They helped Donald Trump win in battleground states and now, just days before he’s expected to name his pick for the Supreme Court, tens of thousands of anti-abortion marchers will show up in his backyard on Friday to remind the new president of their expectations.
These March for Life activists have a single message: Trump must use this rare opportunity to reshape the high court for a generation, moving it to the right and setting the stage for a reversal of decisions that expanded access to abortion. They are eager for Trump’s appointment to yield a court that will give doctors the latitude to make decisions about what emergency contraception and procedures they’ll provide to pregnant women.
For the first time in a decade, anti-abortion conservatives sense victory within reach.
“President Obama said it: ‘Elections have consequences.’ The consequence of this election is that the unborn, and the medically vulnerable, are going to be protected,” said Holly Gatling, the executive director of South Carolina Citizens for Life.
Indeed, this year’s March for Life is shaping up to be a moment of celebration for activists and voters, not the protest it was during Obama’s tenure.
Its timing, however, coming a week after 500,000 people gathered on the same ground to protest Trump’s inauguration, ensures the March for Life will be seen as a conservative response to the Women’s March on Washington and will draw comparisons, not least in size.
Past Republican presidential appointments to the court have drawn political pressure from conservative anti-abortion groups, but it was the 2016 election that demonstrated the importance of the issue to voters.
“It seems to have motivated a lot of voters,” said Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life, an organized effort that draws tens of thousands to Washington annually to rally around anti-abortion laws and lobby members of Congress. “We’re delighted to have an administration that ran on a pro-life platform.”
The prospect of Trump nominating an anti-abortion justice, Mancini said, is the top reason she voted for him.
Nearly a quarter of voters ranked the next president’s power to pick a Supreme Court justice as their number one issue, Nov. 8 exit polls showed. And those voter responses showed that Trump supporters were more concerned about the court’s makeup than Clinton’s base.
The pressure to elect an anti-abortion president was on after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia last year, Mancini said. The shorthanded eight-member court incensed the movement last June when it struck down a Texas law that increased medical standards and building requirements at abortion clinics.
The next day, the court refused to hear an appeal from Washington state in a case affecting pharmacists, essentially upholding a lower court ruling that anti-abortion pharmacists cannot use religious objections as an excuse not to sell emergency contraception, commonly called “the morning-after pill.”
“It was a very gloomy moment for the pro-life movement,” Mancini said.
Mancini doesn’t want the March for Life to be compared with the massive Women’s March on Washington last week.
“We’re peaceful. We value life. It’s a message of love,” she said.
“You’re certainly not going to hear anyone advocate blowing up the White House,” Mancini said.
Singer Madonna said at last Saturday’s march that she was angry at Trump’s election and had “thought an awful lot about blowing up the White House.” She later said her comment was not meant to promote violence.
Celebrities are expected at Friday’s march, too. The list includes Baltimore Ravens tight end Benjamin Watson, Mexican TV star Karyme Lozano and author Eric Metaxas, host of “The Eric Metaxas Show.” U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, and U.S. Reps. Mia Love, R-Utah, and Chris Smith, R-Texas, will also speak, along with religious leaders and Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood director.
The event will also host high-ranking administration officials for the first time. Vice President Mike Pence and top Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway will headline the rally. Past Republican presidents have participated by phone.
After the rally, participants are encouraged to meet with their members of Congress – Republicans and Democrats, Mancini said. Specifically, conservatives will focus on passing a federal bill prohibiting abortions after 20 weeks and another piece of legislation that just won approval in the U.S. House of Representatives. That bill would prohibit the use of tax dollars for abortions in federal health care programs, including Medicaid and private health coverage bought on online Affordable Health Care marketplaces.
Supporters from around the country feel certain that the unified Republican government in Congress and the White House will mean that anti-abortion policy prevails.
South Carolina’s Gatling spoke to McClatchy on Thursday while on a rally bus headed to Washington from Charleston, South Carolina. Her bus was full, and she knew of another three from Upstate South Carolina that also were packed.
Mancini said it was difficult to estimate how many people would attend but they expect “tens of thousands.” The group will assemble at the Washington Monument and march toward Capitol Hill, ending at the Supreme Court building.
Attendees, Gatling said, are already heartened by Trump’s decision to reinstate the “Mexico City policy,” which bans foreign organizations that receive family planning aid from the United States from performing or promoting abortion. She said it was also important that Trump had appointed an anti-abortion ambassador to the United Nations. That the ambassador happens to be South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley is a bonus, Gatling said.
Although the political side of Friday’s annual march will be apparent, one abortion opponent from Dallas said her inspiration was one of morals and religion.
“I was born after Roe v. Wade,” said Jacquelyn Smith. “One of the reasons why I take this personally is because my mom was recommended they terminate her pregnancy” due to potential health issues. “I’m here because she chose life when I was born.”
Smith is head of Youth for Life – a ministry run by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Dallas – and will chaperone a group of 48 anti-abortion high school students at the march. Last year’s snowstorm in Washington kept the group from coming.
“I would like to see an end to abortion, but I’m not depending on legislative officials or our government,” Smith said. “That’s why I’m so involved with the youth. . . . Educating our people so they learn to love life, so that abortion becomes unthinkable.”
Alex Daugherty and Matthew Schofield contributed to this article.