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A virtual March for Life takes place under a changed Washington

Posted January 29, 2021 7:05 a.m. EST

— The 2021 March for Life is set to kick off mostly virtually under the cloud of a pandemic, but that's not the only change swirling around this year's event.

A new administration that supports abortion rights is now in the White House, while conservative justice Amy Coney Barrett has been added to the Supreme Court, completing a makeover of the federal judiciary under former President Donald Trump that potentially shifts the legal landscape on the issue.

But the march, which has identified itself as nonpartisan since its founding, goes on.

"When we have a pro-life administration, you know, we're marching to encourage them and show support," Carol Tobias, the president of the national Right to Life Committee, who is among a small group of anti-abortion leaders invited to march in person on Friday, told CNN. "And when we have a pro-abortion administration, like we currently have now" under President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, "it's to let them know that we're not going away."

This will be the 48th March for Life, an annual event that coincides with the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide. The event typically attracts about 100,000 participants to Washington from across the country, and the plan is to continue the event until Roe is overturned.

The pandemic, as well as the security measures implemented in Washington following the Capitol riot earlier this month, have forced this year's event to be largely virtual, organizers say. Among those speaking will be Republican Reps. Chris Smith of New Jersey and Kat Cammack of Florida, as well as anti-abortion Democrats like Kentucky state Rep. Angie Hatton and Hawaii state Sen. Mike Gabbard, the father of former Democratic presidential candidate and former US Rep. Tulsi Gabbard.

Also on Friday, a small group of about 50 prominent anti-abortion activists will physically march in Washington under this year's theme of "Together Strong: Life Unites!"

But there's another big difference between this year's march and recent ones: a new President.

Recent marches had a distinctly Trumpian feel to them, from the viral confrontation involving a Catholic student wearing a Make America Great Again hat in 2019 to Trump's appearance last year, the first time a sitting president has ever addressed the rally.

The message will likely be a bit different this year, especially as Biden has already made it clear he will be aggressive in extending abortion rights.

"The flip side of our 'Pro-Life Generation' signs that you always see, instead of saying 'Defund Planned Parenthood' this year, they say, 'The future is anti-abortion,' because there was no point in saying defund Planned Parenthood" in light of Biden's stance on reproductive rights, said Kristan Hawkins, the president of Students for Life, an anti-abortion-rights nonprofit that focuses on college campuses.

March for Life President Jeanne Mancini, speaking on a recent podcast, encouraged abortion opponents in the face of what she described as left-wing intimidation to take on a role "to get back to a place where we can have dialogue, where we're praying and fasting so that there is peace, so that we can restore some of these basic freedoms that have been sort of whipped away from us in the scary culture right now."

In the immediate future, Hawkins and Tobias said lobbying members of Congress to maintain abortion restrictions such as the Hyde Amendment, as well as working with state lawmakers to continue advancing restrictions, were key priorities for the movement.

Hawkins expected an uptick in new Students for Life groups now that Biden is President, similar to what the group saw during the Obama years. Tobias, meanwhile, expressed optimism that Trump's transformation of the federal judiciary will pave the way for judges who will be "more amenable to protecting unborn children."

All the while, abortion rights groups such as NARAL -- which last week said that "we must carry the guiding principle that Roe is the floor, not the ceiling for the vision we espouse for this country" -- will be looking to capitalize on their newfound alliance with the White House.

But regardless of the changed political landscape in 2021, one message on Friday will remain as consistent as it has for nearly half a century.

"Presidential administrations come and go," Hawkins said, "but we always remain."

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