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Anti-abortion advocates in U.S. feel empowered ahead of annual march

01/22/2015 05:00 EST | Updated 03/23/2015 05:59 EDT
Thousands of anti-abortion advocates are in Washington, D.C., for the annual March for Life Thursday and some attendees say they are riding a wave of momentum into the capital and feel a new sense of hope and confidence that the debate is shifting in their favour.

"If you go walk among these folks you will see more than ever before a younger, a more woman-dominated group, especially among the leaders, with more vibrancy and intensity than ever before," said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of a group dedicated to electing anti-abortion candidates called the Susan B. Anthony List, during a recent speech in Washington.

Dannenfelser, speaking at the National Press Club last week, said the midterm elections in November, when Republicans expanded their majority in the House of Representatives and captured control of the Senate, were historic for her cause.

Pro-choice candidates who tried to use abortion as a campaign weapon were defeated, according to Dannenfelser, who declared that "abortion-centred feminism is dead."

She said her organization helped elect to Congress a record number of women who oppose abortion, as well as key representatives in the Senate who will all help push an anti-abortion agenda.

Obama could use veto power 

"We are off to an encouraging start," said Dannenfelser, referring to a bill that was introduced immediately when Congress kicked off that would ban abortions after 20 weeks.

The House was expectedto vote on it today to coincide with the March for Life, which is held annually on the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, the Supreme Court decision in 1973 that legalized abortion.

But the bill caused a rift in the Republican Party, with several female members raising concerns about it. Late Wednesday, Republican leaders dropped the planned vote and instead the House will vote on a bill that seeks to prohibit federal funding of abortion.

U.S. President Barack Obama said on Tuesday he would veto the 20-week abortion ban bill if it came to him, but that's not discouraging its proponents.

"We're not surprised and we're not deterred by that," said Rev. Frank Pavone, director of the New York-based Priests For Life.

Advocates of the bill are confident it will pass in the House, whenever it is put to a vote, but know the Senate will be a tougher fight.

"It is doable, we are in striking range this time, unlike last time when they couldn't even get a vote," said Pavone, while manning the Priests For Life booth at an expo related to the March for Life, on Wednesday. A similar bill passed the House in the last Congress but stalled in the Senate because the Democratic leadership wouldn't call it for a vote.

Even if it fails again, the bill is getting attention, and its supporters say that's good for their cause.

They are buoyed by more anti-abortion legislators on Capitol Hill and they also say progress is being made at the state level, with more and more restrictions being put on abortion providers and women seeking the procedure. Pavone said public opinion is also changing in their favour.

Momentum on multiple levels

"There's definitely momentum and on a lot of levels," he said. 

Lynn Baker, a volunteer at another booth, knows Obama has threatened to veto bills that roll back abortion rights, but she's still optimistic that he will compromise on one or two of them.

"We believe that legislation is going to be passed that will save the lives of lots of babies. It's a hopeful day," she said.

Dannenfelser said those attending Thursday's rally on the National Mall will be cheering on Congress to pass the 20-week ban bill as they march to the Supreme Court across from the Capitol building.

Inside that building, "we have many champions now," she said.

"That means we're in really great shape," said Dannenfelser. "They have lost their edge," she said of the pro-choice side of the debate.

Planned Parenthood said no one was available for an interview on Thursday. A statement on its website on Wednesday said it applauds Obama and that it had sent a letter to every member of Congress calling on them to reject any measures that restrict access to abortion or birth control.

Emily's List, another pro-choice organization, said on its website that bills introduced by Republicans in the first few days of the new Congress show they are "insanely out of touch with American women and families."

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