College students from across the country descended on D.C. Friday during the March for Life, an annual protest of the landmark abortion rights case Roe v. Wade, on its 40th anniversary.
The bulk of the thousands of ralliers appeared to be college students, shouting "pro-life" and chants like “Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Roe v. Wade has got to go!”
More than 600 University of Notre Dame students took a 12-hour bus ride into the District for the march. Notre Dame Junior John Ryan, a second-time march participant, said it was his college’s largest turnout yet.
He called overturning the Supreme Court decision “the most important cause of our generation," and said this year’s protest, coming after an election that voted against several key anti-abortion measures, was more charged.
The issue surfaced on the presidential campaign as well, as a media-labeled “War on Women” polarized candidates like Mitt Romney.
Still, many in the crowd say the anti-abortion lobby is the strongest it has ever been, giving hope to conservatives hoping to close in on the law's reversal.
“Hopefully, this is the last time we have to come,” Ryan said.
Thousands brought home-made signs bearing slogans like, “Conceived by Rape, Love my Life” and showcasing photographs of children of teenage moms.
Among the crowd from GW was senior Rosemary Holt, co-president of the leading anti-abortion group on campus, Colonials for Life. Holt went to the march for the first time this year.
“It was a very powerful moment that really energized me to keep the good fight going,” Holt said, adding that it was important to advocate for what she said were “unborn children” who could not speak for themselves.
Holt said her beliefs are scarcely represented on GW’s campus. Almost 70 percent of students said they backed President Barack Obama last November, according to a Hatchet poll of more than 600 students across campus.
Colonials for Life draws attention with its weekly protests, which Holt leads, outside an on-campus abortion clinic.
Born to a teenage mother, Holt said she does not shy away from her stance on the issue around other students while standing in front of the F Street clinic beside the Dakota residence hall.
“Just because I have the right to do what I want with my body does not mean I can kill somebody,” Holt said.
The rally before the march saw influential anti-abortion rights speakers, including congressman Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., who famously called Obama the “abortion president,” Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and former Pennsylvania senator and Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum.
GW senior Lana Schommer, a three-time attendee of the march, said she was in part propelled to stand up against abortion because she lives in liberal-leaning D.C. Schommer said she is hopeful for change, but feels that it will be a long time before the fight is over.
“This is the kind of stuff that all these great peace leaders are doing. We’re just trying to impact change,” Schommer said.
'This is still an issue to us'
Just a few days before the March for Life, about 50 people gathered in front of the Supreme Court.
In the four decades after the Supreme Court decision, some states like Oklahoma, Michigan and South Dakota have mounted campaigns to make abortions illegal.
The topic became prominent in the 2012 election, with Democrats highlighting women’s issues and Republicans fighting against abortion.
Some abortion rights organizations, like the National Organization for Women, have been reinvigorated by comments like the “legitimate rape” statement made by Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., last fall. The ousted representative said women who encounter "legitimate rape" rarely become pregnant.
Advocates outside the court donned buttons and stickers. Women in their 70s stood next to six students from the GW Feminist Student Union.
“We want to show collectively as women and as people who support access to health care and access to safe legal abortions that this is still an issue to us,” Elizabeth Settoducato, co-chair of the GW Feminist Society, said.
Settoducato said she wants to see the “stigma” of getting an abortion erased, but added that “it’s probably not going to happen.”
Participants from as far as San Francisco marched with large signs crying “Keep Abortion Legal” and chanting, “Abortion on demand and without apology” and “Keep your rosaries out of my ovaries.” During the hour-long rally, a man heckled the marchers calling abortion “a modern holocaust.”
Anne Schwartz, co-chair of the GW Feminist Society, added that even 40 years after the landmark decision, there is still a large backlash against a woman’s reproductive rights.
“It was very exciting for us to meet and protest with other feminists and to be reminded again that the fight isn’t over,” Schwartz said.
Speakers rallied the troops, wrapped in scarves and coats, as temperatures dipped as low as 5 degrees.
A 'social rights' issue
While women have more seats in Congress than ever, abortion rights leaders lament that male leaders make up most of the decision-makers on the issue.
At the abortion rights rally, more than a dozen men attended, including GW freshman Eric Wolfert. Wolfert cited congressional candidates like Akin, who have attacked women’s reproductive rights.
“We need to elect candidates that will stand up for women’s health and reproductive rights,” he said. “As someone who will never be pregnant, I cannot in any good conscience decide what is best for women in that situation.”
But junior Chris Crawford, GW Catholics director of Pro-Life Ministry, said it is not a gender issue, but a social rights issue. Crawford said he stands up not against women, but for unborn children.
Men like Crawford made up about half the crowd at the March for Life. Husbands stood by their wives, fathers held their children and young men cheered with their fellow churchgoers and classmates to support the anti-abortion movement.
“Men should be helping women and should be there for women throughout the entire process,” Crawford said. “We all have a part today in protecting life at all stages. Men are not exempt from this responsibility.”