Massive Protest Decries Bush Abortion Policies
by Deborah Zabarenko
WASHINGTON - Protesters crowded the National Mall on Sunday to show support for abortion rights and opposition to Bush administration policies on women's health issues in one of the biggest demonstrations in U.S. history.
There was no official crowd count, but organizers claimed more than 1 million people participated.
Pink- and purple-shirted protesters raised signs reading "Fight the Radical Right," "Keep Abortion Legal" and "U.S. Out Of My Uterus" and covered the Mall from the foot of Capitol Hill to the base of the Washington Monument.
Speakers ranged from actresses Whoopi Goldberg, Ashley Judd and Kathleen Turner to philanthropist Ted Turner, feminist icon Gloria Steinem and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
Goldberg raised a wire coat hanger -- a symbol of illegal abortions in the days before the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe vs. Wade ruling recognizing abortion rights -- and told the crowd, "We are one vote away from going back to this!"
She was referring to the nine-member high court, which has frequently decided abortion-related cases on a five-four vote.
The abortion issue was the centerpiece of the march's broad protest against the policies of President Bush, including his stance on funding international family planning. No U.S. funds may be used for any family planning agency that mentions abortion to patients.
"Vote That Smirk Out of Office," was a characteristically political placard targeting Bush, but Dorothy Smith, 76, of Eldridge, Missouri, carried an emblem she made herself -- a wire coat hanger draped with a sign reading "Never Again."
"I can remember when abortion was just as common as it is now, but it killed a lot of women," Smith said.
Major sponsors included stalwarts of the abortion rights movement -- NARAL Pro-Choice America, Feminist Majority, National Organization for Women, Planned Parenthood Federation of America -- as well as the American Civil Liberties Union, the Black Women's Health Imperative and the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health.
Some 1,400 groups attended the event, including an international contingent with marchers from 57 countries. There were medical students who carried signs saying they planned to be the next generation of abortion providers, and there was a Texas group marching behind a banner that read, "Old Broads for Choice."
As the march wound from the Mall toward the White House and then turned onto Pennsylvania Avenue and toward Capitol Hill, abortion rights groups encountered anti-abortion protesters.
These protesters carried posters showing photographs of fetuses at eight weeks gestation and signs reading "Abortion Kills Babies."
March organizers claimed double the turnout of the last big abortion rights march in 1992, which drew 500,000, according to the U.S. Park Police, who no longer gives official crowd counts. The biggest demonstration was an anti-Vietnam War rally in 1969, which drew 600,000. The largest gathering on the National Mall was the 1976 U.S. bicentennial celebration.
Though the march was billed as nonpartisan and included a contingent called Republicans for Choice, much of the day's rhetoric was plainly aimed at Bush, a Republican who opposes abortion in most cases.
Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry vowed on Friday to champion abortion rights if elected. He received the endorsement of Planned Parenthood's Action Fund, the organization's political fund-raising arm.
Neither Bush or Kerry attended the march, but U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, a New York Democrat and former first lady, drew roars of approval when she exhorted the crowd to register to vote. Volunteers were on hand to register new voters.
Bush addressed an anti-abortion march in January, saying the effort to overturn the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, which recognized a right to abortion, was "a noble cause."
© Copyright 2004 Reuters Ltd