The expected large turnout for the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., was a casualty of the storm that struck the Northeast on Friday.
Crowds on the route were much smaller than usual, and several Southwestern Pennsylvania residents who traveled to Washington for the march against abortion -- including Pittsburgh Catholic Bishop David Zubik — returned early Friday before the blizzard struck.
Catholic students from St. Paul Seminary in East Carnegie and St. Vincent College in Latrobe arrived by bus in Washington Thursday and attended an annual all-night prayer vigil.
But with forecasts of a historic blizzard bearing down on the East Coast, and Washington's Metro system being shut down, they decided it was safest to return Friday morning.
Some Pittsburgh-area schools that had planned to send buses Friday canceled, said Bishop Zubik.
He said he wasn't too disappointed about missing the march.
"There's always a lesson in it," he said. "We need to be about continually standing up for life, not just on Jan. 22."
The March for Life is held each year to mark the anniversary of the Jan. 22, 1973, Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. The march typically draws hundreds of thousands to voice opposition to abortion as well as euthanasia of the old and sick.
Catholics hold an annual all-night vigil the night before the march at the Basilica of the National Shrine Immaculate Conception.
Bishop Zubik presided at the vigil's closing Mass on Friday morning in which he urged participants to think of those in their lives who taught them to care for the vulnerable.
"We know little things mean a lot," he said. "We have to value not only the unborn but also the aging, victims of human trafficking and pornography, refugees and prisoners."
Seminarian Joseph Uzar, a fourth-year student at St. Paul Seminary, said he has been traveling to the annual march for eight years.
He said he was disappointed to miss the march but that its better than risking getting stuck on the highway. He appreciated the chance to take part in the vigil in the packed basilica, being "part of the universal church ... praying for the preservation of life."
The Washington Post reported that Friday’s turnout for the march likely was the smallest ever.
Ahead of the march, with the roughly four-hour event about to begin, the usually packed sidewalks leading to the Mall were dotted with a thin stream of faithful marchers, including Catholic school students holding signs and wearing matching hats and other items, groups of nuns and priests and a smattering of evangelicals.
District officials had asked organizers to consider canceling due to the the weather but they declined, noting they had carried on every year despite inclement weather.
Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina was scheduled to speak first, with prominent Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore also slated to take the podium as part of a more obvious presence of evangelicals this year.
Ms. Fiorina spoke in fiery tones to the crowd, slamming “the media,” feminism and her potential opponent Hillary Clinton.
“You can throw condoms at me all day long,” she said of opponents.
Peter Smith: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1416. The Washington Post contributed.
First Published January 22, 2016 10:36 AM