Thousands of pro-life teachers and school staff required to belong to the National Education Association across the country are offended by the union's co-sponsorship of a pro-choice march in Washington this Sunday.
The NEA headquarters on 16th Street NW near the White House will act as a hospitality center for the March for Freedom of Choice while the union's nearby state affiliates in New Jersey and elsewhere are organizing buses to bring demonstrators for the event.
The march is being organized by the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the American Civil Liberties Union, National Organization for Women, NARAL Pro-Choice America and other liberal and feminist groups.
Abortion "is a political issue and not an educational issue," said NEA member Connie Bancroft, a middle-school teacher for handicapped children in Mahoning County, Ohio, who opposes NEA's sponsorship of the march.
Miss Bancroft is executive director of Teachers Saving Children, a national group of 3,300 pro-life educators that seeks "a commitment to establishing respect for all human life from conception to natural death, especially among professional educators' organizations," she said.
"We're supposed to be for children, and they say it's OK to eliminate our very clientele. That's hard to understand."
The problem, say pro-life members of the 2.7-million-member teachers union, is that they are forced to be dues-paying NEA members because of collective-bargaining agreements in their school districts.
Meanwhile, the NEA takes positions on issues contrary to some members' religious beliefs, which are protected by the 1964 federal Civil Rights Act.
"Every organization -- association, political party and church -- has significant numbers of members who do not agree with every policy item," NEA spokesman Michael Pons said. "That is the greatness of an open, democratic organization such as ours."
Pro-life NEA members said another major objection is that the union's top management tilts toward abortion, as shown by NEA chief lobbyist Randall J. Moody's dual role serving on the Planned Parenthood Action Fund Federal Political Action Committee, for which he was an original board member and treasurer for three years.
Planned Parenthood is the nation's largest abortion-referral agency. Mr. Moody was a member of the organization's board of directors from 1995 to 2002 and is still co-chairman of Planned Parenthood Republicans for Choice. The pro-life NEA members say Mr. Moody's roles with Planned Parenthood are a conflict of interest.
Planned Parenthood said on its Web site the forthcoming march is "the largest pro-choice demonstration in the nation's history." An "interdenominational" prayer breakfast on the Mall to precede the march is "a direct challenge to the religious right and its claims to speak for communities of faith," the organization said in a statement.
Mr. Pons did not respond to questions about Mr. Moody's dual role with NEA and Planned Parenthood, but said the union is "one of hundreds of sponsors" of Sunday's march.
"NEA is providing water, juice, a place to rest and access to our restroom facilities for our members on that day," he said. "I haven't costed out the water, but that is our only financial commitment."
The NEA does the same for its members any time they are in Washington, he said.
"Any association member is welcome to our building any time," he said.
Judy Bruns, a junior high school language-arts teacher from Coldwater, Ohio, said the NEA's support for abortion and other positions against members' religious beliefs has caused many school teachers and support staff across the country to assert their right under the Civil Rights Act for a "religious-based accommodation" freeing them of their obligation to pay NEA dues.
The law directs the NEA to provide a "reasonable accommodation" to exempt members with a religious objection from paying the union's national $134 annual dues payment.
State NEA affiliates charge union members additional dues, ranging from $230 in Oklahoma to $569 in Michigan.
NEA members receive liability, health and life insurance, which is why most school personnel stay with the union despite objections to its pro-choice stance and positions on many noneducation issues, said Sissy Jochmann, a second-grade teacher in the Pittsburgh area and chairman of the Conservative Educators Caucus, which has members in 10 states.
Mrs. Bruns, a board member of Teachers Saving Children, called the NEA's support for the pro-choice march "senseless."
"If the NEA is truly for 'choice,' we hope our union will be consistent and extend its hospitality and support to teachers who choose to participate in the annual Jan. 22 March for Life in Washington," she said.
The NEA does not sponsor the March for Life and it does not offer the pro-life march corporate support.
For many years, NEA-elected state delegates to the union's annual Representative Assembly have rejected pleas of pro-life teachers to be neutral on abortion, instead adopting an official position in supporting abortion, even for teenagers, in the name of "reproductive freedom."
Delegates at the NEA's 2003 convention in July in New Orleans rejected a proposal to drop stated opposition to a ban on partial-birth abortion.
Mrs. Jochmann said the NEA "should simply get out of the abortion issue altogether."
"Our union needs to stick to education," she said.
She said abortion "is harmful emotionally, physically and spiritually to women."
"We believe women deserve better. We invite our union to support abstinence and the value of chastity, rather than partner with [the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States] against abstinence education," she said.