Legions of pro-life activists Thursday descended on the Mall for the annual March for Life, marking the 36th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion in Roe v. Wade.
"There's a couple hundred thousand people here and we're psyched," said Michael Tiziani, 17, a member of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, which brought about 300 members to the event. Marchers said the crowd was about as large as those of previous protests, which drew about 250,000.
The crowd virtually stood in the footsteps of 1.8 million people who two days earlier came to the Mall to witness the inauguration of President Obama, who is pro-choice.
The march began at about 12:30 p.m. with a rally at the Mall near Fourth Street, then proceeded along Constitution Avenue, turning right on First Street toward the steps of the Supreme Court, where another rally was held.
Most marchers held mass-produced signs that said "We Choose Life" or "End Abortion Now," while others held more provocative signs such as "Your Mom Chose Life."
The new president was on the minds of many marchers as they listened to about 20 congressmen and other speakers detail the challenges pro-life advocates face under the Obama administration.
"For the past 14 years we pro-lifers have had it easy; that's all changed," said Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican and former chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
"Mr. Obama, you are a great orator, but you must also be a great doer. You must enact changes that will save lives," said March for Life founder Nellie Gray.
The crowd, which was made up largely of teenagers, college students and other youths, was upbeat. Many of the marchers were wearing Obama pins and hats from the inauguration.
"I voted for Obama, I love his passion, but I understand his positions and I just think he's wrong on this particular issue. Life comes before politics for me," said David Alderran, 28, of Louisville, Ky., who attended the inauguration with his wife and newborn daughter.
"I'm excited about his optimism, about the change he'll bring, even though I'm disappointed with his abortion views," said Melissa Carnacchi, 20, a student at Eastern Michigan University. She was among about 50 other students from Michigan Students for Life who attended the march.
Mr. Obama had been invited to speak during the march, according to Miss Gray.
Instead, he issued a statement declaring his support for abortion rights, saying abortion "not only protects women's health and reproductive freedom, but stands for a broader principle: that government should not intrude on our most private family matters."
A key legislative item that the crowd rallied against was the Freedom of Choice Act, an umbrella bill that aims to protect women's health and their right "to begin, prevent or continue a pregnancy." Pro-life activists fear the bill would eliminate restrictions on abortions, including parental notification for minors.
Mr. Obama has said that he would sign the bill if passed by Congress.
"I'm scared of the bill; we need to protect our babies," said Adrienne Washington, 49 of Lynchburg, Va.
Before the march began, around 18,000 young people attended a rally at the Verizon Center near Chinatown, where they listened to an address by Pope Benedict XVI, relayed by Archbishop Pietro Sambri, apostolic nuncio to the United States.
"His Holiness is deeply grateful for your outstanding annual witness for the gospel of life. The Holy Father encourages young people to make their voices heard on this burning moral issue," Archbishop Sambi said.