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Protests mark anniversary of landmark abortion ruling

by

By Ian Simpson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Americans on Tuesday marked the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion, even as battles over the contentious issue have largely shifted from the federal courts to statehouses.

Dozens of protesters braved frigid temperatures to gather in front of the Supreme Court on the anniversary of the landmark January 22, 1973, Roe v. Wade ruling that made abortion legal in the first three months of pregnancy. With a companion ruling, the decision declared abortion a constitutional right.

Anti-abortion activists spread 3,300 flowers out on the Washington sidewalk to represent the number of abortions they said took place daily in the United States.

Away from Washington, about two dozen abortion rights activists rallied in front of Mississippi's sole abortion clinic, the Jackson Women's Health Organization in Jackson.

The supporters, including the National Organization of Women, said they wanted to celebrate the ruling and show that the fight to preserve women's rights continued.

"Choice is good," said Alex McInick, 18, a student at Millsaps College in Jackson. "Nobody should be able to tell someone what they should do to their body."

Across the street, Roy McMillen, 69, an anti-abortion activist, said the procedure led to social ills that cost everyone.

Surrounded by graphic posters of aborted fetuses, McMillen said, "The worst thing that happened in the 20th century was the advent of birth control and the legalization of abortion."

The protests and others this week come in the wake of a Pew Research Center poll which found that most Americans remained opposed to overturning the decision, with opinions little changed over two decades.

"Millions of women have been bruised and diminished. Our country has violated the principles on which it was founded," the Reverend Patrick Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition told reporters outside the Supreme Court.

Mahoney was nearly drowned out by a handful of abortion rights activists who chanted "Abortion without demand and without apology" and profanity-laced slogans.

Mahoney said the anti-abortion movement had been energized by the re-election of President Barack Obama, who favors abortion rights and backs Roe v. Wade.

Despite his abortion rights stance, Obama has been a "silver lining" since he had helped move anti-abortion campaigns to the state and local level, away from federal policy-makers, he said.

The highlight of Washington events is expected to be a March for Life rally near Capitol Hill on Friday, with former Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum among the scheduled speakers.

The rally, which has drawn thousands of protesters in past years, will be followed by a march on the Supreme Court building.

Separate prayer services also are scheduled in Washington by the National Pro-Life Religious Council and the U.S. Catholic bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities.

Among other anti-abortion events, the conservative Family Research Council is hosting on Friday its yearly ProLifeCon, which gathers bloggers, activists and lawmakers.

Abortion rights campaigners have few Washington events scheduled around the anniversary, with NARAL Pro-Choice America promoting "Blog for Choice Day" on Tuesday.

The Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health and rights organization, said this month that 2012 brought the second-highest number of state-level restrictions, trailing only 2011.

"More than half of all U.S. women of reproductive age (15-44) now live in a state that is hostile to abortion rights, whereas fewer than one-third did a decade ago," the group said in a statement.

Recent Washington fights over reproductive rights have centered on Obama's healthcare law. The Senate in March rejected a Republican measure that would have let employers opt out of birth control coverage and other services on moral grounds.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson in Washington and Emily Le Coz in Jackson; Editing by Paul Thomasch, Nick Zieminski and Dan Grebler)

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