Sunday, April 25, 2004

Pro-choice demonstrators yesterday converged on the Mall and called for taxpayer-funded abortions and an end to U.S. foreign policy banning aid to abortion clinics abroad.

The March for Women’s Lives also served as a political rally in opposition to President Bush, with demonstrators pummeling an effigy of the president and others chanting, “Hey ho, George Bush has got to go.”

Mr. Bush recently signed into law the Unborn Victims of Violence Act that gives a fetus legal rights and the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act that barred certain types of late-term abortions. But the pro-choice marchers were as likely to denounce the war in Iraq as the president’s abortion stance.

“If you care about changing the direction of this country, it’s up to you,” Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat, told the hundreds of thousands of demonstrators yesterday. “And you have to be willing to be a good citizen, to stand up for our rights, to stand up for our Constitution and to show up at the polls in November to elect John Kerry president of the United States.”

Mrs. Clinton said a similar pro-choice march in 1992 energized the Democratic Party and helped get her husband elected president.

“This year, we’ve got to do the very same thing,” she said.

Advocates said abortion rights are being weakened at the margins through federal and state restrictions and will be at risk of reversal at the core if Mr. Bush is elected to a second term.

“Know your power and use it,” Democrat Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, House minority leader, told the crowd. “It is your choice, not the politicians.”

Other speakers at the rally included D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, feminist Gloria Steinem, women’s rights activist Patricia Ireland and actress Cybill Shepherd.

“The antichoice advocates are hypocrites, … and they make me sick,” Miss Shepherd told the crowd.

The pro-choice activists began the march at the Mall, then walked past the White House before heading toward the U.S. Capitol. They ended the march with another rally in the afternoon at the Mall.

The U.S. Park Police no longer provides crowd estimates at events on the Mall. But a veteran Park Police officer told The Washington Times that the crowd appeared to number less than 500,000.

D.C. police unofficially estimated that between 500,000 and 800,000 took part, which would make the March for Women’s Lives the largest demonstration ever held on the Mall, topping the estimated 500,000 who protested for abortion rights in 1992.

Organizers of yesterday’s march estimated that 1.15 million persons attended.

About 600,000 people turned out for the largest recorded demonstration on the Mall — the Vietnam War Moratorium Rally — on Saturday, Nov. 15, 1969.

The largest gatherings on the Mall were the 1976 Bicentennial Celebration, when up to 1 million watched the fireworks display and the 1991 Desert Storm Homecoming, when about 800,000 turned out.

Despite the size of the crowd and occasional shouting matches between marchers and pro-life activists who held counterdemonstrations along the route, police said the event was relatively peaceful.

Still, Park Police arrested 16 pro-life demonstrators with the Christian Defense Coalition who moved out of the group’s designated demonstration area along Pennsylvania Avenue and into the area designated for marchers at Fourth Street and Madison Drive.

Police arrested another man for disorderly conduct for throwing plastic eggs filled with ink at a sign. Police said all offenses are misdemeanors and the 17 persons were expected to be released last night.

Amid the sea of pink and purple T-shirts that converged on the Mall, pro-choice demonstrators hoisted placards with such slogans as “Gay marriage is a civil right,” “No Trespassing: My body is not public property” and “Reproductive justice for all.”

Various tents and vendors on the Mall also promoted other political causes, including welfare, the Falun Gong movement in China, homosexual “marriage,” the socialist movement, environmentalism, the separation of the Palestinians from Israel and striking Utah coal miners.

Organizers set up voter-registration tables; supporters of Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic presidential candidate, handed out stickers.

Metro ran additional cars on all its rail lines to accommodate the crowds, but the onslaught of passengers still clogged stations. By last night, more than 320,000 people had rode the rails, about 2 times the number of people who used Metro the previous Sunday.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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