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What the anti-abortion March for Life looks like now that 'Roe v. Wade' is overturned

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

This weekend marks 51 years since the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision, which established a constitutional right to abortion during the early stages of pregnancy. That decision led to decades of organizing among anti-abortion-rights activists, who created the annual March for Life rally in Washington, D.C. Even though Roe was overturned in 2022, the March continues. NPR's Jaclyn Diaz was at this year's march and joins us now. Hi there.

JACLYN DIAZ, BYLINE: Hi.

SUMMERS: So Jaclyn, now that Roe's been overturned, what is the focus of the March for Life?

DIAZ: Well, event organizers and some folks at the march today said the focus for anti-abortion activists is now especially on changing state laws to further restrict abortion access. Their message today was the fight is not over.

So when Roe was overturned, it left the decision on abortion restrictions up to states. More than a dozen states have total or near abortion bans. But in each instance where abortion rights have been on the ballot since the Supreme Court's reversal, anti-abortion advocates have lost.

SUMMERS: Now, it is not exactly a warm day in Washington, D.C. Yet, you were out there with the marchers at the March for Life. Tell us what you saw and heard from people there.

DIAZ: In addition to the snow, thousands of people showed up to march this morning. I spoke to Kathy Johnston from Ohio, who shared what two years after Roe's reversal means for the movement.

KATHY JOHNSTON: I don't think it went far enough, but I think that we were all aware that it was just going to move it from a national level to a state level and that the fight wasn't done.

DIAZ: And Johnston added that she believes that the issue over abortion access is now correctly placed at the state level. But other people still believe it's the responsibility of the federal government to restrict abortion access across the board. Here's Leszek Syski from Maryland.

LESZEK SYSKI: Ultimately, we don't want to just make abortion illegal. We want to make it unthinkable. So it's going to be still a long, long, long struggle.

DIAZ: And here's - he's actually here for his 50th March for Life.

SUMMERS: His 50th March - wow. I mean, every year this march draws people from around the country, and that includes some from states where voters have already decided on abortion measures. Is that figuring into today's event?

DIAZ: Yeah. So speakers at the march encouraged the marchers to bring the fight over abortion back home and continue to reinforce the idea that the fight to restrict abortion is not over. That's especially because, in the aftermath of the Supreme Court overturning the constitutional right to abortion, there's been a concerted effort among abortion rights activists to take the issue directly to voters via ballot initiatives and other measures, like in Johnston's home state of Ohio, where voters last November decided to amend their state constitution to guarantee the right to abortion and other reproductive rights.

And this is going to be a big part of what we follow in this election year - which states ultimately have more ballot measures on the table for voters in November?

SUMMERS: And, of course, voters will also be voting this year in the presidential election - a lot of focus on that. So Jaclyn, how did the upcoming election and national politics figure in at today's event?

DIAZ: House speaker Mike Johnson and other lawmakers spoke at the rally before marchers took to the street. During Johnson's speech, he told the crowd his parents were teenagers when his mother unexpectedly became pregnant with him. He made digs at President Biden, who received some boos from the crowd. That's because Biden's campaign continues to make abortion a central focus, saying abortion rights is a driving issue for voters. Vice President Kamala Harris is kicking off a reproductive freedoms tour next week in Wisconsin. She's planning to travel across the country to host events that highlight the impacts abortion bans have had. And on Tuesday, Biden and Harris will appear on stage at a campaign rally in Northern Virginia to mark the anniversary of Roe.

SUMMERS: That's NPR's Jaclyn Diaz. Thank you so much.

DIAZ: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF J DILLA'S "REQUIEM (INTSTRUMENTAL)" Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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