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Abortion opponents march on Washington buoyed by a sympathetic ear in the White House

March for Life on Washington Mall get prominent support from the White House.

Anti-abortion demonstrators flooded Washington on Friday for the annual March for Life saying they felt empowered and hopeful that the election of President Donald Trump could result in a rollback of laws and programs that allow women to end pregnancies.

Trump's win breathed new life into a movement that a year ago seemed to face very different political prospects. The renewed enthusiasm swelled the crowds, which included hundreds of Marylanders, many of whom came by bus with church groups that needed to order extra buses because of the increased interest.

"We have a lot of hope right now," said Mina Letra of Hunt Valley, who wants to see Roe v. Wade reversed — a possibility she now feels is within reach with Trump in the White House.

Demonstrating the extent to which anti-abortion activists have the ear of the White House, Mike Pence became the first sitting vice president in the 43-year history of the march to address the crowd.

The march was first held as a protest of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision on Jan. 22, 1973, which established a woman's right to have an abortion.

Pence told gatherers, bundled up in winter coats and carrying signs that read "We Stand for Life" and "Abortion Kills," that a top priority for the new administration is to choose a Supreme Court justice who will uphold "God-given" liberties. He also expressed support for ending taxpayer-funded abortion.

His pronouncements brought thunderous applause and shouts of approval from the thousands gathered for the march.

"The fact that the vice president is here really opens the door for change," said Stephanie Day, 43, of Prince Frederick in Southern Maryland, who brought her two daughters to the march. "I couldn't be more excited that a person with such stature, such a high-ranking person in government, would be here with us today."

Various speakers told the crowd that the political climate for the first time in many years was positive and in favor of abortion opponents.

Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life, told the crowd that the horizon once looked bleak but people now see hope in Trump.

She suggested that many voters chose Trump largely because he pledged to appoint a Supreme Court justice who shared their views on abortion, even if they disagreed with him on other issues.

"I don't identify as a Republican or a Democrat, but I do vote pro-life," Mancini said.

Sue Arlinghaus of Ellicott City said she didn't agree with much of what Trump said about women on the campaign trail but voted for him because of his stance on abortion.

"I took a leap of faith and voted for him because of his pro-life views," she said.

Arlinghaus helped organize marchers from St. Louis Parish in Clarksville. In past years, they used one bus to take people to the march, but this year they took 99 people on two buses.

Some people also felt slighted by the Women's March that was held in Washington, D.C., last week, she said. Some felt it wasn't welcoming to abortion opponents. At the same time, it also inspired people because it showed the attention marches can bring to an issue, she said.

St. Joseph Parish in Cockeysville also had to order a second bus because of increased interest in the march. Church organizers brought 100 people to the march.

People of all ages rode the St. Joseph buses, some dressed in matching burgundy-and-gold-striped scarves to show they are members of the Archdiocese of Baltimore. They spent 20 minutes of the ride praying the rosary.

Lupe Gwiazdowski of Towson, who said it was her third time attending the march, said she wants to be a voice for the unborn babies who can't speak for themselves.

"There are so many alternatives for moms — adoption, help raising your child — that you don't have to get an abortion," Gwiazdowski said.

Hope seemed to be a common theme among the marchers who came from across the country.

One of Trump's first acts after taking office a week ago was to sign an executive order banning U.S. aid to foreign groups that provide abortions.

Pence said during the march that more such action would follow.

Trump will "work with the Congress to end taxpayer funding of abortion and abortion providers, and we will devote those resources to health care services for women across America," he said.

A budget provision known as the Hyde Amendment already bans federal funding for Medicaid coverage of most abortions. Conservatives would like to see the rule made into a permanent law.

There are also efforts in Congress to reduce access to abortions.

Republican majorities in both chambers of Congress have vowed to end federal funding for Planned Parenthood, which provided more than a third of the nation's abortions in 2014. The lawmakers also hope to ban most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Trump has pledged to sign both measures if they reach his desk.

Less than a year ago, with Barack Obama's second term winding down, things looked markedly different. The Supreme Court struck down Texas' strict regulations on abortion clinics, ruling that such restrictions interfered with a woman's constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy. And with polls at the time suggesting Hillary Clinton would likely defeat Trump, abortion opponents worried about an era of liberal majorities on the court.

Americans remain deeply divided on abortion.

The latest Gallup survey, released last spring, found that 47 percent of Americans described themselves as pro-abortion rights and 46 percent as anti-abortion. It also found that 79 percent believed abortion should be legal in either some or all circumstances.

Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said that poll shows why abortion-rights supporters should not despair. She also said Republicans were taking actions that would result in more illegal abortions and deaths of pregnant women.

"The vast majority of Americans support Roe v. Wade and support the legal right to abortion," Hogue said.

The March for Life, however, is running ads arguing that a majority of Americans support some restrictions on abortion and don't believe it should be funded by tax dollars.

Kellyanne Conway, one of Trump's top advisers, assured the crowd gathered near the Washington Monument that Trump and Pence were on their side.

"Their decisive actions as president and vice president will further this cause," she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

amcdaniels@baltsun.com

Twitter.com/ankwalker

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