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Johnson touts personal story in speech at anti-abortion march

As 51st anniversary of Roe v. Wade approaches, anti-abortion groups convene on National Mall

Speaker Mike Johnson, pictured in the Capitol last month, saw an Israel-only aid package he backed fall short in a House vote Tuesday.
Speaker Mike Johnson, pictured in the Capitol last month, saw an Israel-only aid package he backed fall short in a House vote Tuesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

On a snowy Washington, D.C., day, one day after Congress passed a stopgap spending bill and fled town, a sizable and motivated crowd assembled for the annual March for Life on the National Mall to listen to the new speaker of the House praise their efforts to end abortion. 

In his first address to the nation’s largest annual anti-abortion rally as speaker Friday, Mike Johnson, R-La., shared the impetus for his interest in anti-abortion issues.

“I am, myself, a product of an unplanned pregnancy. In January of 1972, exactly one year before Roe v. Wade, my parents who were just teenagers at the time chose life. And I am very profoundly grateful that they did,” he said.

He made his remarks one day after the House passed two bills that Republicans say would uplift pregnancy centers and pregnant college students — part of a new GOP emphasis on expanding options for people facing unplanned pregnancies in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s June 2022 Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision, which overturned the national right to an abortion.

“We are passing these bills and marching today because it takes a lot of work to convince people that every single human child, every unborn child, has a value that’s too precious to ignore. We have every reason to be optimistic that we can change public opinion,” said Johnson.

The Women’s March, which supports expanding access to abortion, will hold its own national march on Saturday in Phoenix to draw attention to the organizer’s efforts to qualify an abortion rights ballot initiative in Arizona for the 2024 election. 

Abortion rights supporters have largely looked to next week for their messaging pushes, with President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris planning an appearance to highlight the issue in Northern Virginia on Tuesday, but the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee launched a website Friday to draw attention to Republican Senate candidates’ positions and voting records on abortion issues. The launch is a reboot of a 2022 initiative. 

Speaking at Friday’s march, Rep. Christopher H. Smith, R-N.J., who co-chairs the House Pro-Life Caucus, said those marching were determined to end abortion. 

“We’ll have a setback here and there. Every human rights struggle does. But we are undeterred and we will not give up,” Smith told the crowd.

Speaking Thursday to CQ Roll Call, he emphasized the importance of keeping anti-abortion riders like the Hyde amendment and bans on federal employee health benefits covering abortion as Congress moves toward long-term spending bills.

“That’s the big fight to make sure that every single one of those riders remain intact,” he said. “But you know, I’m also a realist. And it’s going to be very hard to get there.” 

Only two lawmakers, Smith and Johnson, addressed the crowd this year, although others still showed their support. Republican Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma and GOP Reps. Andy Harris of Maryland, Matt Rosendale of Montana, Bob Latta of Ohio and Tim Walberg of Michigan appeared onstage with Smith but did not provide remarks.

March for Life President Jeanne Mancini said the march organizers “try to limit the amount of time that the elected officials can speak.”

“It’s hard to say no to as many people as we have to, especially when they’re very much champions on this issue,” she said.

Friday morning, she said, March for Life Action held a breakfast where more than 30 elected officials spoke, although it was not open to the press.

Mancini said the next major call to action will be asking the Senate to take up the House bills and growing the state marches to all 50 states in six to seven years. 

“Look out at the crowd today and see, do they look energized? What do their signs say, why are they here on a snow day?” she said. “I think the answer is yes, they’re energized.”

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