St. Paul, Minn. Thousands of abortion opponents massed outside Minnesota's Capitol on Sunday in one of several protests nationwide on the 33rd anniversary of the Roe v. Wade ruling, amid heightened hopes and fears over what a new face on the Supreme Court will mean for the decision establishing abortion rights.
A crowd of sign-wavers clad in parkas, winter boots and collars turned up against a cutting wind to call for a ban on public funding of abortion.
"We must stop abortion in our state," said Scott Fischbach, head of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life. "Things are changing in this country."
Many abortion opponents said they were heartened by President Bush's choice of Samuel Alito to replace Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, a moderate who was often the court's swing vote.
Alito, who appears to have solid support from the Senate's Republican majority, refused during his confirmation hearings to agree with assertions by Democrats that Roe v. Wade was "settled law," upsetting supporters of abortion rights and heartening opponents.
"We have a dream today that someday soon this will not be an anniversary of sadness, but an anniversary of justice restored," said Minnesota's Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
In San Francisco, thousands of abortion opponents shouldering signs with slogans such as "Peace Begins in the Womb" marched Saturday, while abortion rights supporters along the march route waved clothes hangers and shouted "Bigots go home."
"Abortion rights have been slowly whittled away while we haven't even been looking," said Kitty Striker, 22, who decorated her hair with small coat hanger replicas for the counter-protest. "That's what's so shocking and so scary to me."
The largest abortion demonstration was expected today in Washington, D.C., where anti-abortion activists planned to converge on the mall to hear speakers supporting their cause and march on the Congress and Supreme Court.
Many who support abortion rights held a candlelight vigil in front of the Supreme Court on Sunday night, waving signs that read: "Alito - No Justice For Women," and "Keep Abortion Legal."
The nation's high court made abortion legal on Jan. 22, 1973. But efforts to restrict or outlaw the procedure have been just as enduring; 34 states have passed laws requiring parents either to be notified or to give consent when their underage daughters seek abortions.
This year, abortion foes in Minnesota will try to encourage the Legislature to ban public funding of abortions for Medicaid recipients, which has been required since a 1995 state Supreme Court decision. They also are campaigning against the re-election of a justice who supported the decision.
In Michigan, a group of ministry leaders used the anniversary to launch a new anti-abortion organization, Michigan Chooses Life. One goal is to support efforts to get a measure on the 2006 ballot that would change the state constitution to legally define a person as existing at the moment of conception.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan has said that even if the measure does succeed, it will be challenged in court.