Wednesday, January 22, 2003

WASHINGTON, Jan. 22 (UPI) — Tens of thousands of demonstrators swept up to the barricades at the Supreme Court Wednesday to protest the 30th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade.

The historic 1973 Supreme Court decision legally recognized a woman’s right to an abortion.

For the first time in the three decades that Roe has been the law of the land, Republican allies of the protesters control the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives.

But demonstrators appeared to have mixed feeling about whether the GOP has the legislative will to ban abortions in the United States.

In bitterly cold weather, protesters rallied by the thousands at the Washington Monument for the march up Constitution Avenue to the Supreme Court.

The march took protesters past the Justice Department, where Attorney General John Ashcroft has openly sympathized with their cause, but has pledged to enforce federal laws against blockades at women’s clinics and other anti-abortion violence.

On Capitol Hill, police erected steel barriers in front of the temporary fence around the Capitol grounds.

Entrance to the Capitol grounds has been restricted as workmen construct an underground visitors’ center, prompted in part by security concerns since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

Across First Street at the Supreme Court, a line of barricades across the front of the court plaza was backed up by a thin line of Supreme Court police officers in riot helmets carrying wooden batons.

But hundreds of Washington Metropolitan police and officers from other federal agencies stood by in case things got out of hand.

Although each year it has been one of the largest protests in Washington, the March for Life is usually violence-free.

Wednesday’s crowd was relatively subdued, compared to past years, but well-scrubbed and had a distinctly Catholic flavor. Demonstrators carried smaller signs than in past years. The Supreme Court has banned large signs for security reasons; they’re too easy to hide behind.

Unlike some past years, there were no graphic signs showing aborted fetuses.

Most of the protesters in the vanguard of the March appeared to be Catholic students let out from school for the week, carrying the banners of their parochial high schools.

Speaking to the crowd from St. Louis, President Bush said he admired their “perseverance and … devotion to the cause of life.”

“In our time, respect for the right to life calls us to defend the sick and the dying, persons with disabilities and birth defects, and all who are weak and vulnerable,” he said. “And this self-evident truth calls us to value and to protect the lives of innocent children waiting to be born.”

Standing in front of the Supreme Court after marching up Capitol Hill, protesters Paul and Liz George, 71 and 70 respectively, were skeptical whether politicians could make a difference.

The couple had come from their home in East Aurora, N.Y., near Buffalo, to make their feelings known.

“We vote in our politicians,” Paul George said, but there is little change. “We thought we were going to do something with (then-President Bill) Clinton. He faked us out and turned his back on us.”

Another protester, Washington attorney Meredith Cavallo, 28, was a little more sanguine but not convinced that there will be seismic changes, even with the Republicans fully in charge.

“I think there’ll be some change,” Cavallo said. “I don’t think Roe vs. Wade will be overturned tomorrow.”

She said she believes a Republican-dominated Congress will increase regulation on abortion, and enact a ban on “partial-birth abortion.”

“I would hope that it will pass,” she added. “I’m certain our president will sign it.”

Cavallo works for the conservative legal public interest group Judicial Watch.

Seminarian Dan Beeman, 26, was more emphatic. A native of Tulsa, Okla., Beeman is out of the Diocese of Richmond, Va., and attends the Theological College at Catholic University.

He is three years away from ordination as a priest.

Change is coming, he said. “The Republican Party has always been the party for life. I believe in our president.”

Supporters of abortion rights held their own smaller events earlier in the week and Wednesday.

Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women, issued a statement saying, “Women and men across the United States will honor one of the most important Supreme Court decisions in our history.”

Gandy said since the Jan. 22, 1973, decision was handed down, “Roe vs. Wade has been crucial in both saving and shaping women’s lives in this country. We will not be the generation that both won and lost reproductive rights in our lifetime.”

Bush’s potential federal court nominees “are not only very conservative, but very young — high 30s, young 40s. (The president) has an opportunity to stack the (Supreme) Court with judges who will carry out an anti-women, anti-reproductive freedom philosophy for another 35 to 40 years. The effect would last for generations —we’re talking about the entire reproductive life of my 9-year-old daughter.”

Meanwhile, a new survey released on the eve of Roe’s 30th anniversary said the “number of U.S. abortion providers has fallen to its lowest level in three decades, a trend many physicians ascribe to a hostile political environment, hospital mergers and a lack of enthusiasm for teaching the procedure at most medical schools,” The Washington Post reported.

Researchers at the Alan Guttmacher Institute said there were 1,819 physicians performing abortions in the year 2000, down from 2,000 four years earlier, the Post said.

The survey also revealed that 87 percent of U.S. counties do not have an abortion provider.

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