Boosted by support from President Bush, tens of thousands of antiabortion advocates marched on the Mall yesterday as part of an annual protest of the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision guaranteeing women the right to abortion.
Raked by stiff winds and subfreezing temperatures throughout the day, marchers from across the country walked peacefully and often silently from the Ellipse to the Supreme Court, where they renewed their yearly call for Roe v. Wade to be overturned.
Participants in the March for Life make their way up Constitution Avenue to the Supreme Court, where they called for the overturn of Roe v. Wade.
(Photos Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)
Speaking via telephone to the gathering crowd on the snowy Ellipse, Bush suggested that abortion opponents might be closer to achieving the goal of outlawing abortion.
"I encourage you to take heart from our achievements," he said. "Because the true culture of life cannot be sustained solely by changing laws. We need, most of all, to change hearts."
With members of the Supreme Court in their seventies and eighties, optimism that the narrow margin on the court that has sustained the ruling will disappear was palpable among the antiabortion activists. Abortion opponents are hopeful that Bush will make several Supreme Court appointments in his second term and that the appointees will oppose Roe.
"The end to abortion on demand has started," Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) told thousands who gathered in the open park south of the White House before the march began. "Spring has begun -- a spring when all babies . . . will be born, not aborted."
Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women, said abortion rights groups are watching the court carefully, particularly since the reelection of Bush, who has been supportive of antiabortion groups.
"People who have truly believed that our rights are not in jeopardy are getting a wake-up call," she said. "Our rights really are in danger, and I believe that will involve many more people in the issue who are deeply concerned about losing these rights."
Yesterday's march began with a morning youth rally and Catholic Mass at MCI Center, where Christian pop bands and singers greeted thousands of antiabortion advocates. They came from as far away as California to participate in the Mass, presided over by Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, archbishop of Washington.
"The most important thing is the search for the guarantee of life," McCarrick told the crowd, which appeared to nearly reach the arena's 20,000-seat capacity. "The desire to have a pro-life generation in America is not fading out."
Buses from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, North Carolina and Ohio filled the streets surrounding MCI Center, disgorging hundreds of youths and their adult chaperones, who filled the arena with an exuberant cacophony.
"We're the generation who were born after 1973, so we consider ourselves survivors," said Martha Nolen, 28, of Gibson Island. "We're trying to save the lives of future generations."
Bands played from a stage on the arena floor, where hundreds of seats were reserved for clerical leaders from across the country. Banners from congregations in Michigan, North Carolina and Ohio cascaded from the center's upper levels.
Mark Thomason, 28, came to the rally from Steubenville, Ohio, as part of an antiabortion group called Crossroads, which rallies younger people to antiabortion cause by staging long walks around the country.