WASHINGTON – Bitter cold weather may have canceled the 5K run/walk and slightly decreased expected crowds, but it did little else to dampen the enthusiasm of the estimated hundreds of thousands at Wednesday’s 41st March for Life.
“I believe in life. I simply couldn’t miss this,” said Matt Maher, a longtime Tempe resident. Maher came in from Los Angeles to perform the opening song for the crowd that had gathered for the annual protest against Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court ruling recognizing a woman’s right to an abortion.
Demonstrators struggled to stay warm on the snow-covered National Mall as they huddled together in temperatures that were in the teens all day. They sought shelter in tents, and chanted to keep up their morale, banging drums and constantly searchng for empty hands to fill with free protest signs.
Cold temperatures were nothing new for Phoenix resident John Jakubczyk, who has braved them before for the rally, which he estimates he has attended anywhere from 15 to 20 times over the years.
“It’s easy to lose count when you are fighting the good fight,” said Jakubczyk, the president of the Southwest Life and Law Center and the Arizona delegate to the National Right-to-Life Committee.
Jakubczyk said he began fighting in 1976 – just three years after Roe v. Wade – when the Democratic Party added support for Roe v. Wade to its platform at the presidential convention.
“I tore up my card and switched parties,” said Jakubczyk, who said he supported Democrats like Bobby Kennedy when in college.
While at least one Democrat was listed in the lineup of speakers Wednesday, most of the politicians speaking were Republicans. And President Barack Obama, a Democrat, issued a statement on the anniversary of the court decision pledging a recommitment to “the guiding principle that every woman should be able to make her own choices about her body and her health.”
Obama was the target of at least some of the demonstrators who chanted that his mother chose life. But the protest was generally orderly and tame. Even when a small group of counterprotesters shouted obscenities, some in the anti-abortion ranks responded with “God bless you.”
While some protesters made benign displays showing they had traveled from places as far as Canada, others made more jarring statements: Some expressed remorse for an abortion they had while others declared themselves a child of rape. Some declared that they are against abortion for reasons of secular morality, not religious reasons.
Organizers estimated turnout at about 600,000 people, 50,000 fewer than last year’s record. They said the weather – a snowstorm Tuesday and temperatures as low as 10 degrees Wednesday – was partly to blame, cancelling many out-of-state bus trips.
The march was the culmination of several days of scheduled events. Maher kicked off the rally on the Mall, followed by an hour of speeches and a walk to the steps of the Supreme Court. There, more speeches were given by women who had had abortions and regretted them and talked about the difficulties they have faced. Others said more needs to be done to inform women about options to abortion that they may not be aware of.
After the speeches, many left for open houses hosted by their members of Congress, including one organized by Rep. Matt Salmon R-Mesa.
Jakubczyk met his wife on the steps of the Supreme Court when he was in town for a previous March for Life: “She was playing the clarinet for Reagan’s inauguration. It wasn’t just love at first sight. We knew we had the same values.” He said he plans to be back.
“The pro-life movement will not end until we have protection for all human beings. No matter what the other side does, it will not end,” Jakubczyk said.