The Marchers State Their Case: Alito v. 'Roe'

By Dana Milbank


The Washington Post
Tuesday, January 24, 2006; Page A03

Ray Nagin and Franklin Graham have recently propounded that foul weather is a sign of God's wrath, so the cold rain and dark clouds over the annual March for Life yesterday might have been cause for concern.

But antiabortion leaders took the gloom and damp as a different sort of sign. "I think it's God's way of cleansing the evil in the world," Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio) told the ebullient crowd of tens of thousands.

These are good times for the movement. Thirty-three years since the Roe v. Wade decision made abortion legal nationwide, its foes spoke yesterday with the confidence -- the swagger, almost -- of a movement on the verge of victory.

"This might be our last march!" exulted Steven Peroutka, chairman of the National Pro-Life Action Center, addressing a crowd of about 500 activists in the Russell Senate Office Building. "Our next march very well may be the March to Celebrate the Overturning of Roe v. Wade !" The crowd went nuts.

The Rev. Rob Schenk, president of the National Clergy Council, concurred. "If things continue as they are going right now," he told the gathering, sponsored by Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio), "our greatest challenge will be to prepare for the post- Roe era!"

It was a day of clarity after weeks of fuzz generated by Supreme Court nominee Sam Alito and members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The nominee -- expected to be endorsed by the committee today -- maintained that he did not have strong legal views about abortion. And senators acted as if abortion were not the reason they would vote for or against him.

But at yesterday's March for Life, neither speaker nor marcher was confused by the Kabuki. "We must support the confirmation of Judge Alito and other jurists who will support a strict-constructionist view of the law and make it possible once and for all to end Roe v. Wade ," Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), a leading House conservative, thundered.

In the crowd, Sheila Wharam of Baltimore was festive, almost jubilant. "We're getting close," she said, holding a banner urging "Mr. Justices, Please Reverse Roe v. Wade."

The ceremonies began with a "National Memorial for the Pre-Born" in the Russell Caucus Room, where marchers overflowed from the chairs and sat 12 deep along the wall. A Baptist choir sang "It's All About You, Jesus," for the worshipers, including the family of the late Terri Schiavo.

The Rev. Frank Pavone, the national director of Priests for Life, saw the movement's success as "a response to Jesus Christ, and it is confirmation that He, alone, is Lord." Pavone continued: "We don't have the Ark of the Covenant in 2006. We are the Ark of the Covenant."

Peroutka, too, saw victory at hand. "We're no longer the right-wing Christian nuts," the religious broadcaster observed. He urged preparation for Roe 's demise. "We might see the end of Roe v. Wade very quickly," he cautioned.

At the door, a Senate staffer was trying to shut down the event, claiming worship services were not allowed in the building. But the ushers wouldn't hear of it. "Pay no attention to her," one called out. "She comes every year."

Inside, Rob Wasinger, chief of staff to Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), joined in the anticipation of triumph. "Finally," he said, accepting a plaque for his boss, "we're beginning to turn the tide."

Across town, the leadership of the National Right to Life Committee was trying to cool the exuberance. At a sparsely attended news conference, Executive Director David O'Steen pleaded for caution. "There are five votes on the Court in addition to Sandra Day O'Connor who have indicated their support for Roe ," he reminded.

But this was not a day for sober reflection. On the Mall at Seventh Street, tens of thousands of antiabortion activists were listening to the Rev. James Nesbit, whose invocation was so passionate that his voice cracked and warbled as he delivered the jeremiad.

"It has been told by the prophets in the land that there is a president coming out of Texas, a Burning Bush," Nesbit prayed. "He will deal with abortion in the land. We ask you to give him an executive order and mantle him and give him a mandate with the fear of the Lord."

The pastor took even the relocation of this year's march closer to the Capitol as an act of God, "a prophetic sign that this march has been moved seven blocks closer," saying: "We are closer to the end than ever before!"

Signs of the movement's rising confidence were everywhere: Gone, for the most part, were the grotesque photos of aborted fetuses. In their place were slick slogans, such as "Justice for All -- Born and Preborn," and a lineup of some of the country's most powerful people.

President Bush, calling in from Kansas, didn't mention Alito or Roe . He spoke generically of "a noble cause" and the need to protect "all who are weak and vulnerable, especially unborn children." But when Bush allowed that "we're making good progress," everybody knew that he was, ultimately, talking about Roe 's end.

Danielle Constant, a college student carrying a "Defend Life" poster, said Roe would fall within a decade. "Once we get Alito on the bench," she said, "five to 10 years, God willing."

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