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Washington, D.C., rally marks Roe v. Wade anniversary, new president

Posted: January 22, 2009 5:30 p.m.
Updated: January 22, 2009 5:38 p.m.

Protestors rally on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on the 36th anniversary of the court's Roe v. Wade decision.

 
WASHINGTON (AP) - Tens of thousands of abortion opponents rallied Thursday on the National Mall to mark the 36th anniversary of Roe v. Wade amid concerns they could face political setbacks under the new president.

The rally and subsequent march to the Supreme Court came two days after the swearing-in of President Barack Obama, which many demonstrators said emphasized the need to become more vocal with their message.

Among those attending the rally marking the 1973 ruling that legalized abortion was Kirk Kramer of Cottage City, Md., who held up a sign reading: "The Audacity Of Hope: No More Roe."

Kramer, a Democrat, said he has mixed feelings about Obama. He supports the president's position on Iraq but said he was concerned about statements Obama made during the campaign indicating support for the Freedom of Choice Act, which would overrule many state-level restrictions on access to abortion.

"Our country is better than the war we have fought in Iraq and we are better than legalizing abortion," he said.

In a letter posted on their Web site, organizers invited Obama to speak at Thursday's rally.

"America needs your strong leadership as president of all the people to stop the intentional killing of an estimated 3,000 pre-born boys and girls each day and the brutalizing of mind, heart and body of pregnant mothers," the letter states.

Obama, who did not attend the rally, issued a statement Thursday saying the government "should not intrude on our most private family matters" and reaffirming his support for abortion rights.

"While this is a sensitive and often divisive issue, no matter what our views, we are united in our determination to prevent unintended pregnancies, reduce the need for abortion, and support women and families in the choices they make," Obama said.

A small group of abortion-rights supporters also gathered in front of the Supreme Court on Thursday.

Lisa King of Washington, D.C., said she is disappointed that Obama did not immediately move to overturn the so-called "global gag rule," which denies U.S. funds to any international family planning group that provides abortion-related services or information.

"I'm just waiting and seeing really," King said. "I don't have any huge expectations just because he's a Democrat."

She said she worries the abortion issue will be a low priority, given all the other problems Obama faces.

President George W. Bush regularly voiced support for those attending the annual anti-abortion rally. In audio remarks broadcast to demonstrators last year, he said biology confirms that from the start, each unborn child is a separate individual with his or her own genetic code.

Speakers at this year's rally included Republican Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana.

"We're going to win this fight," he told cheering supporters, "because of your faith and your commitment to your work."

American public opinion about abortion has been fairly stable in recent decades, with polls nearly always finding a narrow majority saying the procedure should be legal in all or most cases.

Lyn Williams, who traveled to Thursday's rally from State College, Pa., said she did not vote for Obama because she said he ran a left-wing ticket, but that she's been pleased with his more moderate choices for his Cabinet.

"Maybe he's going to surprise us, and I'm praying he will," she said.

The rally stretched for about three blocks on the Mall and included many young people.

The Rev. Boniface Ewah, who leads a Corning, N.Y., parish, said he likes Obama's message of hope and believes that Catholics have an opportunity to educate Obama about the importance of protecting the unborn.

"I believe that God can touch the heart of the president," he said.

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