WASHINGTON, D.C. — Tens of thousands of pro-life demonstrators gathered on the National Mall today for the 50th March for Life, the first to be held since the ending of national constitutional protections for abortion.
For decades, March for Life’s primary goal has been to see the reversal of the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion. That goal was achieved last summer with the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision that overturned Roe and greatly expanded the ability of elected officials at the state and federal levels to restrict abortion.
That victory for abortion foes has left a big question hanging over the pro-life movement: What next?
It’s a question of particular interest for libertarians, both pro-life and pro-choice.
The former have to figure out how best to thread the needle between legally protecting the lives of the unborn without falling into the typical pitfalls that await prohibitionists trying to stop something a lot of people want to do. The latter want to know exactly what threats to the individual right to abortion they’ll now have to face down.
For today’s triumphant rallygoers—a healthy mix of out-of-town students, families, and more Dominican friars than one could shake a stick at—the mission remains pretty simple and basically unchanged.
“We will march until abortion is unthinkable,” said March for Life President Jeanne Mancini at today’s rally.
That’s certainly a big goal. New York Times columnist Ross Douthat described it as “genuinely revolutionary, even utopian.” The ending of Roe is merely a first step toward that utopian endpoint.
“We’re at the start of a new marathon,” Kristi Hamrick, of Students for Life, tells Reason. “The fall of Roe really only removed a roadblock from where we could go.”
Speakers today mentioned a few possible directions.
Newly installed House Majority Leader Rep. Steve Scalise (R–La.) won cheers from the crowd when he mentioned the House’s recent passage of a bill that requires doctors to provide care to children born alive during an attempted abortion. He also touted a bill from the last Congress that would expand limits on federal funding of abortion and limit insurance plans’ ability to cover the procedure.
Neither bill is likely to go anywhere while Democrats control the Senate and White House. The only Democratic elected official to speak was Connecticut Rep. Treneé McGee (D–New Haven) who railed against abortion as a racist practice that amounted to the “mass genocide of our children.”
The partisan mix of speakers (or lack thereof) highlights how divisive abortion remains after Dobbs. Red states have moved to ban and restrict it while blue states have expanded subsidies for it.
This is the struggle pro-lifers face with the end of Roe. The movement’s greatest victory to date also greatly expands the battlefield they have to contest. Rather than just convincing a handful of federal judges, they have to win over the public writ large.
Despite the partisan split on abortion, party politicking was rather understated at the event itself.
Speakers’ prayer invocations were far more frequent than the handful of “get out the vote” plugs made from the stage. Flags of the Holy See and Virgin Mary banners easily outnumbered the one or two Trump flags fluttering above the crowd. The most common signs held by demonstrators were ones urging people to “choose life” not “vote Republican.”
That speaks to the religious motivations animating so much of the anti-abortion cause. It’s also an illustration that many in the crowd grasped that changing culture was as important as changing policy.
“The idea is to instill in everybody the importance of human dignity. In my opinion, it’s changing hearts over changing laws,” said Katherine Griffith, who came from Columbia, South Carolina, with her 7-month-old to attend the rally.
That’s probably cold comfort for pro-choice libertarians. No one who spoke to Reason, or who spoke on stage, argued against outlawing abortion. But the emphasis on also convincing people that the practice is wrong does illustrate that a lot of pro-lifers understand that prohibition alone isn’t going to achieve their far-reaching goals.
The median age of demonstrators at today’s march was probably under 30. People who’d attended previous Marches for Life said this year’s crowd was roughly the same size as past years.
That’s all evidence that opposition to abortion, on both a political and personal level, isn’t going to fade with the end of Roe or with boomers aging out of politics.