Thousands of members of the anti-abortion movement gathered Friday for a triumphant rally on the National Mall, celebrating its growing clout and rejoicing at the end of the eight-year presidency of Barack Obama that participants said was dismissive of their views.
Vice President Mike Pence promised thousands of anti-abortion activists gathered for the March for Life that Donald Trump’s administration will keep its pledge to name a conservative to the Supreme Court.
Pence, the first sitting vice president in history to address this annual rally , said their movement was on the verge of victory with conservatives in control of both the White House and Congress. And soon a conservative will tilt the balance on the Supreme Court as well.
“Life is winning in America,” Pence said. “That is evident in the election of pro-life majorities in the Congress of the United States of America.”
The crowd erupted in cheers, reflecting what many described as a feeling that victory for the anti-abortion movement was in reach for the first time in more than a decade. Dozens of Texans made the trip to Washington for the march, but many stayed home because they plan to participate in Saturday’s companion march in Austin.
“It feels different. For the first time, the administration is on our side,” said Brenna Lewis, a 22-year-old from Lexington, Kentucky. The full-time employee with Students for Life of America — a national organization that provides training, resources and support for anti-abortion college and high school student groups — handed out “I Am the Pro-Life Generation” signs.
“This is like the Super Bowl for the pro-life movement,” she said
The march began at the Washington Monument following the musical rally and guest speakers, and concludes at the Supreme Court.
Pence called on the spirited crowd to carry out their rally and march with gentleness and to approach women who are pregnant “with generosity, not judgment.”
Lewis was particularly excited for another of the day’s headline speakers: top Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway. In years past, Republican presidents and senior officials have only called in to the conference.
On Friday morning, Trump tweeted that he’s in “full support” of the March for Life.
Trump wrote: “The #MarchForLife is so important. To all of you marching — you have my full support!”
Around the National Mall on Friday, police and security presence was light but March for Life organizers told attendees to expect “airport-like” security screenings near the rally point. Pence’s late-Thursday addition to the speaker lineup likely increased security precautions.
There were counter-protesters, too, as anti-Trump demonstrators tried to hold on to the momentum they built by amassing half a million people on the mall for the Women’s March on Washington the day after the inauguration.
Lewis said she had been confronted at that march last Saturday and was spit on.
“I’ve never heard `F-U’ directed at me so many times,” Lewis said of the experience.
Abortion rights activists were a core part of the coalition that organized the women’s march and sister rallies nationwide. Some Students for Life groups reported that they were not allowed to officially join the women’s march but sporadic “pro-life” signs were visible throughout the crowd.
‘Pro-life is pro-woman’
On Friday, March for Life President Jeanne Mancini said her organization viewed itself as “pro-women.”
“Pro-life is pro-woman. That voice might have been shut out last week,” she said.
Like the women’s march, the March for Life brings together people from around the country.
Steve Hoff, of Charlotte, North Carolina, brought 80 students from Charlotte Christian School. He said the 2017 March for Life was special because Trump and Pence had vowed to appoint a conservative Supreme Court justice who would overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark case that originated in Texas.
“Donald Trump is on the verge of appointing a pro-life Supreme Court justice,” Hoff said. “So it is much more exciting for us to be here.”
Trump hasn’t been in office long but already he’s made the March for Life “a little more optimistic,” said Ted Hanman.
Hanman attended the event with the Benedictine College drum and flag corps. They entertained the crowd when music wasn’t playing on the stage. About 200 students on five buses made a 24-hour trip from Atchison, Kansas, to Washington for the March.
“It’s about life, man,” said Will Medina, 22, a drummer with the college group. “I feel it’s a little more positive out here today.”
He applauded Trump’s recent executive action bringing back the “Mexico City policy,” which bans foreign organizations that receive family planning aid from the United States from performing or promoting abortion. But, Medina said, “One person (Trump) isn’t enough to change everything.”
Kyleen Wright, president of the Texans for Life Coalition , said she was encouraged by the turnout — and the message delivered — at Friday’s march.
“You could just see the energy in the crowd,” said Wright, of Mansfield. “It’s obviously very exciting to have the president tweeting in support and the Vice President and Kellyanne Conway there.
“I’m gratified people turned out,” she said. “I think that what we needed to do today, we did. Now we keep marching.”
Wright will be among those attending a Texas Rally for Life  Saturday in Austin. Participants will start gathering around noon at 18th Street and North Congress Avenue to march to the Capitol for a rally that begins at 2 p.m.
One local youth ministry group was lucky to attend the march after being attacked by a gang of teens earlier in the week. A group of nearly two dozen from St. Elizabeth Ann Seton  in Keller was getting off the metro, on their way to the Assumption Catholic Church where they were staying, when they were attacked by a youth gang. The youths were uninjured but the two adults were attacked, one having his nose broken and eye socket possibly fractured.
All were able to attend the march and all are heading home Saturday, said Pat Svacina, a spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth.
Jason Spoolstra, a director of youth ministry with the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth, led a column of 25 youth and chaperones through the streets of Washington at the March for Life on Friday. The 31-year-old is hopeful that next year he will be marching in celebration instead of protest.
“The size is very impressive this year,” Spoolstra said. “It’s the perfect storm, good weather, people who are passionate and a new administration.”
Spoolstra is hopeful that the Trump administration will overturn Roe v. Wade.
“Abortion is killing an innocent human being,” Spoolstra said, adding that he would show women “mercy” who have an abortion if it’s made illegal instead of punishing them like Trump proposed during the campaign.
“The March for Life is very specific, it’s one cause, and you’re going to get every race, religion, gender or creed out here,” Spoolstra said.
Spoolstra’s cohort of marchers were part of hundreds of thousands in attendance in Washington, and they began their trek to the Supreme Court at the Washington monument after hearing remarks from Pence and Conway. For a while, the group couldn’t move on Constitution Avenue on the National Mall because so many people were trying to march.
“We want to see all human life be protected,” Spoolstra said, adding that he does not support the death penalty and that he votes “Catholic” instead of Democratic or Republican.
One marcher from Texas in Washington, Isela Macias, told The New York Times that she marched in honor of her beliefs, and also as a counter to last weekend’s anti-Trump women’s marches, which she dismissed as just a group of angry people.