Thousands will gather today in Washington to protest abortion, at a time that many see as a watershed in the battle over the issue.
Pro-life leaders say they are encouraged by the Nov. 2 elections, when President Bush won a second term with a record 62 million votes and Republicans increased their Senate majority from 51 to 55 seats.
To those who take part in the annual March for Life, that means improved chances of persuading the Senate to confirm pro-life judges to the federal judiciary and to enact new restrictions on abortion. The march, timed each year to coincide with the Jan. 22 anniversary of the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, drew about 100,000 participants last year.
“The pro-life movement is definitely strong right now,” said Wendy Wright, senior policy director for Concerned Women for America (CWA). “We’ve got more pro-life representatives and senators in Congress than in the past. We’ve got a pro-life president, and a number of state legislatures are likely to pass laws” that restrict abortions.
Both sides of the issue are watching South Dakota, where last year, Republican Gov. Mike Rounds vetoed a bill that would have banned most abortions. Some of the state’s legislators say they will try to pass similar legislation.
“There were certainly serious flaws in the bill passed last year,” the governor’s spokesman, Mark Johnston, said last week. If state lawmakers pass a ban this year, Mr. Johnston said, “The governor certainly would give it his due consideration.”
Gloria Feldt, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, readily concedes that these are tough times for pro-choice activists.
“There is definitely a war on choice. George W. Bush is the commander in chief, and he has plenty of willing soldiers,” she said. “The human right to make our own child-bearing decisions is in mortal risk.”
Nellie Gray, president of the March for Life Education and Defense Fund, says the annual event is a “family affair that shows our deep interest in saving babies and saving this country.”
Before the march on Constitution Avenue, pro-lifers will rally at noon on the Ellipse, south of the White House. The march will pass the Supreme Court before ending at the Capitol.
Mr. Bush has been invited to the rally, Miss Gray said. No president has addressed the March for Life in person; Mr. Bush has addressed the event by telephone.
Few observers expect that the Supreme Court will overturn Roe v. Wade anytime soon. Three of the sitting justices, including Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, a staunch abortion opponent, widely are viewed as being pro-life. But Chief Justice Rehnquist’s recent illness has sparked speculation that he may retire, and some senators have sworn to block any pro-life nominees to the high court.
In addition for pushing for pro-life judicial nominees, activists also want Congress to pass several bills aimed at limiting abortion, including one that would make it a federal crime to transport a minor across state lines to circumvent state laws requiring parental consent for an abortion. They also support a measure that would require doctors to inform women who are more than 20 weeks pregnant and seeking abortions that their unborn child could feel pain during the procedure.
Vicki Saporta, president and chief executive officer of the National Abortion Federation, says lawmakers “need to be careful about how far they think they can go” in restricting abortion.
“Abortion was not an issue in the election,” she said. “We do have an anti-choice Congress and administration, but they are out of step with most Americans.”
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