Demonstrators who stretched for blocks marched briefly through downtown Austin, chanting, "Hey Obama, your mama chose life," or reciting the Lord's Prayer. They then gathered on the steps of the Capitol for speeches by the state's top Republicans: Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Attorney General Greg Abbott.
"My goal, and the goal of all of us who are gathered here today, is to make abortion at any stage a thing of the past," Perry said. He added: "The ideal world is one without abortion. Until then, we will continue to pass laws to ensure that they are as rare as possible."
The Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision created a constitutional right to abortion in some circumstances and prevented states from banning the practice. But Texas, like many other states with Republican-controlled legislatures, has passed laws in recent years aimed at restricting access to abortion.
An annual anti-abortion rally at the Capitol has in recent years been timed for the weekend after the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. But this year marks the 40th anniversary, and turnout was much higher than normal.
Dewhurst, who oversees the state Senate, promised that more laws limiting abortion in Texas are on the way.
"By working together, we'll be able to cement that Texas is the most pro-family, pro-life and pro-values state in the nation," he said.
Still, Perry noted that "as many as 80,000 lives are lost to abortion" annually in Texas.
Many in the crowd waved signs and banners that were either handmade or passed out by organizers. One read: "Womb to tomb, protect life!" Another sad, "God doesn't make mistakes. Every baby is a blessing." The most-common was a placard featuring a picture of a fetus and the words, "I'm human, why is it legal to kill me?"
Texas has eliminated funding to groups that support abortion rights, and the state recently excluded Planned Parenthood from its program that provides health care for poor women. Planned Parenthood has filed a string of lawsuits, and Abbott has defended the ban. He said Saturday that state law has helped "keep Planned Parenthood's clutches off your taxpayer dollars."
Other recent Texas measures aimed at abortion include a law Perry signed in 2011 requiring women to have a sonogram 24 hours before having an abortion. This year, the governor has asked the Legislature to ban the procedure after 20 weeks -- the point at which he claims a fetus can feel pain.
Abbott has long opposed abortion, even in cases of rape and incest, and Perry has more recently embraced that position. Perry hasn't said if he will seek another term as governor in 2014, but Abbott has more than $18 million in campaign funds and may enter the Republican gubernatorial primary regardless of what Perry does.
Many demonstrators arrived aboard buses chartered by churches. Ray Sylvester, a 67-year-old from Houston, came with 55 fellow worshipers and carried a sign that read "Defend Life" in English and Spanish.
Sylvester said he had two sons, ages 47 and 26. He said he was 40 when he found out his second son was on the way and wasn't sure he wanted to be a father again: "For a split second, I thought, `It might be easier not to go through with it."'
"I never thought about it seriously, but it shows how easy it could be," he said. "And now I can't imagine it. My son is such a joy."
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