Thousands of people are expected to converge on the Mall today to mark the 35th anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion.
The annual March for Life, a protest of the court's 1973 ruling, is expected to begin at noon with a rally on the Mall between Fourth and Seventh streets in Northwest. Pro-life demonstrators then will march to the Supreme Court in a procession that is expected to last about three hours.
"People will get on a bus and travel 24, 48, 72 hours, some even further," said Wendy Wright, president of the public policy group Concerned Women for America, whose members will participate in the pro-life march. "That's such an immense dedication, which is striking when you consider it is not on behalf of privileges or rights for themselves."
Marchers will have to brave temperatures hovering just above the freezing mark, along with the possibility of rain and sleet. The National Weather Service is predicting a high of 35 degrees today with an 80 percent chance of precipitation.
Still, protesters from across the country are expected to participate. Catholic University, in Northeast, is hosting more than 1,600 high-school students and their chaperones in the school's gymnasium and at the nearby Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
The students, most of whom arrived by bus, were to sleep on the floor last night before joining the march downtown today.
"It's a huge thing for these students coming from all over, and it's a special event for our university as well," university spokesman Victor Nakas said.
The Metropolitan Police Department will be intermittently closing streets from about 1 to 4 p.m. along the march's route — which includes Fourth Street to Pennsylvania Avenue in Northwest and Constitution Avenue Northwest to First Street Northeast.
Other streets, including Seventh Street between H Street Northwest and Independence Avenue Southwest, and Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest from Fourth to Seventh streets also are expected to close, and parking will be prohibited on several streets.
Police spokeswoman Traci Hughes said the Joint Operations Command Center and its network of downtown surveillance cameras will be activated to monitor the activities.
The march is the highlight of numerous pro-life rallies, conferences and vigils scheduled in the District over the past few days. It also will be preceded this morning by the Rally for Life and Youth Mass, a free event hosted by the Archdiocese of Washington at the Verizon Center.
The archdiocese conducted its first rally in 1995. As participation grew, the rallies were held in several places throughout the region until 2004, when they all were held at the Verizon Center on F and Seventh streets in Northwest.
More than 20,000 people are expected to attend this year's rally, archdiocese spokeswoman Susan Gibbs said. Doors will open at 7 a.m., and a Mass celebrated by Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl will begin at 10 a.m.
"One of the things we've seen is the pro-life movement, rather than aging out, this one has done a reverse and is getting younger," Miss Gibbs said. "By the youth coming together in one place in that number, they get reinforced in their beliefs and their commitment."
The event also will serve as a trial run for the April visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the District.
Archbishop Pietro Sambi — the pope's representative to the United States — and officials with the Washington Nationals will observe the services and communion in preparation for the April 17 papal Mass in the new Nationals stadium.