At March for Life, pro-life leaders express cautious optimism about 2024 elections

WASHINGTON (OSV News) -- Pro-life leaders at the 51st annual March for Life on Jan. 19 said a lot of work remains for their cause as the nation begins an election year, but they expressed optimism they can turn the tide of public opinion.

Since the Supreme Court's June 2022 Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization decision that reversed the court's previous abortion precedent, voters in Ohio, California, Kentucky, Michigan, Montana, Vermont and Kansas either rejected new limitations on abortion or expanded legal protections for it.

Advocates of expanding abortion access are seeking to hold comparable contests in other states in 2024 in states, including Arizona and Florida. Those contests would coincide with a presidential election, as well as races for the House and Senate that could tip the balance of power in Washington.

"We're not finished, and there's going to be a lot of obstacles in our way," Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America and Students for Life Action, told OSV News. "And a little bit of snow is the least of the obstacles that are going to be in our way," she added, referring to the several inches of snow that accumulated in Washington before and during the March for Life.

Hawkins said her group aims to "activate pro-lifers to vote because we've still got a lot to do."

"We have to be on the offensive and talking about the extremism of the Democratic National Committee's plan," Hawkins said.

Former President Donald Trump won the Iowa caucuses earlier in January, a key contest in the presidential nomination process, and unless the upcoming New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries change the race dynamics, he appears poised to secure his party's nomination for president.

Trump has a sometimes uneasy alliance with pro-life advocates: Many credit him with reversing Roe through his appointments to the Supreme Court; but Trump also has vocally blamed the issue of abortion and pro-life voters themselves as factors in the Republican Party's underperformance in the 2022 midterm election cycle, prompting criticism from even some of his supporters.

Asked if she is confident in Trump's commitment to the pro-life movement, Hawkins said, "I look at it this way: Donald Trump is a man who prides himself on making deals and keeping his deals, and he made a deal with the pro-life movement in 2016. I expect him to keep his deal in 2024."

Hawkins argued the particular personnel in an administration also matter greatly in enacting policy. While she wanted him to "speak up more loudly and more boldly on this issue," Hawkins overall felt "we will have a pro-life president in President Trump."

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, which works to elect pro-life candidates to public office, told OSV News, "I was just thrilled that it snowed today, because it's just to me a metaphor of the perseverance, the endurance, the fortitude, the love of the pro-life movement."

Asked how the group plans to shift its strategy in 2024 on state ballot measures, Dannenfelser said it was "vital" that governors and lawmakers who enacted pro-life legislation "need to be the ones first up to be defending messaging, communicating the truth of the law."

"What we lack in money we have to make up for in leadership," Dannenfelser said.

The 2024 elections may determine whether the Women's Health Protection Act -- federal legislation that would make it a legal right for a woman to undergo an abortion procedure, and override many state laws restricting those procedures, such as mandatory waiting periods or ultrasounds, bans on abortions via telemedicine, or requirements for providers to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals -- could be signed into law, Dannenfelser said.

House Democrats have twice passed the Women's Health Protection Act, but the bill went on to fail on procedural votes both times in the Senate due to the 60-vote filibuster threshold.

That was a point echoed by Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., a Catholic and longtime lawmaker, who co-chairs the House Pro-Life Caucus. He told OSV News that the bill is "barbaric" and its status is "in flux" depending on the balance of power in Washington. Eliminating the Senate filibuster, he said, as some progressive activists have sought, also would likely result in that bill becoming law with a simple majority.

"So I'm hoping people walk away today and say, 'Yeah, we've had a few setbacks. So what, that happens.' Just keep moving forward -- pray, fast and work hard -- and we will, we will win this someday," Smith said.

The national march also follows in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court taking up its first major abortion case post-Dobbs concerning a challenge to mifepristone, an abortion-inducing drug. A decision is expected next summer in the midst of the presidential election.

Dr. Christina Francis, a board-certified OB-GYN and CEO of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, a group that was part of the suit seeking to revoke the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's approval of the drug, told OSV News that "as a physician being here -- and certainly thinking about the theme of this year's march -- I think it's actually really perfect. Because as a physician, I'm here on behalf of both of my patients, both mom and her baby."

Francis said she is "glad that the Supreme Court is going to be hearing our challenge to the really reckless lifting of safety regulations for women and girls from the abortion pill."

"And so my hope over the next couple of months as we await oral arguments is that we can continue to help women understand that not only do they not need induced abortion in order to be successful in their lives, but also to really truly understand the dangers of the abortion pill, especially in the way that it's being dispensed," Francis said.

She said it was "reckless" for the abortion pill to be "dispensed without screening for gestational age, without screening for ectopic pregnancy, which is life threatening and not uncommon."

- - - Kate Scanlon is a national reporter for OSV News covering Washington. Follow her on X (formerly Twitter) @kgscanlon.