Ever since abortion was legalized in 1973, thousands of Americans have gathered on the National Mall each January to oppose it at the March for Life.
But never before has a vice president attended. This year, Mike Pence, a longtime opponent of abortion rights, came to rally the crowd — the highest-ranking White House official to ever attend a March for Life.
Just one week in, the Trump administration has already made abortion a priority with an executive order to reinstate the so-called global gag rule, which stops US foreign aid from going to nongovernmental organizations that provide abortion services or even suggest abortion as a family planning option. The House of Representatives also voted this week to permanently ban US women from receiving federal financial assistance for abortions.
While many of the march-goers’ touted staple pro-life slogans —“Defund Planned Parenthood” or “Choose Life”— some brought new phrases and ideas. They celebrated Trump, and sought to rebrand feminism. Others used memes to identify with a younger, internet savvy generation. Here are a few of the messages we saw and heard.
“This is part of our faith. It’s important for our daughters to be here.”
Among the people we met was Mary from Wisconsin, shown above, who’d been coming to Washington to participate since at least the early 1990s.
Members of Saint Francis de Sales, a Catholic church in Loudoun County, Virginia, turned up with signs that declared “Life Trumps Death.”
Church members David and Norma Matheson told Vox it was their first time at the march. “We’ve always talked about it,” said David. “But with the change in the administration, it felt especially important to come this year.”
Norma added, “This is part of our faith. It’s important for our daughters to be here.”
Others said they came for deeply personal reasons.
John Weaver and his daughter Amanda from Sterling, Virginia, shown below, have been marching since 1996, the year John’s fiancé at the time had an abortion unbeknownst to him. John said this was emotionally devastating, but that he wasn’t at the march to pass judgment, but to share a message of forgiveness.
“Everyone deserves to live,” he said. “It’s time to get rid of the stigma of adoption and make it easier for people who are facing this hard choice.”
Pro-life feminists marched at the March for Life and the Women’s March on Washington
When Emily Crockett went to the Women’s March on Washington last Saturday, she met “pro-life feminists” who attended even though that demonstration called for “open access to safe, legal, affordable abortion and birth control for all people, regardless of income, location or education.”
Some women who identify as “pro-life feminists” did not attend the Women’s March — in part because pro-life organizations like New Wave Feminists were not approved by march organizers. Some of these feminists told us they felt more aligned with the message of March for Life.
Asked if she identified as a feminist, March for Life participant Christine Ostendorf, 27, immediately replied, “Totally, in every way, shape, and form.”
Ostendorf, pictured below with two of her students from Notre Dame Regional High School in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, added: “I think sometimes our pro-life organizations don't realize the amount of work and stress and concern that a woman who chooses life rather than abortion [goes through]. I want to be there helping that woman make the decision to choose life throughout her entire pregnancy, throughout her entire time of deciding [whether she wants to choose] adoption or not.”
Lindsey Dorenkott of Pittsburgh, 18, called herself a “former feminist.”
“I still believe in the wage gap and things like that, but the feminist movement in my opinion has turned from something that was just very pro-women, [pro-]equality, and it's turned into this female superiority, getting-triggered-at-everything kind of movement,” Dorenkott said.
Asked about which pro-life or pro-woman policies she supported other than banning abortion, Dorenkott added: “I think not a lot of people talk about it, especially Republicans, but I think if we want to truly stop abortion, there needs to be universal birth control. Obviously people aren't going to want to spend taxpayer money, but even if that would save the life of one person, I think pro-lifers should be more willing and open to that kind of policy.”
Megan Ryser and Maddy Buschur, pictured below, from Ohio State University told Vox they were shocked that there weren’t more pro-life memes on the internet.
“I searched Google for pro-life memes [for poster inspiration],” said Ryser. “And nothing came up for the pro-life movement, just pro-choice memes.”
So Ryser made her own pro-life meme using the popular Kermit “dark side” meme for inspiration. Buschur, her friend, borrowed a catchphrase from The Office’s Dwight Schrute for her poster: “Women Need Abortion? False. Society needs real feminism.”
Other signs called to defund Planned Parenthood and made statements about when life begins
For many years now, one of the rallying cries of the pro-life movement has been to defund Planned Parenthood.
But with the new administration and a Republican controlled Congress, the effort to defund Planned Parenthood is gaining momentum. In his speech at the march on Friday, Pence said several times that “life is winning again,” which solicited cheers and applause from the crowd.
In addition to women who had abortions marching, former abortion providers marched with signs, too.
Alongside religious themes calling for protection of the unborn, marchers questioned when life begins.