Tens of thousands of people converged on the District yesterday to participate in the March for Life and to attend Masses in recognition of the 34th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision in the Roe v. Wade case.
The march began at about 2 p.m. on the Mall and moved east past the U.S. Capitol and Supreme Court building in Northeast.
President Bush sent a message of support. In a telephone call broadcast over loudspeakers, he told the marchers that he shares their goal of seeing “the day when every child is welcomed in life and protected into law.”
The court’s decision overturned state laws barring abortion.
Mr. Bush calls the rally each year, usually from distant locations. This year, he extended his weekend stay at Camp David in Maryland to make the call. He phoned last year from Manhattan, Kan.
Students, members of religious groups, families and children slogged through mud and toted signs with messages such as “Abortion kills” and “Justice for all, born and preborn.”
The Rev. Luke J. Robinson, pastor of Quinn Chapel A.M.E. Church in Frederick, Md., asked what would have happened had Martin Luther King been aborted, then described the process in detail.
“I know it sounds horrible, but abortion is horrible,” he said, his voice thundering across the Mall. “It is a murderous and bloody business.”
Before the march, a sea of teens, parents and clergy filled the Verizon Center downtown for a Mass and rally organized by the Archdiocese of Washington.
Washington Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl, who was joined by cardinals, bishops and priests from across the United States, said the Mass was to celebrate “the value and dignity of human life.”
“The church is very much alive and pro-life,” he said to cheers and applause.
The Rev. William D. Byrne, the chaplain at the University of Maryland Catholic Student Center and the archdiocese’s director of campus ministry, delivered the homily and urged participants to “get on board with God’s plan.”
“Abortions happen not because of choice, but because people feel they have no choice,” he said. “A plan will save a life — not just the baby’s.”
Kevin O’Neill, 53, and Bill Stumf, 57, both of Titusville, Pa., came with a large group from the congregation of the Diocese of Erie.
Their group was made up largely of teens, including Mr. O’Neill’s 16-year-old daughter, Erin. The message was not lost on the youths, Mr. O’Neill said.
Father Byrne delivered “a very good homily,” he said. “He got the point across.”
The archdiocese conducted its first rally marking the anniversary in 1995. As participation grew, the rallies were held in several places throughout the region until 2004, when they moved to the Verizon Center.
Simultaneous rallies were held yesterday at DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) Constitution Hall and the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle to handle the overflow at the Verizon Center.
Terry Fortier, 57, of Gaithersburg, joined the march with three of her four adopted children, leading them in chanting, “I was adopted, not aborted.”
Attending her 20th march, Mrs. Fortier marveled at the turnout.
“There is a bigger number of people then there has ever been,” she said as the march snaked toward Capitol Hill.
“It’s nice to see people who care,” said her son Eric, 17.
The Metropolitan Police Department closed several streets and activated the Joint Operations Command Center and its network of downtown surveillance cameras to monitor the activities. Officer Kenny Bryson, an agency spokesman, said late yesterday afternoon that no arrests or incidents had been reported.
Cheryl Rash and Debbie Siegel, both 17, came with a group from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. They shared the president’s view of protecting unborn children.
“I decided since babies can’t speak for themselves, I’d be here to speak for them,” Cheryl said.
Debbie said she has been against abortion all her life.
“I’ve looked at it outside of religion,” she said. “Just because you can’t see doesn’t mean you have to kill it.”
Daniel Taylor and Grace Breitenbach contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.