On the House floor, U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R., N.J.), one of Congress' most outspoken abortion foes, called President Obama "the abortion president" as he spoke Tuesday about the anniversary.
Smith said future generations "will wonder how and why a Nobel Peace Prize-winning president could also simultaneously have been the abortion president." He said insurance provided under Obama's health care law would help cover many more abortions.
Many abortion-rights groups observed a quieter anniversary - a possible reflection of the reality that it's far rarer for lawmakers to expand access to abortion. The National Organization for Women planned a candlelight vigil at the Supreme Court to commemorate the 1973 decision, which created a constitutional right to abortions in some circumstances and prevented states from banning the practice.
The ruling "should be honored," said Rep. Emily Perry, a Kansas Democrat. "I wish the amount of energy put into narrowing Roe v. Wade would be put into school funding or our budget."
In the four decades since Roe v. Wade, a series of court decisions have narrowed its scope. With each decision, lawmakers in multiple states have followed up by making abortions more difficult to obtain or imposing restrictions on providers.
According to the New York-based Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive-rights think tank, 135 laws aimed in some way at restricting access to abortion were enacted in 2011 and 2012 in 30 states - most of them with Republican-controlled legislatures. More such measures already have been proposed this year in several states.
"A lot of these antichoice politicians don't run on the issue," Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro Choice America, said in an interview Tuesday with the Associated Press. "They run on jobs, or they run on the economy. And then they show up in these state legislatures, and they begin to advance very antichoice legislation."
Inquirer staff writer Jonathan Tamari contributed to this article.