debate to be us versus them, choice versus life, Democrats versus Republicans,” Camosy says. “This is way more complicated and frankly interesting and hopeful than that.”

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