AUGUSTA – There will be a day, Teresa McCann-Tumidajski believes, when laws that protect people of color will be extended to “unborn children,” and a day when the idea of a woman having an abortion will be as abhorrent to the average American as the notion of one man owning another.

“Today, unfortunately, is not that day,” McCann-Tumidajski, executive director of Maine Right to Life, told hundreds of anti-abortion activists who gathered at the St. Michael School gymnasium for Saturday’s Hands Around the Capitol.

The rally came just a few days short of the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide. More than 55 million abortions have been performed in the United States since then, McCann-Tumidajski said.

The people at the rally, which opened with prayer services at RiverRock Christian Fellowship in Chelsea and a Mass at St. Mary of the Assumption Church, gathered at the gym before marching to the State House and joining hands in a circle around the building.

The group included a diversity of supporters, from young men and women to the elderly and a number of families with young children.

Gov. Paul LePage, who has attended the past two rallies, backed out of Saturday’s event because of the flu, according to McCann-Tumidajski.

The governor was feeling ill Friday and canceled all of Saturday’s appearances, according to Adrienne Bennett, LePage’s spokeswoman, but she would not confirm if he has the flu.

“He’s a true defender of life,” McCann-Tumidajski said. “He gets it here, in his heart. He’s a governor of the people and for the people, including the unborn.”

Most of those who marched from the school to the State House wore black armbands as a sign of mourning and carried red stop signs demanding to “stop abortion now.”

Representing the Diocese of Portland, the Rev. Joseph Daniels, pastor of the Corpus Christi Parish of Greater Waterville, slowly rang the State House bell 40 times, once for each year since Roe v. Wade. With each ring a red, long-stemmed rose was placed on the base beneath the bell.

Before the march to the State House, many of the speeches at St. Michael were aimed at encouraging increased efforts to oppose abortion rights.

“You are foot soldiers in the battle to reclaim the soul of our nation,” McCann-Tumidajski said.

According to Carl Maddaleni, director of the Maine Vitae Society, the advertising arm of Maine Right to Life, there is evidence that the momentum is shifting.

Nationally, the number of abortions is down 25 percent from its peak, he said. There was another 4.5 percent drop between 2011 and 2012, which was the third straight year there has been a decline nationwide.

Citing 2010 statistics, which he said were the most recent numbers available, Maddaleni said that Maine has seen a decline in the number of abortions for three straight years and an overall drop of 14 percent from the all-time high.

Maddaleni said the number of abortions among those ages 12 to 20 years old has dropped for four straight years, down overall nearly 20 percent.

Maddaleni also cited a Gallup poll that found 41 percent of Americans now describe themselves as “pro-choice,” while 51 percent say they are “pro-life.”

“Abortions are down three years in a row,” Maddaleni said. “Hopefully, that’s a new trend.”

McCann-Tumidajski, quoting from a Jan. 3 Time magazine article written for the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision, said, “Forty years ago, abortion activists won an epic battle with Roe v. Wade. They’ve been losing ever since.”

The quote, like others indicating a decline in the number of abortions, was met with loud cheers.

McCann-Tumidajski said improved technology, particularly ultrasound, has been an important development in the cause of anti-abortion advocates.

“The modern marvel of science and technology have proven what we of faith already know, that life begins at conception,” she said.

The Rev. Bob Emrich, a Baptist minister and board chairman of the Christian Civic League, is out of the country and was unable to attend the rally, McCann-Tumidajski said.

In a letter he submitted to have read at the rally, Emrich said a number of bills related to abortion rights will come before the Legislature this year, including one that would require parents to be notified before a juvenile has an abortion; one that would require abortion providers to give information on all available options, such as adoption, to all women seeking abortions; and a bill to deny public funds for Planned Parenthood programs that support abortions.

State Rep. Stacey Guerin, R-Glenburn, said there are a growing number of legislators who consider themselves anti-abortion and will support the bills. Guerin urged those gathered to encourage those lawmakers.

“Maine needs you and the babies need you,” Guerin said. “I urge you to stay involved.”

Susan Leighton, lobbyist for Maine Right to Life, echoed other speakers, who urged those in attendance to get behind efforts to support women who choose to go through with their pregnancies.

“Women deserve our support when their choice is life,” Leighton said.

Daniels, quoting the creation account in the Book of Genesis in the Bible, said all life, regardless of age or ability, is sacred because it is a gift from God, who created men and women in his image.

“When human life is considered cheap or easily expendable in one area, eventually nothing is considered sacred and all lives are in jeopardy,” Daniels said. “From conception to death and every minute in between it is God who gives us life.”

Kennebec Journal Staff Writer Craig Crosby can be contacted at 621-5642 or at:

ccrosby@centralmaine.com