WASHINGTON – Neither cold temperatures nor pouring rain seemed to dampen the spirits of the tens of thousands who gathered for the annual March for Life in Washington on Monday. The march serves as an annual pro-life response to the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court's landmark decision legalizing abortion in the U.S.
A number of lawmakers spoke at the rally launching the march, which began on the National Mall and proceeded several blocks to the steps of the Supreme Court. House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, vowed to continue standing with pro-life advocates.
"We are heeding the voice of the people who overwhelmingly oppose taxpayer funding of abortion," he said.
Though Boehner made clear he doesn't believe being anti-abortion is a political position, many of the marchers said they view abortion as a key election year issue. The Rev. Frank Pavone, who heads Priests for Life, says 2012 is critical.
"You're going to hear a lot of talk about getting ready for the elections and increasing the pro-life numbers that we have in the House and Senate and, of course, the White House," he said.
Pro-choice supporters acknowledge their opponents' success and call it cause for alarm. Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, calls pro-life advances at the state level a threat to freedom of choice.
Noting roughly 70 pro-life measures passed across the country in 2011, Keenan told supporters, "Last year we predicted that our opponents would ignore the public's call to focus on immediate challenges, including the economy, and instead launch an all-out war against women.
"Sadly, our predictions came true at near record levels," she said.
According to Americans United for Life, more than 460 measures were considered in 47 states last year. The group predicts another heavy round of legislative activity this year.
On Monday, young people were a large percentage of the marchers. Groups bearing banners from high schools, colleges, even law schools joined the thousands who walked.
Royce Hood, a student at Ave Maria School of Law, said his reason for attending was personal. "I was born out of wedlock and my mother could have had an abortion with me. Thank goodness she didn't, because I'm here today."
Pavone thinks that specific reason drives the many young people who are increasingly taking part in the annual march. Their parents were part of the first generation with unfettered access to legal abortion.
"It's amazing to realize that you were not protected when you were in the first nine months of life," he said. "That motivates a lot of young people."
With so many abortion-related measures on the docket for state legislatures across the country in 2012, it appears the debate will continue.