WASHINGTON (USA TODAY) The March for Life kicked off in the nation's snow-covered, bitterly cold capital Wednesday with thousands of hardy souls listening to speakers pressing their case in opposition of abortion rights.
"We may be freezing, but we are freezing for the best cause in the world," Patrick Kelly, chairman of the march, said to loud applause.
Protesters gathered around a stage on the National Mall, their signs whipping in the wind: "Babies are precious", "#teamlife" and "I am pro-life" whip.
Mary Baxter, 46, came all the way from Grand Rapids, Mich., with her two daughters, Sarah, 18, and Ashleigh, 14.
"We're here today in peaceful protest, just like Martin Luther King," Mary Baxter said. "Life is the first gift we are all given. No one has the right to take that away."
Sarah said she leads a group that stand outside of abortion clinics to protest. Sometimes, that means starting at 5 a.m. before he has to go to school.
"We just stand on the sidewalk and pray," Sarah says. "Sometimes people honk and support but sometimes people even throw cans at us."
The march marks the 41st anniversary of the 1973 Supreme Court decision in the famed Roe v. Wade case that affirmed a woman's right to an abortion. For the ruling's supporters, Wednesday was a day for celebration.
Ilyse Hogue, head of NARAL Pro-Choice America, says her organization on Wednesday was commemorating "the anniversary of the decision that enshrined into law a woman's freedom to decide when, how and with whom to have a family."
But on the Mall, it was all about banning abortion -- and the weather. On Tuesday, the weather canceled the Nellie Gray 5K race, named for the march founder, and some speeches were being shortened Wednesday, but the march to the Supreme Court remained a "go."
"We march because 56 million Americans never had a chance to experience snow," the March for Life tweeted, referring to the estimated number of abortions since the 1973 decision.
Pope Francis was among those tweeting his support for the marchers: "I join the March for Life in Washington with my prayers. May God help us respect all life, especially the most vulnerable."
Former presidential candidate U.S. Rep. Michele Bachman, R-Minn., was among politicians chiming in on Twitter: "My heart is with @March_for_Life today as they speak for the 56 million unborn babies denied their chance at life. #WhyWeMarch."
The weather has canceled flights and stopped some D.C.-bound tour buses, though.
John Triscik, 44, of Hershey, Pa., canceled his plans to take about 50 members of his youth ministry at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church to the March."I'd love to be able to take these kids and show them that even the weather can't silence us, but it's better to be safe than sorry," Triscik said.
Jonathan Hayes, 18, of McVeytown, Pa., found out Tuesday that the buses that were supposed to carry his group of 60 to Washington were canceled.
"Make no mistake, while the weather's impact may postpone or delay the march, it shall never diminish our cause," Hayes said. "It will only uplift our cause even more so by reminding us that nothing -- not even the elements -- shall delay the Pro-life Generation from coming."
Veronika Johannsen, 22, of College Station, Texas, beat the weather and arrived safely for her second time at the march.
"The face is changing. It's not just white male politicians like the pro-choice people like to say," Johannsen said. "All kinds of people come. Religious groups of all different denominations, former abortion workers, women who have been raped or have been conceived in rape."
This is the 40th year that protesters will march from the National Mall to the Supreme Court, and 2014 is bringing changes such as social media and a March For Life app. There is a "virtual march" on Facebook where users who can't make it can post a past March for Life photo as their cover photo to show support.
The theme this year is adoption. Speakers will include Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia and Democratic Rep. Dan Lipinski of Illinois.
"We want to encourage women facing the option of abortion to choose adoption," said Jeanne Monahan, president of the March for Life Education & Defense Fund. "Adoption is at the center of motherhood. Motherhood is all about sacrifices. This is an ultimate sacrifice for the good of the baby."