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Anti-abortion activists march in front of Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday. ((Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press))

Several thousand people descended on Parliament Hill on Thursday for an anti-abortion rally that included Tory MPs who urged their fellow parliamentarians to reopen the debate on the issue.

The annual so-called March for Life included hundreds of students from the capital's Roman Catholic high schools. Many waved graphic signs with pictures of aborted fetuses.

Priests, ministers, nuns and even monks were scattered through the crowd, which RCMP estimated at about 10,000 people.

This was the 13th year that the rally has taken place.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said he doesn't want to reopen the abortion debate, but he sparked an outcry from the opposition when he said Canadian money earmarked for child and maternal health programs in the Third World won't cover abortions.

Harper's position earned the praise of Cardinal Marc Ouellet, archbishop of Quebec and primate of Canada.

"We support this stance of the government not to finance abortion in countries of the Third World," he said at Thursday's rally. "But we would like some more courage, some more courage to do something more in Canada in defence of the unborn."

Angelina Steenstra of a group called Silent no More echoed the prelate's statement.

"I am pleased to see the prime minister of Canada using the resources of Canada to promote women's health by offering real concrete things to women to bring about life and to support life and to encourage life," Steenstra said.

A group of 21 members of Parliament, 18 of them Conservatives, addressed the enthusiastic crowd.

Dean Del Mastro, an Ontario Tory, said he's ready for a renewed abortion debate in the House of Commons.

"Maybe the first step is to determine when this place believes that life begins," he said. "I'm prepared to put my case forward … I'm prepared to have that conversation. Is the other side?"

Rod Bruinooge, a Winnipeg Tory who heads a group of MPs who've dubbed themselves the "pro-life caucus" in the Commons, said the campaign must be waged one step at a time.

"In the pro-life movement … in Canada, it's always important to take steps, small steps, to acknowledge the value of the unborn," he said.

Jeff Watson, a southern Ontario Conservative, used the biblical phrasing of a preacher in his comments.

"We can all declare that, first of all, we will have in Canada a culture that supports life from conception to natural death," he said. "We will see that come to pass.

"And secondly, I think we can all declare together an end to the old debate about abortion and the dawn of a new day in Canada where abortion will be unthinkable. I think we can all say amen to that."