AUGUSTA — Hundreds of people formed a circle Saturday afternoon around the State House, holding hands if they could reach each other, to mourn the anniversary of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down state laws banning abortions.

As the roughly 200 protesters surrounded the State House, the Rev. Joseph Daniels, pastor of Corpus Christi Parish in Waterville, slowly struck the Liberty Bell replica with a rubber mallet 41 times – one for every year since the court decision – while 41 red roses were placed on the ground by the memorial bell.

Gov. Paul LePage and other political and anti-abortion leaders spoke at a rally held at the St. Michael Catholic Parish gymnasium before the march to the Capitol building.

The annual Hands Around the Capitol memorial, hosted by the Maine Right to Life Committee, began with a prayer service at RiverRock Christian Fellowship in Chelsea and a Mass at St. Mary’s Church in Augusta.

At the start of his 10-minute speech, LePage told everyone in the audience under 41 years of age to stand.

“Each and every one of you should thank your parents because you’re here today and you’re not one of the victims,” he said.

He thanked the audience members for their efforts in trying to reduce abortions and said they are making headway in the fight.

The number of abortions in the state declined 23 percent between 2010 and 2011, from 2,311 to 1,773, according to data from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention provided by the Maine Right to Life Committee.

Maine’s abortion rate has been consistently lower than the U.S. abortion rate, according to the Guttmacher Institute, although the difference shrank slightly between 1991 and 2008. Maine had a rate of 11.2 abortions per 1,000 women of reproductive age in 2008, compared to 19.6 in the nation.

However, Maine is known for having less restrictive abortion laws than in other states.

NARAL Pro-Choice America gives the state an A, ranking it seventh overall, for its contraception and abortion laws, and all three abortion-related bills supported by Maine Right to Life Committee failed in the Legislature last year

Teresa McCann-Tumidajski, executive director of the Maine Right to Life Committee, said she thinks the drop in abortions and the abortion rate between 2008 and 2011 is the result of more education and the ability of women to view ultrasounds.

LePage, who sometimes tells stories of his rough upbringing in Lewiston, largely spoke about the importance of children having a supportive family.

After abortion is eliminated, the next big challenge is putting the family back together, Le-Page said.

“Children need two parents. They need a father, and they need a mother,” he said.

LePage didn’t suggest ways the state could help strengthen families, but he said poverty in the state would continue to win “until we commit ourselves to truly putting our families together and educating.”

He said efforts to eliminate abortion are critical to the nation’s oldest state sustaining its population.

Paul Koenig can be contacted at 621-5663 or at:

pkoenig@centralmaine.com

Twitter: @paul_koenig