Thousands of abortion opponents faced wind chills in the single digits to rally and march on Capitol Hill to protest legalized abortion Wednesday, with a signal of support from Pope Francis.
The annual March for Life is held every January on the anniversary of the Supreme Court's landmark 1973 decision that declared a constitutional right to abortion. The event draws many Catholic high school and college students from across the country for a series of events and prayer vigils leading up to a rally and march on the National Mall.
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Francis, who has emphasized a broader focus on poverty beyond divisive issues, sent his support for the anti-abortion march, and offered up his own tweet on Wednesday:
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Virginia Republican, was going to fly to Israel but changed his flight to attend the march, and thanked those present for "braving these unbelievably cold temperatures" and "giving voice to our cause of protecting life."
"I believe that one day in the not-too-distant future our movement will be victorious because we will prevail in securing a culture of life," Cantor said, LifeSiteNews reported.
"You are our movement's not-so-secret weapon," he added. "Those of us in public office are merely fortunate to stand on your shoulders."
Cantor told the rally, one of the key yearly events for the anti-abortion movement, that the Republican-controlled chamber would approve the measure halting taxpayer funding for the procedure next week.
"We cannot allow the opponents of life to continually weaken the moral fabric of our country," Cantor, a Virginia lawmaker, said at the rally on the National Mall.
But Cantor acknowledged that the House Republican measure might ultimately be a symbolic one, saying that passage in the Democrat controlled Senate and acceptance by President Barack Obama "will be a much tougher task."
Opponents of the procedure failed in their attempts to attach new anti-abortion provisions to the $1.1 trillion spending bill Congress approved last week.
The thousands of marchers huddled on the Mall defied temperatures around 14 Fahrenheit (minus-10 Celsius) made more stinging by a stiff wind.
Activists carried signs saying "I was conceived from rape. I love my life" and "Stop abortion now." Groups of Catholic high school students chanted: "We love babies, yes we do! We love babies, how about you?"
Dr. James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, told a story about how he was driving home in 1973 when he learned of the Roe v. Wade decision.
"I grieved over it because I knew it meant millions of babies would die," Dobson said. "Who would've known it would be 56 million by this point 41 years later?"
Dobson also told the story of a couple he counseled to choose life for their child.
"I say to you, if you're facing a similar situation … let your baby live!" he told the crowd. Dobson was especially happy about the number of young people at the march.
"Look at the young people who are here!" he said. "You are the hope of the future and together we're going to win this fight!"
Rep. Vicky Hartzler, a Missouri Republican, told marchers, "We are here today to remember the millions of lives devastated with abortion and to pledge ourselves anew to upholding the most fundamental" right, "the right to life."
Noting there are 1.2 million abortion per year in the United States, she said, according to LifeSiteNews, that "there are more babies who perish each year through abortion than people who live in an entire congressional district."
"Every life is valuable and has a god ordained purpose. All babies are wanted," said Hartzler, an adoptive mother.
President Barack Obama also issued a statement Wednesday, saying the 41st anniversary of Roe v. Wade is a chance to "recommit ourselves to the decision's guiding principle: that every woman should be able to make her own choices about her body and her health."
The president also said the nation should resolve to protect a woman's access to healthcare, her right to privacy, and to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies.
Meanwhile, a poll released Wednesday shows that more than six in 10 Americans believe that abortion is morally wrong.
In the Knights of Columbus/Marist poll, 62 percent said that abortion is morally wrong, and only 36 percent found it morally acceptable. Two percent of Americans polled indicated that it was not a moral issue.
Fifty-three percent of respondents said they believe life begins at conception, indicating that most Americans choose a more moderate position on abortion, but believe it should be restricted.
The theme of this year's march is adoption, and eliminating the stigma around adoption as an alternative to abortion for pregnant women who face difficult situations.
The march began on the National Mall with a rally at noon. Then protesters who could make it to Washington marched along Constitution Avenue to Capitol Hill and the Supreme Court.
But thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, could not attend because of icy roads and flight cancellations.
"We march because 56 million Americans never had a chance to experience snow," the March for Life's Twitter account posted, referring to the estimated number of abortions since the 1973 Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal nationwide.
John Triscik, 44, of Hershey, Pa., told Religion News Service Wednesday that he canceled plans to take about 50 members of his youth ministry at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church to the march.
"I'd love to be able to take these kids and show them that even the weather can't silence us, but it's better to be safe than sorry," Triscik said.
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Jonathan Hayes, 18, of McVeytown, Pa., discovered Tuesday the buses that were supposed to carry his group of 60 to Washington were canceled.
"Make no mistake, while the weather's impact may postpone or delay the march, it shall never diminish our cause," Hayes said. "It will only uplift our cause even more so by reminding us that nothing — not even the elements — shall delay the pro-life generation from coming."
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