Thursday, January 22, 2004

Thousands of pro-life advocates demonstrated on downtown streets yesterday, marking the 31st anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion on demand.

Organizers estimated that more than 100,000 people from across the country attended the annual March for Life, but police did not provide an official crowd estimate.

After more than 15,000 people attended a morning Mass to pray for Roe v. Wade to be overturned, thousands more pro-life advocates met for a noon rally on the Ellipse, where they heard speeches from several Republican lawmakers and a short speech from President Bush by telephone from Roswell, N.M.

“During the past three years, we’ve made real progress toward building a culture of life in America,” Mr. Bush said. “Human life is a creation, not a commodity.

“But we all know there is still more to do. … We must continue with civility and respect to remind our fellow citizens that all life is sacred and worthy of protection,” he said.

The president said his administration is determined to prevent human cloning and to uphold the ban on partial-birth abortion, which he signed into law on Nov. 5. He did not mention overturning Roe v. Wade.

On Capitol Hill, some pro-choice lawmakers used the anniversary to argue that Republicans are trying to take away abortion rights.

“It is wrong for the U.S. Congress and the White House — two groups dominated by older white men — to usurp the right of women to control their own bodies and their own lives regardless of their individual circumstances,” said Rep. James P. Moran, Virginia Democrat.

“We should be empowering women to make healthy decisions through education and not judicial or legislative fiat,” Mr. Moran said.

Pro-life lawmakers, meanwhile, marked the anniversary by praising Mr. Bush’s positions, highlighting the passage of the partial-birth abortion ban and lamenting the practice of abortion.

“For 31 years, we have denied the most fundamental of all human rights to 40 million American children,” said Rep. Joe Pitts, Pennsylvania Republican, adding that abortion has cheapened the value of human life and contributed to senior citizens being disregarded and newborns being thrown into trash bins.

The march from the Ellipse to the Supreme Court began almost an hour later than scheduled, at about 2 p.m., but was uneventful. A group of about 30 pro-choice advocates met the marchers in front of the Supreme Court, and a small group of pro-life advocates tried to drown out their voices with chants.

Others prayed, but most marchers dispersed.

Luana Stoltenberg came from Davenport, Iowa, to attend the march because she said every time she vacuums her home she is reminded of the three abortions she had as a young woman.

“To this day, I still hear that haunting suction sound,” she said.

Mrs. Stoltenberg, 43, could not have children, so she and her husband adopted a 2-year-old boy from Madras, India, 13 years ago.

“There has never been a day that I don’t regret the choices I made to have those abortions, or think about those three children and who they would have been,” Mrs. Stoltenberg said. “Abortion didn’t solve my problems. It only made them worse.”

Mrs. Stoltenberg has filed one of the more than 1,000 affidavits attached to a motion filed in the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans to overturn Roe v. Wade. Norma McCorvey, who was “Roe” and became a pro-life advocate in 1995, is the sponsor of that motion.

A federal judge threw out Ms. McCorvey’s motion, but her attorneys have appealed the case to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and will make arguments on March 1.

Pierrette Wood, 43, came from Michigan with her sister-in-law, Mary Tortomose, 46, to applaud Mr. Bush’s signing of the partial-birth abortion ban.

Twenty-three years ago, Mrs. Wood was pregnant and unwed, and grappled over whether to keep her unborn child or to abort it. She said she is glad she chose to have her child.

“Today, my daughter is in medical school,” Mrs. Wood said, beaming.

A mother of three, Mrs. Wood held a sign high above the crowd that said, “Bush #1.”

“I came down to the march because of President Bush. I’ve never seen a president who is such a Christian. I just love him and his stance on abortion,” Mrs. Wood said.

Yesterday was Mrs. Wood’s first march, but she vowed it would not be her last.

“I’ll come back every year until Roe v. Wade is overturned,” she said.

Allan E. Parker Jr., one of the two attorneys for Ms. McCorvey, attended the march and said he thinks Roe v. Wade will be overturned in the next three years.

“The truth is on our side,” Mr. Parker said.

Royal Gethers, 16, who came with a group from his Catholic high school in Bronx, N.Y., was not so optimistic.

“We’ve been fighting this law for years,” he said. “But things could happen.”

Royal said he attended the march because “every child should have a chance to live.”

Brigid Touey, 18, came with a group of 250 fellow Catholic University students.

“We like babies. We want to save them,” she said.

• Amy Fagan on Capitol Hill contributed to this report.

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