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A Youthful Throng Marches Against Abortion

By Sue Anne Pressley Montes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Tens of thousands of abortion opponents took to the cold, gray streets of Washington yesterday, buoyed by a recent report that the number of abortions in the United States had hit the lowest level in years and vowing to continue the fight.

Many of the participants in the March for Life were young people, many from religious clubs and church-run schools from as far away as Ohio, Texas and Tennessee. The march has been held each year since 1974 to protest the Supreme Court's Jan. 22, 1973, decision that most laws against abortion violate a constitutional right to privacy.

In many ways, the march resembled a gigantic pep rally, with smiling teenagers in matching scarves or sweat shirts holding school banners high as they moved along Constitution Avenue NW toward the Supreme Court. But the individual signs they clutched told of their commitment to a cause: "Give Life, Don't Take It" and "Your Mother Was Pro-Life."

"It's illegal to kill someone walking down the street, so it should be illegal to kill someone in the womb," said Topher Boehm, 17, a member of the Pro-Life Club at the Jesuit College Preparatory School of Dallas. "This is the social justice issue of our era, and I want to do something about it."

Kelsey Wilson, 16, and Michelle Caulder, 17, along with their group from a Catholic church in Indianapolis, waved "Defend Life" signs as they maneuvered through the crush of people. This was their third Washington march, and they plan to keep coming, they said, until abortions are outlawed.

"I think abortion is wrong. People have reasons why they think it's right," Caulder said. "But it's wrong all the time."

The march capped three days of antiabortion events, including a Luau for Life at Georgetown University, prayers at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and a candlelight vigil at the Supreme Court.

At a youth concert and Mass at Verizon Center yesterday morning, a message from Pope Benedict XVI was read to more than 20,000 youths. The pope, who will visit the United States in April, thanked them "for promoting respect for the dignity and inalienable rights of every human being, including the smallest and most defenseless members of our human family."

At a noon rally, President Bush spoke to the crowds via a telephone hookup from the White House, in what has become an annual greeting. "Thirty-five years ago today, the Supreme Court declared and decided that under the law an unborn child is not considered a person," Bush said. ". . . Today, we're heartened -- we're heartened by the news that the number of abortions is declining. But the most recent data reports that more than one in five pregnancies end in an abortion."

According to the report released last week by the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive-health research organization, the number of abortions performed in the United States dropped to 1.2 million in 2005, the lowest level since 1976. But many of yesterday's marchers said that that is not good enough and that they will not stop until all abortions are illegal.

"We make the journey every year -- this is a very important part of our commitment to saving lives," said Mike Conroy, 67, a retired pilot from Wexford, Pa., who was attending his ninth March for Life with a Knights of Columbus group. Attached to his baseball cap was a tiny pair of gold feet, three-eighths of an inch long, that he said was the size of an unborn child's feet at 10 weeks.

"We hope we're making progress," he said, "but even one abortion is wrong."

Viola Eichner, 70, also was attending her ninth march in as many years. "Abortion is a very violent act," said Eichner, who runs a farm market in Wexford. "That's where the violence starts in the world, with abortion."

D.C. police said there were no major incidents at the march.

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