01/24/2012 11:06 am ET

Abortion Rights Protesters, Supporters Face Off At Supreme Court

The Roe v. Wade decision protecting the right to have an abortion was handed down from the Supreme Court on Jan. 22, 1973. On Monday night, 39 years later, the battle continued just outside, below the building's darkening steps.

Instead of lawyer versus lawyer, it was prayer service versus candlelight vigil, mic check versus megaphone, as ralliers from the March For Life and participants in a National Organization For Women protest faced off, nearly shoulder to shoulder, on the case's legacy.

"I never lose hope [that the decision will be overturned]," said Brenda Forester, an anti-abortion protester listening to a woman who said she regretted her abortion. "I think it's awesome that this many people come out here every year, year after year," she said. "It's a blessing. It's a miracle."

Sarah Koons, who came from Pennsylvania to attend the march, felt similarly. "I am out here to defend life," she said. "One-third of my generation is missing."

While most of the anti-abortion protesters had come after the March for Life earlier in the afternoon, for abortion-rights supporters, the vigil was the day's main event.

"I believe that on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, there should be a pro-choice voice," said Polly Stamatopolous, who's demonstrated in favor of the decision for more than 20 years.

NOW's president, Terry O'Neill, said the day marked a milestone.

"Women are galvanized, women will not go back and women will never give up," O'Neill said. "It's a time for remembering, a time for re-dedicating ourselves to the fight, and a time for honoring the women who've had abortions. And it's a time for honoring the incredibly courageous doctors and healthcare providers who provide abortion care for women."

O'Neill said the vigil was not meant to start a fight or to change opinions. "We're here for each other. We're not here for them," she said. "And we're not here to be mean to them -- we're here to dedicate ourselves to defeating their policies, but we're here for each other to do that together."

But even if no minds were changed, the meeting of protests did provide an unexpected chance for dialogue.

"There were some very heated debates, but it was really nice to get a really good discussion going, a peaceful discussion going with people," said Ray Bowman, a student at American University who attended the NOW vigil. "We actually did that."

"We're going to be Facebook friends with some of them now," added Sara Hiller, a self-proclaimed pro-choice Republican and another American University student. "We had a discussion, and we're like, 'We have a valid opinion, you have a valid opinion.' It just ended up being really nice."