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WASHINGTON, Jan 25 (Reuters) - Anti-abortion marchers are expected on Friday to mark the 40th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing abortion, and Pope Benedict expressed support for the demonstrators.
The anti-abortion March for Life, an annual event in Washington, will be preceded by a midday rally on the National Mall.
Scheduled speakers include former Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum; Cardinal Sean Patrick O'Malley, head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Pro-life Activities; and, by video, House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner.
The rally, which normally draws thousands of anti-abortion protesters, will be followed by a march on the Supreme Court. The high court's Roe v. Wade ruling on Jan. 22, 1973 legalized abortion in the United States.
Pope Benedict voiced backing for the marchers, saying in a tweet, "I join all those marching for life from afar, and pray that political leaders will protect the unborn and promote a culture of life."
Seminars, Catholic masses and memorials around Washington preceded the rally and march. Abortion rights activists have held few events in Washington around the anniversary.
The anti-abortion activities come as a poll has shown that most Americans remain opposed to overturning Roe v. Wade.
Despite the Washington protests, battles over abortion have largely shifted from federal courts to statehouses. The Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health and rights group, said this month that 2012 brought the second-highest number of state-level restrictions, trailing only 2011.
(Reporting by Ian Simpsonin Washington and Phil Pullella in Rome; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)