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January 22nd, 2014
06:07 PM ET

March for Life 2.0? A new approach to the annual anti-abortion rally

Washington (CNN) - Thousands of protesters marched through the snow and ice Wednesday, hoping to change minds on abortion - an issue that has divided the country for decades.

Since the case was decided in 1973, anti-abortion activists have come to Washington, D.C., every January to protest on the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade.

"Our theme this year is adoption, and that adoption is a noble decision for a birth mother," said Jeanne Monahan, the newly installed president of March for Life.

This year, Monahan says the group is focusing as much on creating adoptions, as on preventing abortions.

"We're trying to do everything we can to encourage women who are facing an unexpected pregnancy to choose life," Monahan told CNN.

Under Monahan, the tone here has changed. There were fewer of the incendiary images that are often the hallmark of anti-abortion rallies.

Adoption organizers are hoping the new tone can help change deeply entrenched ideas about abortion.

"It really is a natural outgrowth of fighting for the human dignity of all human life," said Ryan Bomberger, an outspoken adoption advocate in the anti-abortion movement.

"When we see far fewer percentage of women with unplanned pregnancies placing their children for adoption, or making a loving adoption plan, it should be a concern," said Bomberger.

"It's an opportunity for the anti-abortion movement to show they can put boots on the ground, that they really do have support out there," said Jon O'Brien, president of Catholics for Choice. But O'Brien says despite the crowds every year at the march, the opponents are falling short of their goal.

"Forty-one years later and they've still not overturned Roe v. Wade. The reality is support for choice remains solid," said O'Brien.

Anti-abortion activists point to laws changing in their favor in 23 states in 2013 as evidence of a changing tide on abortion.

"The majority of Americans are 100% pro-life. Pro-life is the new normal, and we're so excited, and as you can see there are hundreds of thousands of people here marching, they want to go to the Capitol, they want to go to the Supreme Court to tell them that we believe in life," said Monahan.

According to a CNN/ORC poll conducted last May, 36% of Americans said abortion should be legal in all or most circumstances, 42% said it should be legal in few circumstances. A minority of Americans, 20%, believe in no abortion under any circumstances.

"The majority of Americans strongly favor some restrictions on abortion, and Roe vs. Wade is essentially abortion without restriction," said Monahan.

March for Life does not support legal abortion in any cases, not rape, not incest, not when the life of the mother is at stake.

Monahan is hoping to build on the momentum to change the march into a year-round operation. The group brought on a full time Washington lobbyist to take their fight not to the Supreme Court, and to Congress.

Marchers got a boost from Pope Francis who tweeted his support from the Vatican, writing, "I join the March for Life in Washington with my prayers. May God help us respect all life, especially the most vulnerable.

The largely Catholic movement is also broadening its tent with evangelicals, and other non-Catholic groups.

Some experts say they don't expect the March for Life's new mission to have a huge effect on the anti-abortion movement. But in a country so deeply divided on abortion, having even a few more activists on their side could make a big difference, Monahan said.

President Barack Obama issued a statement Wednesday, on the 41st anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

"We recommit ourselves to the decision's guiding principle: that every woman should be able to make her own choices about her body and her health. We reaffirm our steadfast commitment to protecting a woman's access to safe, affordable health care and her constitutional right to privacy, including the right to reproductive freedom," the statement read.

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