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Abortion Rights Opponents Descend Upon Washington For March For Life Rally

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Abortion rights opponents came to Washington, D.C., today for the rally known as the March for Life. The annual event culminated with a march to the U.S. Supreme Court, a key symbol of the fight over reproductive rights in this country. With the recent confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, many anti-abortion activists are hoping to see victories there in the months ahead, as NPR's Sarah McCammon reports.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: The Supreme Court has been a major focus of the anti-abortion rights movement for decades since the court's Roe v. Wade decision legalized the procedure nationwide in 1973. The March for Life got started the very next year.

JEANNE MANCINI: Forty-six years ago - right? - on January 22, 1973, our country was forever changed.

MCCAMMON: March for Life President Jeanne Mancini rallied this year's crowd gathered on the mall. She told them the goal is ending abortion.

MANCINI: Will you march until abortion becomes unthinkable?

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Yes.

MANCINI: Will you march so that one day soon we no longer need to march?

UNIDENTFIED PROTESTERS: Yes.

MCCAMMON: That long-held goal - overturning or dramatically weakening Roe and other decisions protecting abortion rights - looks more reachable than it has in decades. President Trump has now named two Supreme Court justices, most recently Brett Kavanaugh, tilting the balance of the court to the right. Vice President Mike Pence made an appearance at the rally, praising the president's judicial nominees and calling on opponents of abortion rights to keep pushing their agenda forward.

VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: And know that we will stand with you until that great day comes where we restore the sanctity of life to the center of American law.

MCCAMMON: Activists on both sides of the issue say the coming months and years could be a pivotal time for abortion rights in the U.S. Planned Parenthood President Leana Wen, an abortion rights supporter, recently told NPR that, quote, "everything is on the line with Kavanaugh on the court." He replaced retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy, who'd been seen as the swing vote on issues including reproductive rights. At the march, many abortion opponents said they're pleased to see Trump moving the judiciary to the right. Christine Gunderson, of Alexandria, Va., came with a group of children from her son's Catholic school.

CHRISTINE GUNDERSON: Regardless of how people feel about President Trump, I think conservatives are encouraged by his Supreme Court picks.

MCCAMMON: Leanne Jamieson runs a crisis pregnancy center in Texas that counsels women against abortion. She said she hopes this Supreme Court will weigh in on the abortion issue.

LEANNE JAMIESON: I love that we came from Dallas where Roe v. Wade started and that we're going to march to where it could possibly be overturned.

MCCAMMON: Jamieson says if the courts paved the way for new state laws restricting abortion, then anti-abortion activists will need to do more for women facing unplanned pregnancies.

JAMIESON: I believe that if - when we overturn that, then it's going to be on organizations like ours to walk alongside women. You know, you just can't abandon a woman in a crisis, absolutely. But, yeah, that is our heart - to see Roe v. Wade overturned.

MCCAMMON: Near the end of the rally, Carl Anderson, leader of the Catholic fraternal organization Knights of Columbus, told the crowd that he is hopeful for a future with far fewer abortions.

CARL ANDERSON: But I promise you this - the day is not far off when you will return not for a demonstration but for a victory parade down Pennsylvania Avenue.

(APPLAUSE)

MCCAMMON: Reproductive rights advocates are also bracing for a world without the protections of Roe v. Wade. Activists are working to strengthen state-level protections for abortion rights and expand access in states with more permissive laws. Abortion rights supporters will be among those coming to Washington, D.C., tomorrow for another demonstration - the Women's March. Sarah McCammon, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.