WASHINGTON - Vice President Mike Pence fired up tens of thousands of anti-abortion activists gathered in Washington on Friday for the 44th March for Life, celebrating a political shift in their favor with the election of President Donald Trump. "Life is winning again in America," Pence told the demonstrators on the National Mall, near where Trump was sworn in a week ago before hundreds of thousands.
The March for Life also is taking place in the same area where even more massive crowds flooded Washington a day after Trump's inauguration in favor of women's rights, including abortion rights.
Pence, a longtime hero of the anti-abortion movement, is the most senior government official ever to speak in person at the rally, organizers said. As governor of Indiana, he signed that were seen as some of the nation's strictest abortion laws.
Pence, accompanied at the rally by his wife and daughter, celebrated "the election of pro-life majorities in the Congress of the United States of America," Trump's upcoming nomination of an anti-abortion Supreme Court justice, and the president's reinstatement on Monday of a policy that cuts off U.S. funding to healthcare providers that promote or provide abortions overseas. "It's the best day I've ever seen for the March of Life in more ways than one," he said.
Pence said he was asked by Trump to attend the rally and thank the crowd for its support.
Demonstrators were expected to march from the Mall about 1.5 miles (2 km) to the U.S. Supreme Court. The march is held each year close to the anniversary of the court's Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion in 1973.
Trump has said Roe v. Wade should be overturned and has vowed to appoint an anti-abortion justice to fill the Supreme Court seat left vacant by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia last year.
He also has pledged to defund Planned Parenthood, which draws the ire of many Republicans because it provides abortions, along with other services.
Abortion rights supporters say cutting off funding for abortion providers will prevent poor women from getting other critical heath care and birth control that could prevent unwanted pregnancies.
The rally comes as the number of U.S. abortions has fallen to a record low. The Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health and rights organization, said last week that it dropped below 1 million in 2013 for the first time since 1975.
Anti-abortion forces are often inspired by a religious conviction that life begins at conception and see abortion is murder.