They showed up in families and congregations, silently forming a chain along streets and holding up placards saying, "Abortion Kills Children."
About 30,000 Pinellas County residents stood in that chain Sunday for an hour as part of Life Chain, a nationwide campaign to form lines of abortion protesters along major roads, the organizers said.
"It was the largest chain in the country," said Royce Dunn, founder and national director of Life Chain, an anti-abortion campaign based in Yuba City, Calif.
The chain stretched along 29 miles of U.S. 19, from 54th Avenue S to the Pinellas-Pasco line, said Sue Brett, an organizer for Pinellas County. "It had no political roots; it had no confrontational roots. It's just something to confirm the sanctity of life."
In Tampa, about 10,000 people lined Dale Mabry Highway between Kennedy Boulevard and Ehrlich Road, said John Arthur, one of the organizers for Hillsborough County.
About 142,000 people participated in Florida, making it the state with the highest turnout, said Greg Chesmore, a coordinator at the Florida Life Center in Port Charlotte. About 950,000 participated nationwide.
"They cross all age lines, and they cross all denominational lines," Chesmore said. "There's no political message. It just shows that Christians as a whole are coming together to take a stand on the killing of unborn children."
Arthur said the turnout showed how strongly people feel. "It's difficult to have people show up for any cause," he said. "You know, more than half of people aren't even registered to vote."
Although abortion is a rancorous political issue, Chesmore said the intent of the protests wasn't political. "Between the pro-abortion people and the secular media, there just hasn't been any opportunity to get our side out," Chesmore said. "We just wanted to get the truth about abortion out, which is that it kills babies and that it hurts women."
Life Chain is a movement started by Please Let Me Live, a small anti-abortion group based in Yuba City, 50 miles north of Sacramento, Calif. Dunn, who heads both organizations, started the movement in 1987. The chains spread to other parts of California and then across the country. On Sunday, 715 cities took part, Dunn said.
The protesters don't denigrate the other side or root for a political faction, Dunn said. "The primary purpose is to minister to the participants themselves," Dunn said. "When people turn out, it's a showing of their faith, of a willingness to take a public stand on the killing of children and a willingness to reach out to women."
Last year, the Pinellas County Life Chain also was the largest in the country, with 28,000 people participating.