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Activists Descend On Washington, D.C., For Anti-Abortion Rally


Anti-abortion activists held their annual March for Life in Washington today. As NPR's Sarah McCammon reports, this year many of them are optimistic about their cause.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: As the march kicked off near the Washington Monument, the vibe was part protest, part Christian rock concert.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Over loudspeaker) In Jesus' name, we can't do this without you.

MCCAMMON: Each year since 1974 after Roe versus Wade legalized abortion, activists have flocked to Washington to call for an end to abortion. But this year, for the first time ever, organizers say, the vice president made an in-person appearance.

VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: You know, life is winning in America.


PENCE: And today is a celebration of that progress, the progress that we've made in this cause.

MCCAMMON: Vice President Mike Pence pledged that he and President Donald Trump will work with Congress to end taxpayer funding for abortion. In most cases federal funding for abortion is already banned under current law, but many anti-abortion activists want to block Planned Parenthood from receiving federal dollars for any women's health services.

VERONICA MCDERMOTT: I don't want my money going to kill the unborn. You know, if people want to do that, they can write their own check. We should not have to pay for babies to die.

MCCAMMON: Veronica McDermott came from Maryland to the march. She wore a red making America great again hat - in present tense - and a button that said defund Planned Parenthood. The organization receives about half a billion federal dollars a year to provide services like contraceptives and STDs screenings mostly through Medicaid. McDermott says she doesn't want her tax dollars paying for that, either.

MCDERMOTT: The Lord says we should not have sex until marriage, first of all.

MCCAMMON: For low-income women who can't afford contraception, McDermott says...

MCDERMOTT: They have Obamacare. Yeah, you can go to the health clinic and get it free. We don't need Planned Parenthood.

MCCAMMON: McDermott says she'd like to see more affordable care for everyone. That's something candidate Trump promised on the campaign trail when he vowed to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, though President Trump and Republican leaders in Congress have yet to outline a detailed plan. Some speakers at the March for Life also took jabs at last weekend's Women's March, whose platform was supportive of abortion rights.

ERIC METAXAS: (Over loudspeaker) I have not thought a lot about blowing up Madonna's house, and the reason is because the Lord I follow commands me to love my enemies.

MCCAMMON: Conservative radio host Eric Metaxas referred to Madonna, who took a lot of heat and later had to backtrack for her comment on stage at the Women's March that since Trump's election she'd thought an awful lot about blowing up the White House.

METAXAS: (Over loudspeaker) Madonna, Jesus loves you, and we're going to pray that his love be revealed to you and everybody that was at the Women's March.

MCCAMMON: Brian Kiernan of Charlottesville, Va. said he had friends, family members and coworkers at the Women's March, but he wanted to come to the March for Life because he opposes abortion.

BRIAN KIERNAN: I certainly understand they appreciate that perspective of cherishing and defending the rights of those who are - have less or who are disadvantaged, and that's really what this march is about, too.

MCCAMMON: A few groups who label themselves as pro-life feminists took part in both marches, saying they shared some goals like equal pay and ending violence against women. But whatever common ground some marchers at the two events may find, their policy goals on abortion remain sharply divided. Sarah McCammon, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sarah McCammon worked for Iowa Public Radio as Morning Edition Host from January 2010 until December 2013.
Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.