By Ian Simpson
WASHINGTON, Jan 22 (Reuters) - Prayers, marches and protests kicked off in Washington on Tuesday to mark the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion, even as battles over the issue have largely shifted from the federal courts to statehouses.
Many of the anti-abortion protests are the latest editions of those held each year around the anniversary of the Jan. 22, 1973, ruling that legalized abortion in the first three months of pregnancy.
The protests come in the wake of a Pew Research Center poll which found that most Americans remained opposed to overturning the decision, with opinions little changed over two decades.
The Christian Defense Coalition will place flowers on the sidewalk in front of the Supreme Court on Tuesday, representing the number of abortions the group says are carried out daily in the United States.
The highlight of anti-abortion events is expected to be a March for Life rally near Capitol Hill on Friday, with former Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum among the scheduled speakers.
"The March for Life is an important opportunity for us to send a message to our elected officials that they must support policies that foster a culture of life," the former Pennsylvania senator said in a statement.
The rally, which has drawn thousands of protesters in past years, will be followed by a march on the Supreme Court building.
Separate prayer services also are scheduled in Washington by the National Pro-Life Religious Council and the U.S. Catholic bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities.
The bishops have urged U.S. Catholics to take part in "nine days of prayer, penance and pilgrimage" around the Roe v Wade anniversary.
Among other anti-abortion events, the conservative Family Research Council is hosting its yearly ProLifeCon on Friday, which gathers bloggers, activists and lawmakers.
Panel discussions, including one organized by the anti-abortion Americans United For Life, will focus on the future of the Roe decision and reproductive rights.
Abortion rights campaigners have few Washington events scheduled around the anniversary, with NARAL Pro-Choice America promoting "Blog for Choice Day" on Tuesday.
Most events marking the anniversary are in the last half of the week following President Barack Obama's second inauguration on Monday. The swearing-in attracted hundreds of thousands of onlookers and shut down much of the city.
The Washington events come as the battle over abortion has spread to states.
The Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health and rights organization, said this month that 2012 brought the second-highest number of state-level restrictions, trailing only 2011.
"More than half of all U.S. women of reproductive age (15-44) now live in a state that is hostile to abortion rights, whereas fewer than one-third did a decade ago," the group said in a statement.
Recent Washington fights over reproductive rights have centered on President Barack Obama's healthcare law. The Senate in March rejected a Republican measure that would have let employers opt out of birth control coverage and other services on moral grounds. (Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Paul Thomasch and Nick Zieminski)