Tens of thousands of anti-abortion demonstrators have converged on the US Supreme Court to protest its landmark decision 40 years ago this week that legalised abortion in America.
Organisers of the annual “March for Life” on the National Mall in Washington said a record crowd surpassed last year’s turnout of 400,000, even with Friday’s sub-freezing temperatures.
Cheering them on from the Vatican was Pope Benedict XVI, who sent his best wishes via Twitter.
“I join all those marching for life from afar, and pray that political leaders will protect the unborn and promote a culture of life,” he tweeted on his @Pontifex account.
Roe versus Wade
Tuesday was the 40th anniversary of the Roe versus Wade decision, in which the highest court in the US ruled that abortion was a strictly private matter between a woman and her doctor.
The 1973 decision is seen by the pro-abortion camp as a breakthrough for women, but the anti-abortion movement – with support from the Roman Catholic and conservative Evangelical churches – sees itself as rapidly gaining ground.
“Being pro-life is the new normal,” Jeanne Monahan, the new president of March for Life after the August 2012 death of its founder Nellie Gray, said on broadcaster MSNBC a few hours before the demonstration.
She cited a recent Gallup poll in which 50 percent of respondents identified themselves as being against abortion – in contrast to 41 percent who believed in a woman’s right to choose on the issue, down from 56 percent in 1995.
Abortion, she said, “is the human rights abuse of today”.
The March for Life usually takes place on the anniversary of Roe versus Wade, but it was pushed back three days this year to accommodate Monday’s second term swearing-in ceremony for President Barack Obama.
Snow began to fall as the crowd – which included a remarkably large number of young women – reached the Supreme Court after winding its way around the Capitol from the National Mall.
‘Murder by appointment’
Protesters from as far afield as Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri and Oklahoma waved placards reading “Defend life”, “Abortion: murder by appointment” and “Save the baby humans”.
“I just think abortion is wrong,” high school student Lacy Craig, 17, of Wellington, Kansas, told AFP news agency. “One of my friends is pregnant and I cannot imagine her not having her baby.”
“I totally understand why people [terminate a pregnancy],” Craig added, “but I just don’t think it’s the right choice. It’s not. It doesn’t help.”
Lutheran pastor Paul Herter, 58, from Adrian, Michigan, said there have been “some big pro-life advances” in recent years – a reference to legislation at the state level that critics say discourage women from having abortions.
“But by and large Roe versus Wade remains the big stumbling block,” he said.
“Why we are here is to try to persuade and to educate, so that people understand that life begins at conception and that we should try to treasure human life from conception to natural death and all stages in between.”