Carrying large white signs reading "Abortion Kills Children," about 3,000 anti-abortion protesters lined the streets of Ventura on Sunday afternoon as part of a nationwide protest.
Protesters from about 75 churches in Ventura County formed what they called a "Life Chain" in the shape of a cross about five miles long centered at the intersection of Victoria Avenue and Telephone Road.
Organizers said 31 "Life Chains" were being formed in cities statewide on Sunday and hundreds across the nation. They said the largest was in Torrance and neighboring cities where police estimated that between 10,000 and 15,000 protesters lined 13 miles of streets.
Ventura police had no estimate on the number of demonstrators who participated in Ventura. Each stood about six feet apart for 90 minutes Sunday afternoon and waved to drivers and passersby who either honked their horns in support or jeered and heckled them.
"Don't you guys have anything better to do?" yelled one driver as he passed a group standing on Telephone Road.
The comment startled 10-year-old Ryan Wilson, who had been bored and playing with the tape on his sign. Ryan, whose father is a pastor at First Baptist Church in Thousand Oaks, yelled back at the heckler, "No! We don't!"
His mother then mildly reprimanded him, saying, "We don't yell at people."
Clara Davis, one of the protest's organizers, said "This is a day for the silent majority in the Christian community to come out in a nice, peaceful, non-confrontational way."
A few counterdemonstrators carried signs and walked along the route in Torrance, attracting stares and boos. "They call this a life chain but what they want is to chain a woman to have a pregnancy she doesn't want," said Glenda McCarthy, a member of the National Organization for Women. She and other members of NOW said they attended the demonstration not to clash with anti-abortion demonstrators but to express an opposing view.
According to Ventura police who fielded some complaints from local residents, none of the demonstrators were yelling or disturbing the peace.
"People were complaining that they were loitering in front of their residences, but when the officers contacted them, they moved right along," said Desk Officer J. Schafer. "Basically the only complaints we're getting is that they're there."
Chris Loza, assistant manager of a boating supply store on Main Street, said he was a little worried that the protesters would drive away customers and called police to make sure that they were allowed to be there.
"We have customers who are on both sides of the issue, and we didn't want people to think we had any part of it," Loza said.
Although organizers estimated 3,000 people joined the event in Ventura, police said they do not do head counts and had no way of determing the number of people on the sidewalks. "We got calls from residents saying anywhere from a dozen to 200," Schafer said.
On Saturday night, about 200 people attended an anti-abortion rally at Ventura Missionary Church to prepare for the Sunday event. "I came because I wanted to get in touch with everybody in the pro-life community. It's kind of nice to meet people who feel the same as you do," said Rhonda Betzold, a 23-year-old counselor at Crisis Pregnancy Center.
"I know that we're not going to change people's minds standing on a street corner with a sign," said Pam Snodgrass, 39, who lives in the Antelope Valley. "But if it makes a difference to one person, it's worth it."
Snodgrass' 10-year-old son, Matt, like many children at the event, managed to find something else to do while standing on the sidewalk. He was able to clutch his sign and play a miniature pinball game at the same time.
"Yeah, I'd rather be at the beach," Matt said, "but I have to let people know how I feel. But I should have brought a chair."
Bill Daniels, 39, of Moorpark said many parents brought their children along to instill their values in them while they are young. "My little boy doesn't know why he's here," Daniels said, pointing at his 3-year-old son, Christopher, who was carrying a sign nearly as big as he was.
Times staff writer Hugo Martin contributed to this article.