A small but vibrant protest on Capitol Hill on Thursday previewed what pro-choice and pro-life activists say will be a defining issue in this year’s presidential election - abortion.
Calling abortions “womb lynchings” and “black genocide,” a group of 60 black demonstrators marched on the headquarters of the Democratic and Republican parties to voice their outrage over the practice.
The protesters also decried Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, which announced in January that it was pouring at least $10 million into congressional and national races. They also called on the presumptive presidential nominees - Sens. Barack Obama, Illinois Democrat, and John McCain, Arizona Republican - to halt abortions.
“We are here to urge Democratic candidates that donations from Planned Parenthood are racist to the very core,” said Day Gardner, president of the National Black Pro-Life Union, as she stood in front of Democratic National Committee headquarters on South Capitol Street. “I’m sick of hearing this is a Republican issue. For children killed or maimed by abortion, it’s a life-and-death issue.”
Officials for Planned Parenthood declined to comment, as did Democratic Party and Republican Party officials.
Although abortion has yet to be a major issue this year, groups like Emily’s List and NARAL Pro-Choice America Inc. have been pouring money into the campaigns of pro-choice politicians.
NARAL has not released figures for this year, but in 2006, it spent $2.5 million to mobilize pro-choice voters and contributed $540,160 to 160 candidates, according to its Web site, www.naral.org.
On May 14, NARAL endorsed Mr. Obama for president, saying he “has a fully pro-choice record, and we are confident that as president he will be a champion for women´s reproductive rights.”
Pro-life activists say Mr. Obama’s record on abortion will make it an issue this fall.
“Barack Obama’s position is extreme,” said David Osteen, executive director of the National Right to Life Committee, which donated $3 million to pro-life candidates in 2006. “While it’s hard to be more pro-abortion than Hillary Clinton, his record shows he’s done it.”
In April, the senator was criticized for saying he would not want his daughters, both younger than 10, to be “punished with a baby” if they were to make a “mistake” as teenagers.
An Obama spokesman said in April that the Illinois Democrat believes children are “miracles” but said parents must be responsible to “teach their children about values and morals to help make sure they are not treating sex casually.”
However in 2006, he voted against a Senate measure that would have made it illegal to take a minor across state lines for an abortion. As an Illinois state senator, he voted against a bill that would have guaranteed medical care for babies who survive abortions rather than letting them die.
“It will be the job of the pro-life movement to unmask his record,” Mr. Osteen said. “The strategy of the Democratic Party is to mobilize pro-abortion forces through Planned Parenthood and NARAL while at the same time trying to fool pro-life people into voting for him.”
At Thursday’s protest, criticism over abortion was a bipartisan affair.
The Republicans’ “platform says ‘pro-life,’ but I don’t see the follow through,” said Bishop Harry Jackson, a registered Democrat and pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville. “It’s time for the Republican Party to decide it won’t take money from the organization [Planned Parenthood] but also enforce the laws on the books.”
Mr. McCain has mostly avoided the topic, other than to say he is pro-life. However, he has favored federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research, which puts him at odds with the pro-life movement.
Deirdre McQuade, spokeswoman for the Secretariat for Pro-Life issues for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said both candidates have been keeping the issue “at arm’s length.”
“This is a deeply important issue in the public’s mind,” she said. “The majority of Americans lean pro-life on the abortion issue and don’t realize how extreme Roe v. Wade is. New Supreme Court justices will be named in the next presidential tenure, so this is an issue that motivates many voters.”
Christina Bellantoni and Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.