Tens of thousands of anti-abortion activists descended on the National Mall Thursday afternoon for the annual March for Life, marking the 36th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, 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 close to 300 members to the event. Marchers said the crowd was about as large as previous protests, which drew about 250,000.
The crowd virtually retraced the steps of nearly 2 million people two day ago who came to witness the inauguration of President Obama, who is pro-choice. The march began at around 12:30 p.m. with a rally at the Mall near 4th street, then proceeded along Constitution Avenue, turning right on First Street toward the steps of the Supreme Court, where another rally was held.
The new president was on the minds of most marchers as they listened to about 20 congressman and other speakers detail the challenges they face under the Obama administration.
"For the past 14 years we pro-lifers have had it easy ... that's all changed," said Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, 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 largely upbeat, with many still 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 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 Mellissa Carnacchi, 20, a student at Eastern Michigan University. She was among about 50 other students from the "Michigan Students for Life" who attended the march.
With the swearing-in of Mr. Obama, many marchers were hoping that the event's large turnout would bring more debate to the topic of abortion.
"We want to open people's eyes, to help them believe that abortion is wrong. We're talking about people's lives here," said Katie Eberts, 20, who attends the University of Michigan.
A key legislative item that the crowd rallied against was the 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." Many pro-life activists feel that the bill would eliminate restrictions on abortion nationwide, including parental notification for minors.
Mr. Obama has said that he would sign the bill into law if passed by the 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 were given an official 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," said Archbishop Sambi.