Thousands of demonstrators, religious figures and other opponents of abortion rights converged on the Washington Monument at noon yesterday exactly 28 years after the Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.

Speakers at the monument vowed, with the help of a supportive President George W. Bush, to attempt to make the procedure illegal.

Hours before the noon rally, Bush announced he would sign an order prohibiting foreign aid from going to overseas groups that promote abortion. Bush did not personally appear at the rally, but a statement from him was read.

The new president has termed himself “pro-life” and has called for legislation to restrict access to abortion and ban “partial-birth” abortions, but has not publicly called for the Roe v. Wade decision to be overturned.

Students from Georgetown and other colleges who had attended an on-campus conference on Sunday joined with the demonstrators to walk the one mile to the Supreme Court. The annual conference was sponsored by Compass, the Georgetown University Knights of Columbus, GU Right to Life and University Faculty for Life.

“I thought it was powerful,” Kevin Manz (MSB ’03), grand knight of Georgetown’s Knights of Columbus, said. “We were peacefully asking for a change in the way our laws are structured.”

The U.S. Park Police no longer make estimates of the number of participants, but Manz, who has attended the march for four years, said that he thought approximately 400,000 to 500,000 people attended. Participants at the start of the march covered nearly three complete city blocks.

“I was really surprised,” Manz said, “that a half-million people can gather to promote an issue so controversial and emotional, and can do it peacefully.”

“It’s encouraging to have such solidarity,” Lauren Johannesson (COL ’04) said. Johannesson has been attending the march since high school, when she would come to Washington, D.C. to march with her classmates.

Before beginning the march, Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) spoke to the crowd saying, “Two days ago Americans gathered on the Washington Mall to celebrate our nation’s ideals,” then added a message from Bush saying, “Today, you are gathered to remind our country that one of those ideals is the infinite value of every life.”

Smith is one of Congress’ most outspoken opponents of abortion.

Bush’s statement urged that the United States become a nation in which “every child is welcomed in life and protected by law.” He added, “We know this will not come easily or quickly.”

After Smith spoke, Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) led the crowd in prayer before the crowd spilled onto Constitution Avenue around 2 p.m.

Marchers were led by a group of high school students, clad in red ponchos, who were holding a street-wide banner with “March for Life” printed on it.

Within one hour, the Metropolitan Police Department opened up half of Constitution Avenue which had been closed for the march. Demonstrators lingered around the Supreme Court building for nearly two more hours before the crowds began to disperse.

When the crowds arrived at their destination they were greeted by a performance by a group called Rock for Life on the East Capitol lawn across from the Supreme Court. Rock for Life was sponsored by the American Life League.

Numerous groups across the crowded street on the courthouse’s steps had gathered into a prayer groups by the time the demonstrators arrived en masse. Police in riot gear had blocked off the front of the courthouse steps, and stood behind the metal fencing; the groups gathered in front. Stephen Feiler (COL ’02), former head of the Knights of Columbus, said this is a usual practice at the Supreme Court. Theology professor Thomas King, S.J., the head of UFL, agreed.

Counter-demonstrators, Feiler said, are usually more numerous. “I only saw one protestor,” Feiler said, “Usually you’ll see a lot of people from groups like [The National Organization of Women]” He added that regularly the two groups end up in heated arguments.

In comparison with last year’s rally and march, Elizabeth Brown (COL ’02) thought this year was “more encouraging,” saying that Bush’s support of the cause, among other things, brought “more hope in the air than last year.”

The annual march began as a grassroots campaign in 1974 and had grown to a high nearly 200,000 participants in 1992, the last official estimate made by the U.S. National Park Service. Looking back from the top of Captiol Hill, along Constitution Avenues, Brown said, “As far as I could see, [there was] an entire street filled with people.”

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