WASHINGTON – The economy is the top issue in this year’s presidential election for many Americans. And for a vocal minority of them, that includes the abortion issue.

Thousands of pro-life activists descended on the National Mall Monday for the 39th annual March for Life, a protest of the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life, a national pro-life organization, said the 2012 election will be a decisive juncture for the pro-life agenda.

“We anticipate so many Supreme Court nominations coming up in the very near future,” Yoest said. “The next president who takes office is going to set the direction of the Supreme Court for this generation.”

But Stephen Hess, a politics expert at the Brookings Institution, said abortion is not a “decisive issue” in this year’s election.

“This is a year where the economy is an overriding issue,” he said.

Actually, Yoest said, there is overlap between the economy and the pro-life agenda. She noted that many of the signs poking out above the crowd on the Mall Monday demanded “De-Fund Planned Parenthood.”

“Pro-life Americans are saying, ‘Why are we subsidizing Planned Parenthood, who has a budget of a billion dollars a year? Why are our tax dollars going to subsidize something that we find morally repugnant?’”

For many pro-life activists, a candidate’s stance on abortion is a voting issue, and Obama’s pro-choice position renders him a non-option. Last week, the Obama administration ruled that most health insurance plans must cover birth control for women free of charge. He rejected an appeal from the Roman Catholic Church to exempt insurance provided to employees of Catholic hospitals, colleges and charities.

Obama’s views are not acceptable for Mark Daniels, a student at the Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio.

“I know that I can’t conscionably vote for somebody who’s pro-abortion,” Daniels, 20, said. “So that’ll definitely be difficult depending on who gets the Republican nomination.”

Mitt Romney, a declared pro-life supporter, is also a problematic candidate due to his past pro-choice beliefs, Daniels said. Romney is the only contender for the GOP nomination with an ambiguous record on abortion; Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul have all explicitly asserted their pro-life stances.

Clare Naughton, 22, came from New York City to protest at the march. She is adamantly pro-life, but in considering the other issues at play this year, she is torn over who will get her vote.

“Our economy is in a horrible place right now,” Naughton said. “I think that will take precedence in a lot of people’s minds, because it affects them first and foremost. But we can’t forget that there’s millions of children being killed every year that don’t have a voice.”