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Republicans capitalize on wintry Roe vs. Wade protest

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WASHINGTON — On a snow-covered National Mall in freezing temperatures, Republican members of Congress used an annual anti-abortion march Wednesday to reaffirm their stance on the divisive issue, the latest sign they do not intend to soften their opposition in the run-up to midterm elections.

More than it has in past years, the Republican Party leaders seemed to embrace the 41st annual March for Life rally as a platform to galvanize supporters at a time when the party is gearing up to more vigorously rebuff attacks by Democrats it is waging a “war” on women. Some strategists warn the party’s stance on abortion has hurt it with female voters.

Seeing abortion as an important 2014 campaign theme, numerous Republicans attended this year’s march, which drew thousands of participants to protest the Supreme Court’s landmark 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision legalizing abortion. The RNC adjusted the schedule for its annual winter planning retreat -- which also began Wednesday -- to accommodate party officials who wanted to attend the march. The party even picked up the tab for shuttling members from the rally to the meeting.

“We will do everything in our power to make sure that our values and the sanctity of life are reflected in the law of the land,” said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), who assured activists his party will continue to fight for greater restrictions on abortion.

Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) told the crowd Republicans would seek to make permanent the Hyde Amendment, which currently restricts taxpayer funding for abortions in federal programs, such as Medicaid. Cantor said the bill will get a vote next week.

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Former Pennsylvania senator and Republican presidential contender Rick Santorum urged his party to be more proactive on the issue of abortion.

“I don’t think we’ve done a very good job and we need to do a better job articulating the extreme positions of the Democratic Party and holding them accountable with how out of [step] they are with the American public on this issue,” Santorum said in an interview after the rally. “We don’t talk about how extreme they are. We sit quietly and let them go on offense against trumped-up issues on our side. Hopefully the Republican Party has wised up that that’s a losing strategy.”

A faction of RNC members this week introduced a “Resolution on Republican Pro-Life Strategy,” calling upon the party “to reject a strategy of silence on the abortion issue.” A spokeswoman said the RNC sees abortion as a winning issue if they can frame it on their own terms.

“We need to take back the messaging and positively promote our social agenda using facts,” RNC spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski said in an email. She noted the party plans to advocate alternatives, such as adoption, or restrictions, such as parental consent. Adoption was the theme of Wednesday’s march.

Democrats predicted voters would reject the RNC’s position on abortion.

“This is a simple and once again unfortunate case of leader Cantor and House Republicans pandering to the extreme right at the expense of women’s health,” Kelly Ward, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee executive director, said in a statement. “Republicans face political trouble at home because the American people want Congress to focus on the economy and on strengthening the middle class, not these divisive and already settled fights on a woman’s access to important medical care.”

In addition to the more visible Republican Party participation, this year’s march was also notable for its embrace of social media, with marchers waving signs to advertise hashtags such as “#teamlife and #whywemarch.” To booming applause from the audience, Jeanne Monahan, president of the march, read a tweet that Pope Francis sent in support of the rally.

Adriana Shubeck, a 19-year-old New Jersey native who came to the rally with a group of students from Villanova University, said she had been following the event on Facebook. "[Social media] gets more people thinking about things that they wouldn’t ordinarily think about and inspires more people to come out here,” she said during the march, which ended at the steps of the Supreme Court.

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daniel.rothberg@latimes.com

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