WASHINGTON -- Three days after the 40th anniversary of the decision in Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court case that legalized abortion, thousands of abortion opponents from around the country came to the National Mall on Friday for the annual March for Life rally, which culminated in a demonstration in front of the Supreme Court building.
On a gray morning when the temperature was well below freezing, the crowd pressed in close against the stage to hear more than a dozen speakers, who included Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council; Representative Diane Black, Republican of Tennessee, who recently introduced legislation to withhold financing from Planned Parenthood, and Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky; Cardinal Seán Patrick O'Malley of Boston; and Rick Santorum, the former senator from Pennsylvania and Republican presidential candidate.
Mr. Santorum spoke of his wife's decision not to have an abortion after they learned that their youngest daughter, Bella, suffered from a rare genetic disorder called Trisomy 18.
"We all know that death is never better, never better," Mr. Santorum said. "Bella is better for us, and we are better because of Bella."
Jeanne Monahan, the president of the March for Life Education and Defense Fund, said in an interview that the march was both somber and hopeful.
"We've lost 55 million Americans to abortion," she said. "At the same time, I think we're starting to win. We're winning in the court of public opinion, we're winning in the states with legislation."
Though the main event officially started at noon, the day began much earlier for the participants, with groups in matching scarves engaged in excited chatter on the subway and gaggles of schoolchildren wearing name tags around their necks. Arriving on the Mall, attendees were greeted with free signs ("Defund Planned Parenthood" and "Personhood for Everyone") and a man barking into a megaphone, "Ireland is on the brink of legalizing abortion, which is not good."
The march came two months after the 2012 campaign season, in which social issues like abortion largely took a back seat to the focus on the economy. But the issue did come up in Congressional races in which Republican candidates made controversial statements about rape or abortion. In Indiana, Richard Mourdock, a Republican candidate for the Senate, said in a debate that he believed that pregnancies resulting from rape were something that "God intended," and in Illinois, Representative Joe Walsh said in a debate that abortion was never necessary to save the life of the mother because of "advances in science and technology." Both men lost, hurt by a backlash from female voters.
Recent polls show that while a majority of Americans do not want Roe v. Wade to be overturned entirely, many favor some restrictions. In a Gallup poll released this week, 52 percent of those surveyed said that abortions should be legal only under certain circumstances, while 28 percent said they should be legal under all circumstances, and 18 percent said they should be illegal under all circumstances. In a Pew poll this month, 63 percent of respondents said they did not want Roe v. Wade to be overturned completely, and 29 percent said they did -- views largely consistent with surveys taken over the past two decades.
"Most Americans want some restrictions on abortion," Ms. Monahan said. "We see abortion as the human rights abuse of today."
Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio, who spoke via a recorded video, called on the protest group, particularly the young people, to make abortion "a relic of the past."
"Human life is not an economic or political commodity, and no government on earth has the right to treat it that way," he said.
The crowd was dotted with large banners, many bearing the names of the attendees' home states and churches and colleges. Gary Storey, 36, stood holding a handmade sign that read "I was adopted. Thanks Mom for my life." Next to him stood his adoptive mother, Ellen Storey, 66, who held her own handmade sign with a picture of her six children and the words "To the mothers of our four adopted children, 'Thank You' for their lives."
Mr. Storey said he was grateful for the decision by his biological mother to carry through with her pregnancy. "Beats the alternative," he joked.
Last week, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America started a new Web site, and on Tuesday, the organization's president, Cecile Richards, released a statement supporting abortion rights.
"Planned Parenthood understands that abortion is a deeply personal and often complex decision for a woman to consider, if and when she needs it," she said in the statement. "A woman should have accurate information about all of her options around her pregnancy. To protect her health and the health of her family, a woman must have access to safe, legal abortion without interference from politicians, as protected by the Supreme Court for the last 40 years."
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.