JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Hundreds of anti-abortion protesters from around Missouri marched to the state Capitol building Saturday to mark the 38th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that declared federal laws banning abortion unconstitutional.
About 600 protesters gathered near the governor's mansion and the Missouri Secretary of State's office around 10 a.m., waving signs and singing Christian hymns as they walked up the steps of the Capitol. The protest was one of several that will happen this weekend around the country to mark the Jan. 22 anniversary of the ruling. A march in Washington D.C. is planned Monday.
The line of protesters near the governor's mansion stretched nearly a city block, despite cold morning temperatures, waiting to begin a walk organized by two anti-abortion campaigns, America Asleep kNOw More and 40 Days for Life.
Kathie Forck, one of the event's organizers with 40 Days for Life, said the protest was aimed at creating a stigma around abortion, even if the ruling will not be changed.
"We want abortion to be unthinkable, even if it is legal," she said. "We need to bring chastity and purity back into this country."
At the front of the line of protesters, Tim Thompson and his cousin Rebecca Townsend, both of Marshall, hoisted an eight-foot cross reading "Everlasting Life" on their shoulders as the march began. Thompson said it was important to mark the anniversary of the court's ruling, but said the march is meant to draw more attention to their cause on other days as well.
"I think you have to support the idea regardless of what day it is," he said.
The marchers then gathered in the Capitol rotunda to hear speeches from several anti-abortion speakers, including a physician and a priest. Speaking with two priests sitting behind him, Dave Daubenmire, a former football coach from Ohio, criticized churches for not opposing abortion strongly enough in recent years.
"Thirty-eight years, 38 years of unabated child-killing in America. Abortion won't end in America because the church doesn't hate abortion," Daubenmire said, his voice rising.
Near the end of the rally, school-age children were called to the podium to speak individually about why they do not think abortion should be legal.
Sally Burgess, executive director of the Hope Clinic for Women in Granite City, Ill., said the clinic had a dozen abortion rights advocates from Missouri on hand to escort patients into the clinic Saturday. She said a group of about three dozen protesters had come from Carbondale, Ill., tripling the number of protesters usually outside the clinic, but she said abortion rights groups also recognize the anniversary of the court's ruling.
"We honor Roe v. Wade each year because we understand that having access to professional, safe abortion care is a public health need," she said.
In a statement released Friday, Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said the group is marking the anniversary while fighting proposed federal legislation that would limit private health insurance coverage of the procedure.
"Today, we celebrate what we achieved 38 years ago with Roe v. Wade and rededicate ourselves to protecting each woman's constitutional right to make her own private, personal medical decisions," she said in the statement.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)