March For Life: Higher Stakes As Activists March On Washington Anti-abortion rights activists gather once again for the March for Life in Washington, D.C., Friday. This year, they are fresh off the swearing in of conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

With Higher Stakes In The Abortion Debate, Activists March On Washington

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Big crowds are going to be marching through Washington, D.C., this weekend, and a major focus is going to be on abortion and reproductive rights. The anti-abortion rights March For Life kicks off its annual rally today, followed by a march to the Supreme Court. And then tomorrow, progressive women from around the country and their allies will gather for the Women's March, which was first organized in 2017 in response to President Trump's election.

NPR's Sarah McCammon covers the abortion debate and is going to be at both marches. She's in our studios this morning. Hi, Sarah.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: So I think, I mean, on all sides of debates like abortion, people would say there's always a lot at stake. Is that especially so this year, in 2019?

MCCAMMON: It really feels that way. I mean, remember, it was just not even a year ago, right, that Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement last summer. And that set up a huge debate over these issues. He had been the swing vote on the Supreme Court for a lot of issues, including reproductive rights. And now abortion rights opponents are feeling more hopeful than they have in a long time that they could see Roe v. Wade overturned or weakened. That, of course, is the 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide. This march, the March For Life, in opposition to abortion, has been happening almost since that time. But organizers and activists are hopeful as they head into this year's march.

GREENE: So as we look at the March For Life happening, we're going to see more optimism and more of a sense of hope and mission that 2019 could be different for them. Is that fair to say?

MCCAMMON: For sure. They're cautiously optimistic, though, I would say. Not necessarily expecting Roe to be overturned wholesale, but they do see a big opportunity to advance state laws restricting abortion more deeply than they've been able to in the past. Here's Tom McClusky of March For Life.

TOM MCCLUSKY: If you were to ask me during the 2016 campaign that President Trump would be the one that would help in putting in these pro-life policies, I probably would have thought you were crazy. But it's certainly a much different scenario now, with both Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh on the bench.

MCCAMMON: And we hear this a lot from anti-abortion rights activists. They're happy with what President Trump is doing, his efforts to restrict public funding for organizations like Planned Parenthood and his appointees to the judiciary.

GREENE: Well, on the flip side of this, how much anxiety are we going to be sensing from abortion rights activists in this moment?

MCCAMMON: Right. They're concerned. They say they're also energized. I would expect to hear about this tomorrow at the Women's March. Planned Parenthood is one of the partner sponsors for that march. I spoke recently with Dr. Leana Wen, who's the new president of Planned Parenthood, and here's what she said.

LEANA WEN: This is a time where everything is on the line. I mean, with Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court, we are facing a situation where, within the next year, Roe v. Wade could very well be further eroded or overturned.

MCCAMMON: And so abortion rights activists are organizing at the state level around these issues, trying to firm up support for abortion rights in statehouses. And they're pointing to the fact that a lot of new Democrats were just elected to statehouses and, of course, to Congress, many of them women, and others who campaigned on issues including reproductive rights. So they see that as a good sign.

GREENE: You mentioned organizing at the state level. I mean, these marches are going to be in Washington but, as we've learned from your reporting, it's really important to follow, you know, cases working their way through states, not just at the Supreme Court.

MCCAMMON: For sure. This battle will play out in the courts, but also in statehouses around the country. If Roe is weakened, those state legislatures will become even more important in terms of regulating abortion.

GREENE: NPR's Sarah McCammon. Sarah, thanks a lot.

MCCAMMON: Thank you.

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