More than 1.1 million people from across the US and dozens of other countries took part in what organizers said was the largest-ever women's-rights protest on abortion, aimed partly at influencing politicians ahead of the Nov. 2 presidential vote.
Older women in their Sunday best mingled with college students in T-shirts in a massive demonstration sparked largely by what they see as US President George W. Bush's efforts to chip away at a women's right to an abortion.
Organizers put the turnout at 1.15 million, saying the count was done in designated grids on the National Mall, which are designed to hold a predetermined number of people, and verified by 2,500 volunteers at key entry points to the march area. Police did not issue any crowd estimate.
Waving signs that read "Fire Bush" and "Keep Abortion Legal," the crowd packed onto the Mall -- the grassy esplanade that links the Congress, the White House and the US' most revered monuments and museums.
"All the people are here today not only to march on behalf of women's lives but to take that energy into the election in November," Senator Hillary Clinton told the crowd before the march began.
"What we need to try to communicate as clearly as possible to all women and men who are fair-minded in America is that a vote for a pro-choice candidate is a vote for conscience," she said, urging the crowd to cast votes for the Democratic presidential candidate, Senator John Kerry.
Opponents of abortion rights also turned out in far smaller rival protests, many carrying pictures of aborted fetuses and denouncing what they see as infanticide.
"It's murder. It's wrong," said one man from San Diego, who declined to give his name. "This country has become an abomination before God. What's it going to take for this country to repent and come back to God?"
Sixteen people, mainly anti-abortionists with the Christian Defense Coalition, were arrested at the rally, police said.
More than 1,400 civic groups worked together to organize the protest, sparked by recent efforts to curtail the reach of a landmark 1973 Supreme Court ruling that recognized women's right to abortions.
"If the government takes safe, legal clean abortions away from women -- knowing that if a woman needs an abortion, she may have one anyway -- then they are encouraging women to kill themselves. That's why I'm marching," said Hollywood actress Whoopi Goldberg, one of the organizers of the event.
The roster of other US and international celebrities, who have endorsed it, includes Oscar winners Charlize Theron and Helen Hunt, along with actresses Julia Stiles, Demi Moore, Sharon Stone, Kirsten Dunst and Salma Hayek.
Activists are particularly concerned by two laws passed in the last six months, one which bars some late-term abortions and another that adds criminal penalties for attacks on pregnant women that injure or kill a fetus.
Women's rights activists from dozens of other countries also joined the protest, citing the ripple effect of US policies overseas -- especially the so-called "gag rule" that withholds US aid dollars from groups providing access to or counseling about abortion.