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Abortion rights marchers in nation’s capital target President Bush’s pro-life policies

WASHINGTON (BP)–Pro-choice advocates gathered in a massive demonstration in the nation’s capital April 25 to support abortion rights, with the rally often a defiant outcry against the policies of the Bush administration.

Actresses, musicians and members of Congress joined the leaders of such organizations as Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-choice America to call for the protection of abortion rights and the defeat of President Bush in this year’s election.

While organizers of the March for Women’s Lives and accompanying rally announced the crowd at 1.15 million, other estimates were markedly less. Many veteran observers of such events, meanwhile, estimated the crowd at a minimum of 500,000, according to The Washington Post. The U.S. Park Police no longer estimates crowds at rallies on the mall that stretches west from the Capitol. Sen. Hillary Clinton, D.-N.Y., told the marchers the Bush administration is “filled with people who … consider Roe v. Wade the worst abomination of constitutional law in our history,” the Associated Press reported.

“If all we do is march today, that will not change the direction this country is headed under this administration,” she said, according to The Post.

Longtime feminist leader Gloria Steinem said, “This government is the greatest danger on earth,” according to AP.

A White House spokesman responded to the rally by saying, “The president believes we should work to build a culture of life in America, and regardless of where one stands on the issue of abortion, we can all work together to reduce the number of abortions through promotion of abstinence-education programs, support for parental-notification laws and continued support for banning partial-birth abortion.”

Bush’s signing of the Partial-birth Abortion Ban Act in November drew particular ire from the rally’s speakers. The measure, which was vetoed twice by President Clinton, prohibits a grisly procedure performed on a nearly totally delivered unborn child normally in the fifth or sixth month of pregnancy. Abortion-rights organizations have challenged the law, and trials have been held, or are being held, in federal courts in New York; Lincoln, Neb.; and San Francisco.

Abortion-rights organizations also opposed the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which the president signed into law April 1. The measure recognizes an unborn child as a victim when he or she is harmed or killed in a federal offense against a pregnant woman.

A White House action reported April 26 seemed certain to gather more criticism from abortion-rights supporters. The administration plans to drop its sponsorship through the U.S. Agency for International Development of a global health and reproductive rights conference in June in Washington, The Washington Times reported. The decision was made at least partly because of the participation in the conference of the International Planned Parenthood Federation and a United Nations family planning agency, according to The Times. The Bush administration has refused funds for both organizations because of their support for abortion.

Voter registration tables were set up at the rally, and workers for presumptive Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry handed out material, AP reported. NARAL announced it was beginning a new voter sign-up effort that included the distribution of registration forms on buses departing from the rally.

In addition to Clinton, members of Congress who appeared to support abortion rights included Sen. Barbara Boxer of California and Reps. Nancy Pelosi, the House of Representatives minority leader from California; Jerrold Nadler of New York; Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas; and Janice Schakowsky of Illinois. All are Democrats. Madeline Albright, President Clinton’s secretary of State, also participated.

Among the actresses leading the march and/or speaking at the rally were Julianne Moore, Whoopi Goldberg, Susan Sarandon, Ashley Judd, Helen Hunt, Cybill Shepherd, Christine Lahti and Tyne Daly. Carole King and Ani DiFranco sang at the rally.

Pro-lifers lined a portion of Pennsylvania Avenue during the march, some holding up signs such as “Women deserve better than abortion,” while others shouted messages at the marchers, according to news reports.

In addition to Planned Parenthood and NARAL, the sponsors of the march were the American Civil Liberties Union, Black Women’s Health Imperative, Feminist Majority, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health and the National Organization for Women.

The National Education Association’s support of the march drew criticism from some of its members. The NEA is the country’s largest teachers union, and thousands of faculty and staff are required to belong to the association despite their disagreements with the organization’s liberal agenda.

“We’re supposed to be for children, and they say it’s OK to eliminate our very clientele. That’s hard to understand,” Ohio middle-school teacher Connie Bancroft told The Washington Times. Bancroft is executive director of Teachers Saving Children, a national organization of 3,300 pro-life educators.

Among the religious organizations endorsing the march were the Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church (USA) and United Methodist Board of Church and Society.

“The Christian church for 2,000 years, in nearly all of its traditions, has placed itself on the side of life,” said Diane Knippers, president of the Institute of Religion and Democracy, in a written release. “What a scandal that officials of mainline churches have attached the names of their denominations to this march’s support for government-funded, abortion on demand with no restrictions, including partial-birth abortion.”

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