Abortion Rights March Could Bring Thousands
Wed Apr 21, 2004 05:42 PM ET
By Deborah Zabarenko
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Armies of demonstrators headed for Washington on Wednesday for a weekend march in favor of abortion rights and global reproductive freedom that organizers hope will counterbalance sharp anti-abortion rhetoric from the White House.
Organizers of the March for Women's Lives, set for Sunday on and around the National Mall, said on Wednesday they expect hundreds of thousands of participants from some 1,400 organizations and 53 countries.
A counter-demonstration by abortion opponents was scheduled for the same day at the mid-point of the women's march.
American feminists have stressed the non-partisan nature of the election-year event, but had harsh criticism for Bush administration policies that they see as going beyond opposition to abortion to limit women's access to family planning and sex education in the United States and the developing world.
"This march is non-partisan, it is not political in the sense of electoral (politics)," said Gloria Feldt, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, a march sponsor.
However, Feldt said the event aimed to "create a social climate in this country that is so supportive of reproductive rights and access to reproductive health care that it will simply be a matter of course that anyone in public office will be so as well."
Organizers hope for a bigger turnout on the Mall than a 1992 abortion rights march, which drew 500,000, according to the National Park Police, which no longer gives official crowd counts. The biggest demonstration was an anti-Vietnam War rally in 1969, which drew 600,000.
Planned Parenthood's Action Fund plans to endorse Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry at a separate event on Friday.
BUSH AND ABORTION
President Bush, a Republican, opposes abortion in most cases and has enacted two laws that have alarmed abortion rights advocates: a ban on a controversial procedure known to opponents as partial birth abortion, and a measure that makes it a separate federal crime to harm a pregnant woman's fetus.
The ban is being challenged in the courts by those who say it is unconstitutional and sets a bad precedent by using law to prohibit a medical procedure. Critics see the second measure, called the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, as improperly opening the door to giving fetuses separate legal rights from the women bearing them.
Bush has called the effort to overturn the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision -- which recognized abortion rights -- "a noble cause."
On Tuesday, Vice President Dick Cheney reaffirmed the administration's opposition to abortion at a dinner sponsored by the anti-abortion group National Right to Life. He said the Bush administration would defend the ban on so-called partial birth abortion "confidently and vigorously." Beyond domestic U.S. policy, abortion rights advocates say the Bush administration's anti-abortion stance has weakened international programs on family planning, AIDS prevention and women's rights.
Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority, said that while U.S. funding for global family planning has remained stable, half of this money now goes for programs that advocate sexual abstinence.
In addition, she said, a Bush administration policy known to critics as the global gag rule prohibits family planning agencies outside the United States from mentioning abortion if they receive any U.S. funds to support birth control, sex education or other programs.
Jodi Jacobson, head of the Center for Health and Gender Equity, said Bush repeatedly voiced his commitment to a $15 billion, five-year plan to curb HIV and AIDS, "but has failed as yet in any of the past two budgets to request the minimum $3 billion needed to fulfill that promise."