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At the steps of the state Capitol on Saturday morning, Gov. Pete Ricketts declared Nebraska a "pro-life state" during the 44th annual Walk for Life.

Sponsored by Nebraska Right to Life, the anti-abortion rally draws thousands of marchers every year.

Crowd estimates Saturday varied from 5,000, according to Sandy Danek, president of Nebraska Right to Life, to about 1,000 plus 100 counter-protesters, according to police on scene.

Participants in the anti-abortion rally walked in sunny, crisp weather from the north side of the Capitol to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Student Union at 1400 R St.

The walk is usually scheduled close to the anniversary of the Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade on Jan. 22, 1973, which legalized abortion.

The decision's 45th anniversary made this year's walk even more significant to some.

"It just marks another year of legal abortion," said Marilyn Synek, a University of Nebraska-Kearney student and member of its Students for Life club. "That's a very somber feeling."

Synek was among several young people who took part Saturday, which was noted by some of the event's speakers.

"This movement is filled with young people who know the future is pro-life," Sen. Ben Sasse said.

Chloe Odbert was one of them. A high school student from Columbus, she stood proudly in the crowd after attending the national Walk for Life in Washington, D.C., a week earlier.

"It was one of the best experiences of my life," she said. "It's really cool to see a ton of people who have the same beliefs as you all in one place."

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Ricketts, Lt. Gov. Mike Foley, Sen. Deb Fischer and Sasse all spoke, hailing the anti-abortion legislation that was enacted in Nebraska last year. Each speaker called on participants to support state senators who back anti-abortion legislation.

"Our budget should reflect our values," Ricketts said.

Nebraska Right to Life emphasized state legislation it supports and opposes in flyers that were distributed.

Nebraskans came from across the state. RanDee and Bill Barger, farmers from near McCook, left home at 5 a.m. to meet their son, Russ, in Lincoln and attend the rally.

"Seeing the enthusiasm everyone here has is just so great," RanDee said. "It's important to show that you're for the right to life. Now is the time to do this."

At the Student Union, marchers filled the upstairs ballroom to hear keynote speaker Ann McElhinney give a presentation about Kermit Gosnell, a former abortion provider convicted of first-degree murder and manslaughter in the deaths of three infants and a woman.

McElhinney said one problem the anti-abortion movement faces is getting people to wrap their heads around how many abortions are performed each year. To solve it, she said, the movement must come together and promote a message of love.

Her words resonated with supporters.

"This is a movement of love," said Paige Edwards, president of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Students for Life group. "It welcomes all people, and it is for all people."

That feeling of togetherness is what keeps Mark Masur of David City and his family coming every year.

"It's great to see individuals at this walk for the same reasons we are," he said. "It's a common effort. We hope that next time we come, it's to celebrate the end of elective abortion. That would be wonderful."

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7223 or hmuslic@journalstar.com.

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