On the 37th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision legalizing abortion on demand, pro-lifers will once again gather in Washington, D.C., to call for protection of the unborn — tens of thousands of peaceful protesters once again braving the coldest month of the year to march in our nation’s capital.

No other civil rights movement can claim an equivalent feat. And while the courts and the U.S. Congress have generally been unwilling to overturn the legalization of abortion, Americans have increasingly identified themselves as pro-life. In addition, almost three-quarters of Americans oppose any public funding of abortion. Pro-lifers have more than proved that they are in this fight for the long haul, which is one reason that abortion supporters are continually seeking ways to surreptitiously guarantee that abortion will not be banned. From mandating that medical students be taught abortion procedures to restricting conscience protections for medical and pharmaceutical personnel, the legislative efforts to protect abortion continue.

Which brings us to the present moment. This year’s pro-life march may be the most important since its inception. This is because it is taking place during an intense political struggle over the role of abortion and conscience protections in the final health care bill to be voted on by both houses of Congress.

These negotiations will primarily occur in the proverbial smoke-filled room as the Democratic leadership counts its votes behind closed doors and dares its pro-life minority to bear responsibility for sinking the bill. Much of this high-stakes dickering will take place in private, with the details revealed only when it will be too late to mount any sort of opposition.

In the first phase of this legislative process, the House of Representatives did its part by passing the Stupak Amendment, praised by the U.S. bishops and most pro-life groups for keeping any sort of covert abortion funding out of the health care reform legislation. The Senate’s version, however, has been called “deficient” by the U.S. bishops both for its failure to ban such funding and for its failure to protect the conscience rights of hospitals and health care workers.

The Catholic bishops have been the foremost religious group resisting the many efforts to sneak some sort of abortion option in the back door of the legislative process. What makes their opposition particularly noteworthy is that they are natural allies of the Democratic effort to expand health care protection. The Church’s leaders support the principle of health care reform, but they resist the notion that one must compromise on the protection of human life in order to pass any legislation, however praiseworthy some of its other provisions are. (The bishops are also opposed to efforts to exclude legal or illegal immigrants from health care protection.)

In light of this struggle, it is incumbent on pro-lifers to turn out in force to march in Washington, D.C., and in local right-to-life marches around the country. A heavy turnout will encourage pro-life Democrats to hold their ground. It will also say to President Barack Obama that we hold him to his word. In September, he told Americans that “no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions, and federal conscience laws will remain in place.” We expect him to uphold this position, and we oppose any “bookkeeping gimmicks” that will allow direct or indirect subsidies of private insurance policies that cover abortion on demand.

If you’ve never been to a pro-life rally, make this the year. If you’ve never written a pro-life letter to the editor or to your congressional representative, make this the year. It is critical that the voice of the pro-life majority be heard now.