WASHINGTON — Buoyed by President Reagan's pledge to stand with them on the "long march for the right to life," tens of thousands of abortion protesters marched on Capitol Hill and the Supreme Court today to demand an end to legal abortion.
Under bright, sunny skies and springlike temperatures, the protesters marked the 13th anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe vs. Wade decision that made most abortions legal.
"Our nation's affirmation of the sacredness of all human life must begin with respect for our most basic civil right, the right to life," Reagan told the throng assembled on the Ellipse.
Speaking through a special telephone and loudspeaker hookup from the White House, the President said, "I'm proud to stand with you in the long march for the right to life.
"Each child who escapes the tragedy of abortion is an immeasurable victory," Reagan said, adding that he will "continue to work together with members of Congress to overturn the tragedy of Roe vs. Wade."
Request to Supreme Court
The Reagan Administration has asked the Supreme Court, in a case to be decided before the end of next summer, to overturn the 1973 decision.
At the Supreme Court, a group of 30 women satirized the demonstrators.
Calling themselves "Ladies Against Women," they marched in a circle chanting: "No condom, no IUD, we believe in chastity," "Who me? I'm no queer, I have a baby every year," "This court term, let's save some sperm," and "All we are saying is give sperm a chance."
Next to them was a group of about 20 anti-abortion demonstrators with a 10-foot sign showing a picture of an aborted fetus.
At 3 p.m., police estimated that there were 36,000 in the crowd. They also reported 26 arrests, most stemming from an attempted sit-in by anti-abortion militants at the Hillcrest Women's Surgi-Center, two miles from the Capitol.
Religious, Patriotic Themes
The 1 1/2-hour rally before the marchers headed to Capitol Hill and the Supreme Court mixed religious and patriotic themes, with a band of young people from the Rev. Jerry Falwell's Liberty Baptist College providing the music.
Prominent anti-abortion members of Congress, including presidential aspirant Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.), added their pledge to Reagan's promise to work to end legal abortion.
"The sun is shining, not only on your march. It is shining on our cause," Kemp said. "Truth is on the march. We stand for an idea whose time has come."
The marchers appeared to represent a cross-section of the nation.
"I used to be pro-choice," said Doris Gordon of Wheaton, Md., who said she is membership chairman of the Maryland Libertarian Party and an atheist.
"I find I'm very well received" by religious groups at the rally, she said. "Right to life cuts across the political spectrum."
Protests Across Nation
Although Washington was the focus for the largest demonstration, both supporters of the 1973 decision and their anti-abortion opponents also demonstrated in more than two dozen cities across the nation.
In Rhode Island, Roman Catholic church officials confirmed that Mary Ann Sorrentino, the leader of the Planned Parenthood affiliate in the state, has been excommunicated for her outspoken leadership of the family planning group.
About 100 anti-abortion demonstrators picketed the New Mexico State House, singing "We shall overcome" and reading from the Bible. About 50 supporters of the law counter-picketed, carrying signs that read "Legal Abortion Saves Lives."
Movement leaders in Washington said they hoped that 100,000 marchers would join the protest, surpassing what they said were the 76,000 protesters at last year's frigid rally.
"We believe that in the past year we have been on a roll," said Dr. John C. Willke, president of the National Right to Life Committee, the nation's largest grass-roots anti-abortion organization. "We are seeing abortionists quit and come into our camp."