"Roe v. Wade was an unforgivable decision made a long time ago," said John J. Sandhaas of Long Island, N.Y., who said he has attended nearly every March for Life since the protests began in 1974. "Abortion has to be overturned--it's just too horrendous a thing. A whole generation of children has been lost."
As marchers threaded their way from the Ellipse to the Capitol and Supreme Court, they held aloft posters of aborted fetuses as well as banners asking "What if Jesus' mother had an abortion?" Some cradled babies and toddlers in their arms.
"Society needs to recognize everyone has the right to live," said Matt Matthews of Delaware, who was accompanied by his wife and 10 children. He said he and his wife had been advised to consider aborting their youngest child, 2-year-old Miriam, after in utero tests revealed she had Down syndrome. "Our children need our protection."
Also among the protesters were a number of parochial school students from as far away as Massachusetts and West Virginia, many of whom had been excused from class for the day to attend the event.
Event organizers called on protesters to champion the movement to end legal abortion as "a human rights issue, not a political issue."
"The purpose of our coming into Washington every year is to get action on Capitol Hill to overturn Roe v. Wade," said Nellie Gray, who heads the March for Life Education and Defense Fund. "This is not a political rally. We are here today to think of babies and how we can get legislation passed to save them."
The anti-abortion protest comes as the Supreme Court prepares to consider two key court cases involving abortion. In April, the court will review the rights of anti-abortion protesters outside clinics, and review Nebraska's ban on a controversial late-term abortion procedure opponents have dubbed "partial-birth" abortion.
"This year we have an opportunity for the Supreme Court to take a step in the right direction," said Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Kansas. "Wouldn't it be wonderful if instead of a step away from human life, the court took a step toward protecting human life? It would be a step in the right direction for America."
A spokeswoman for the Family Research Council spoke out against the late-term abortion procedure in a statement.
"As the American Medical Association has stated, there is no medical justification for partial-birth abortion--a grisly procedure in which a child's skull is punctured and his brains suctioned out," said Janet Parshall, chief spokeswoman for the Family Research Council. "If we call ourselves a civilized society, we cannot tolerate this brutality any longer."
House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, pledged to reintroduce legislation to make it a federal crime to use the procedure.
"I marvel at the people who fight for prenatal care from the moment of conception and then believe it's not a child until the third trimester," he said. "Ladies and gentlemen, that is a baby, one of God's creatures. I am committed to passing legislation this year to stop partial-birth abortion procedures. I am committed to protecting the unborn child from violence. This fight will never end until we end this awful practice of killing God's children."