WASHINGTON -- Thousands of abortion opponents confronted wind chills in the single digits Wednesday to rally and march on Capitol Hill to protest legalized abortion, with a signal of support from Pope Francis.
The annual "March for Life" is held every January on the anniversary of the Supreme Court's landmark 1973 decision that declared a constitutional right to abortion. The event draws many Catholic high school and college students from across the country for a series of events and prayer vigils leading up to a rally and march on the National Mall.
Francis, who has emphasized a broader focus on poverty beyond divisive issues, sent his support for the anti-abortion march.
"I join the March for Life in Washington with my prayers," the pope tweeted. "May God help us respect all life, especially the most vulnerable."
President Barack Obama also issued a statement Wednesday, saying the 41st anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision is a chance to "recommit ourselves to the decision's guiding principle: that every woman should be able to make her own choices about her body and her health."
The president also said the nation should resolve to protect a woman's access to health care, her right to privacy and to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies.
The theme of this year's march is adoption and eliminating stigma around adoption as an alternative to abortion for pregnant women who face difficult situations, organizers said.
Before the march, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia told the large crowd that Republican leaders will hold a vote to end taxpayer funding for any abortions. He said there has been an expansion of abortion coverage under the nation's health care overhaul.
"We will continue to fight for the unborn because it is the right and moral thing to do," Cantor said.
The march began on the National Mall with a rally. Then protesters marched along Constitution Avenue to Capitol Hill and the Supreme Court.