Omaha World Herald: 'A voice for the voiceless': Iowans, Nebraskans join ranks of abortion opponents for annual March for Life
WASHINGTON — Like many of the abortion opponents marching Friday, Shanna Hoven savored the moment when she reached the top of Capitol Hill and was able to look back at the throngs of people still coming behind her.
“It’s just amazing to see how many people care,” Hoven said. “Every single year, the numbers grow. And every single year, the crowd gets younger and younger.”
The 17-year-old student from Bishop Neumann High School in Wahoo, Nebraska, was among the Nebraskans and Iowans in the nation’s capital for the annual March for Life.
No official crowd count was available, but the size of the demonstration seemed larger than in previous years, and the evidence of abortion opponents’ increased political might was easy to find.
Vice President Mike Pence spoke at the rally, making him the highest-ranking official to speak at the march in its 44-year history. White House counselor Kellyanne Conway also spoke, which was a thrill for Hoven.
“I believe she is the true woman who broke the glass ceiling,” Hoven said. “She’s a mother, she’s pro-life, she is an adviser to Trump and she is a hardworking woman. She just inspires me. She’s my role model along with Ivanka Trump.”
This year’s march had a higher profile in part because it followed an outpouring of demonstrators in the recent Women’s March on Washington, which had a mission statement that included support for abortion rights.
Hoven was among hundreds who came from Lincoln. In addition, the Archdiocese of Omaha organized six buses that ferried more than 300 adults and students to the event, which is typically held on or around the anniversary of the landmark Roe v. Wade case that made abortion legal nationwide.
Polls show that Americans remain deeply divided on abortion. Many believe that abortion should remain legal, at least in some circumstances.
That wasn’t the view at Friday’s rally, however. Midlands marchers took note of the many clever handmade signs and chants featuring anti-abortion themes. They talked about the connections forged with marchers from other parts of the country.
And the mood was bolstered by the fact that Republicans control the White House and both chambers of Congress for the first time in a decade.
At the rally, Sen. Joni Ernst, of Iowa pointed to her previous efforts to defund Planned Parenthood, calling the group the largest single provider of abortions.
Former President Barack Obama vetoed that measure, but Ernst said she plans to reintroduce similar legislation next week and hopes it will fare better with President Donald Trump.
“Back then we did not have a president that respected life and he stopped us,” Ernst said. “Thankfully, today is a different story.”
Indeed, Capitol Hill Republicans are eager to push proposals in the new political environment.
Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, recently introduced a bill that would ban abortion if the doctor can detect a heartbeat. The bill has seven co-sponsors thus far, including Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., who appeared at a press conference this week to tout the legislation.
King said his bill would come close to effectively prohibiting all abortions because the heartbeat can be detected so early in a pregnancy, even before a woman realizes she’s pregnant.
King suggested the bill could be a vehicle to get the issue back before the Supreme Court after Trump has appointed one or more new justices.
“Any issue that has to do with life and abortion is going to be litigated to the Supreme Court level,” King said. “We’re doing a bit of a head start here, but by the time we would march this thing down to the Supreme Court, the faces on the Supreme Court will be different. We just don’t know how much different, but I’m optimistic.”
Meanwhile, other lawmakers have suggested it makes sense to pursue measures that could garner broader support.
Sen. Deb Fischer of Nebraska said she hasn’t reviewed King’s proposal, but said she favors legislation prohibiting abortions after 20 weeks because it has bipartisan backing in Nebraska.
Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska said Congress should start with the most commonsense proposals, pointing to his own legislation that would require health providers to care for babies born alive during abortion procedures.
Trump is expected to name his first pick for the Supreme Court next week. His nominee’s record on abortion certainly will be an issue during the coming confirmation debate — a debate Sasse will be in the middle of as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Sasse hosted a coffee reception Friday morning for Nebraskans attending the march.
After surveying the many students in the room, he said such marches include more young people than they did 20 years ago — a change he attributed in part to sonogram technology.
“There are so many young people in the movement because young people have seen babies in mommies’ tummies — and they understand that that’s a life and it’s precious and it has dignity and worth,” Sasse said.
During the Obama administration, abortion opponents felt like they were waging an uphill battle. But now they see opportunity, hailing Trump’s quick action to reinstate a policy banning U.S. aid to international groups that promote abortion.
Rep. Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska said it’s a matter of “fundamental justice” to see Roe v. Wade overturned.
“This is an absolute disaster for our country,” Fortenberry said. “Fifty million-plus lives lost, women scarred, families torn apart, an ongoing 40-year debate about this. It’s wounded the soul of the nation. We can do better.”
He said there are immediate steps that can be taken to shut down taxpayer funding used for abortions, but abortion opponents also have to make the case for more aggressive action.
“Parallel with that, though, has to be a cultural movement that sees abortion and the abortion industry for what it is: It is violence against women,” Fortenberry said. “Pro-life people like me have to do a much better job of saying we can all do better, no matter how hard the circumstances.”
They have their work cut out for them. A 2016 Pew Research Center poll showed that 57 percent of Americans say abortion should be legal in all or most cases — the highest percentage since 1996. Meanwhile, 39 percent favor making it illegal in all or most cases.
Several marchers said they saw Friday’s event as helping to make their case to the public.
“The march is so important to me because I feel like it’s our chance to be a voice for the voiceless,” said Alexa Krings, 22, of Lincoln. “Especially since a fourth of our generation is gone because of abortion, we want to stand up for all of those unborn children.”
She also said she understands that it will take time.
“The end goal is to overturn Roe, make abortion illegal,” Krings said. “But I think it’s going to be a whole bunch of steps.”
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