Activists on both sides of the divisive abortion issue held protests in Washington to mark the 33rd anniversary of the Supreme Court decision that legalized the procedure in the United States back in 1973.

On Monday, thousands of anti-abortion activists staged a protest near the U.S. Capitol and the Supreme Court, calling on lawmakers and justices to trim back abortion rights.

Among them was the Reverend James Nesbit from Missouri.

"Lord, we bow very low here today for we are a guilty nation.  We shed the innocent blood of 45 million children, Lord, and we know from your own word that their blood is crying from the ground and our own actions have brought a curse upon our land," said Mr. Nesbit.

President Bush offered his support for the anti-abortion effort by phone, telling the protesters that they are pursuing a noble cause.

"This is a cause that appeals to the conscience of our citizens and is rooted in America's deepest principles and history tells us that with such a cause, we will prevail," said Mr. Bush.

Abortion rights supporters held a demonstration of their own on Sunday as they urged members of Congress to safeguard what they believe is a basic right for American women.

Karen Pearl is the interim president of Planned Parenthood, an organization that supports abortion rights.  She spoke on VOA's Talk to America program.

"It is very important that people have that right to decide the most fundamental, basic question, whether and when to become a parent, how big your family size should be," she said.  "All of those questions that enabled women to have an equal place in our society, an equal place to enjoy all the liberties that this country affords."

Abortion was made legal by the 1973 Supreme Court decision known as Roe Versus Wade.  But in the years since, 34 states have passed laws requiring that parents either be notified or give consent before their underage daughters seek an abortion.

This year's anniversary also comes as the Senate prepares to debate the Supreme Court nomination of federal appeals Judge Samuel Alito.

During his confirmation hearings, Judge Alito said he would keep an open mind on abortion despite comments he made 20 years ago that abortion is not protected by the Constitution.

Public opinion polls continue to show a majority of Americans favor abortion rights.  But surveys in recent years also indicate a growing number of Americans support some restrictions on abortion.

Judge Alito was asked about public support for abortion during his Senate confirmation hearings.

"The legitimacy of the court would be undermined in any case if the court made a decision based on its perception of public opinion," said Mr. Alito.  "It should make its decisions based on the Constitution and the law.  It should not sway in the wind of public opinion at any time."

Judge Alito appears on track to be confirmed in the Senate where Republicans hold a majority.

Carl Stern is a legal expert at George Washington University.  He expects few Senate Democrats will support Judge Alito, at least in part because of his non-committal stance on abortion.

"The court has repeatedly reaffirmed the right, and expectations have grown up around it and so on," said Mr. Stern.  "But he would go no further than to say that he would approach the issue with an open mind and that will not quite satisfy his detractors."

Judge Alito was nominated by President Bush to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.  Even if Judge Alito turns out to be an abortion opponent, there are still five votes on the nine-member court who generally support upholding the Roe Versus Wade decision legalizing abortion rights.