By David Snyder
Washington Post Staff Writer
WASHINGTON, DC – 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.
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 Nolan, 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.
“Young people want a cause, and this is the greatest cause ever — the cause of life, the culture of life,” Thomason said.
Standing in the snow outside MCI Center as hundreds streamed by to meet the larger march beginning about a half-mile away, Maryann Tyrer, 38, of Kernersville, N.C., said it was her second trip to the annual march.
A teacher at Bishop McGuiness High School in Kernersville, Tyrer came to Washington early Sunday morning with 130 students in three buses. The group had to delay its departure from North Carolina by a few hours because of snow, she said. The activists made it into Washington late Sunday afternoon and slept on a gymnasium floor at Catholic University.
“We’re here to make a stand for life in all its stages,” she said. “We hope the presence of this huge crowd will send a message to our elected leaders that a huge portion of the electorate is pro-life.”
Thousands of placards that said “Fight for Life” were stacked like firewood against MCI Center’s outer walls, awaiting the thousands of celebrants who would join the thousands already at the Ellipse.
As he has since 2001, Bush spoke to the gathering masses over a loudspeaker system via telephone. Yesterday, he spoke from the presidential retreat at Camp David. In past years, he has addressed the crowd, but never in person.
Marchers chanting the prayers of the rosary moved swiftly and steadily up Constitution Avenue, bearing signs that said “Abortion is Homicide” and “Pro-Vida,” or “pro-life” in Spanish.
Organizers estimated the crowd at 100,000. Following common practice with large gatherings on the Mall, law enforcement officials did not provide a crowd estimate. The march appeared to fill up much of Constitution Avenue for the two-mile distance between the Ellipse and the Supreme Court, and at times marchers were shoulder-to-shoulder for the entire walkable width of the street.
The march appeared to be nonconfrontational and often was quiet, except for occasional chants of “Hey ho, hey ho! Roe v. Wade has got to go!”
The antiabortion marchers encountered several small clusters of counter-demonstrators, but there appeared to be few confrontations between the groups. D.C. police and U.S. Park Police reported no arrests or disturbances.
A handful of National Organization for Women counter-demonstrators met the march near the steps of the Supreme Court. Holding signs that said, “Keep Abortion Legal,” the small group exchanged words with antiabortion activists, but nobody appeared to raise their voices.
Staff writers Michael A. Fletcher and Del Quentin Wilber contributed to this report.
© 2005 The Washington Post Company
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