WASHINGTON — Anti-abortion activists gathered at the nation's capital Friday for the 49th March for Life, held annually on the anniversary of the 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade.
Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life, kicked off the rally at noon on the National Mall by presenting this year's theme: "Equality Begins in the Womb."
"The truth is that we are all equal in dignity regardless of skin color, disability status, socioeconomic background or stage of life, including the earliest stages in life," she told the crowd. "Every life has inherent human dignity, and every life matters."
The rally included a slate of speakers such as actor Kirk Cameron, best known for his role on the 1980s sitcom "Growing Pains," and Republican Reps. Julia Letlow of Louisiana and Chris Smith of New Jersey, followed by a 1 p.m. march on Constitution Avenue to the U.S. Supreme Court building led by Bishop Michael F. Burbidge, Catholic Diocese of Arlington.
“The annual March for Life is a powerful witness to essential truths that unite us: all of life is sacred and, thus, the life of the unborn child must be protected from the horror of abortion and life at every stage must be revered, cherished and treasured," Burbidge said in a news release.
This year's march could be the last one under Roe with Supreme Court justices considering a Mississippi case centered on overturning the landmark 1973 ruling, which effectively legalized abortion nationally.
The Supreme Court is expected to rule later this year on whether the state's ban on most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy is constitutional. As part of that case, Mississippi officials have asked the 6-3 conservative court to abolish Roe v. Wade.
In her opening speech, Mancini told the crowd that "Roe is not settled law" and called 2022 "a historic year for life" as demonstrators booed at the mention of the historic court decision.
Demonstrators held signs heart-shaped signs with the words "Love them both" and an image of a pregnant woman. Others waved signs declaring "Remember the Unborn" above their heads.
"We are hoping and praying that this year, 2022, will bring a historic change for life," Mancini said.
"If Roe falls, the battle lines will change, but make no mistake," she added. "The fight for life will need to continue in the states and here in D.C."
Rep. Julia Letlow, R-La. echoed this sentiment in her own speech as she told demonstrators their efforts won't stop if Roe v. Wade is abolished.
"As we stand one step closer to saving the unborn, I encourage you to keep marching, keep advocating, keep praying, keep fighting because ultimately we will prevail," she said.
Under Roe and a subsequent 1992 decision, states may not bar abortion prior to viability, the point when a fetus can survive outside the womb, or roughly 24 weeks. If the high court upholds Mississippi’s 15-week ban that, on its own, would amount to a partial overturning of Roe. During the Dec. 1 arguments, a majority of the justices signaled they are prepared to go at least that far.
The court could go further still and rule that Roe was wrongly decided and that there is no constitutional right to the procedure at any point. That would shift one of the nation’s most divisive cultural issues to the states, creating a patchwork of different laws across the country.
Nine states, including Alabama, Arizona, Wisconsin and West Virginia, adopted abortion bans before the Supreme Court decided Roe, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights. An additional eight states, including Idaho, Kentucky and Tennessee, approved "trigger bans" to prohibit the procedure if the court overturns Roe.
At least 14 states, including California, New York and Illinois, approved laws protecting the right to abortion that would likely remain in effect no matter how the court rules in the Mississippi case.
The Mississippi case is shaping the work of this year's event, according to Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life Education and Defense Fund.
“We expect this year’s March for Life to be historic with even higher levels of enthusiasm from participants," Mancini said in a news release. "We are hopeful that, with Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization before the Supreme Court, 2022 will bring us much closer to building the culture of life we have all marched for since Roe v. Wade was tragically imposed on our nation nearly 50 years ago.”
The COVID-19 pandemic, as well as increased security measures across the city following the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, led organizers to move online in 2021. Historically, the event has drawn anywhere between tens of thousands to up to 400,000 attendees, according to organizers.
It was expected this year's rally would bring 50,000 marchers to Washington, according to the permit application. But actual attendance may be lower, as some activists may be deterred by the city's COVID-19 restrictions instituted amid the spread of the omicron variant.
Mayor Muriel Bowser recently issued a vaccine mandate for certain indoor establishments that went into effect Jan. 15, requiring proof of vaccination for entry into restaurants, bars, gyms and conference centers. Those with a medical or religious exemption must provide proof of a negative PCR test or antigen test within the last 24 hours. The city also has an indoor mask mandate in public spaces.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: March for Life anti-abortion rally could be last one under Roe v. Wade