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After 32 Years, Roe Remains a Lightning Rod

By Karlyn Barker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 23, 2005; Page C01

Demonstrators on both sides of the issue shared icy sidewalks in Washington yesterday to protest or commemorate the 32nd anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.

Lindsay Carroll, 19, traveled all night Friday by bus from the University of Kentucky in Lexington, then huddled yesterday morning with other protesters outside the D.C. headquarters of Planned Parenthood. Her trip to the nation's capital had one purpose: "to pray for the abortions to stop."

At Planned Parenthood in Northwest Washington, the Rev. Patrick Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition, prays outside the clinic. (Nikki Kahn -- The Washington Post)

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Carroll, in town with the group Students for Life for tomorrow's annual March for Life demonstration, was among about 200 people who showed up at the Planned Parenthood offices and clinic on 16th Street NW to display their abortion opposition in songs, signs and scripture.

Abortion opponents, organized by the American Life League's Rock for Life, held a noon prayer vigil at the Supreme Court.

The National Organization for Women and other abortion rights advocates came to the court late yesterday afternoon for a "We Won't Go Back" rally in support of a woman's right to choose. They expressed concern that, with the reelection of President Bush and with Republicans in control of the House and Senate, the composition of the Supreme Court could change in a way that would threaten reproductive rights.

Outside Planned Parenthood, as light sleet preceded the snow, some demonstrators knelt in prayer or carried signs reading, "Abortion Is Homicide." Others chanted or sang. A priest from Nebraska held rosary beads and recited, "Hail Mary, pray for us sinners."

Most of the protesters stood across the street, but others lined the sidewalk in front of the clinic and the walkway leading to the door.

"My personal philosophy respects all life. It's as simple as that," said Phil Eddy, 22, of Albany, N.Y., who wore a button proclaiming, "No Abortion, No War, No Death Penalty."

Eddy, who is also a vegan and belongs to a national group known as Saving Arrows, which opposes killing, said he came to town to protest President Bush's inauguration and decided to stay for the antiabortion march.

Inside the clinic, Jatrice Martel Gaiter, president and chief executive of Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, was strongly critical of what she called "ill-informed" protesters.

"These are people who love fetuses but hate babies and children," she said, arguing that antiabortion demonstrators "do nothing" to aid adoption, foster care or other programs designed to help women cope with unwanted pregnancies.

Gaiter said that abortion accounts for only 10 percent of Planned Parenthood's services. Most of its efforts, she stressed, are focused on providing birth control and emergency contraceptives as well as a variety of counseling services and tests for sexually transmitted diseases.

She said antiabortion demonstrators have become more aggressive during the Bush administration, particularly since his reelection. One protester tried to climb in Gaiter's car last weekend, she said.

Complicating the situation, she said, is that District laws, unlike those in many other jurisdictions, permit antiabortion demonstrators to come within 18 inches of family planning clinics and other protest targets.

The 16th Street clinic marked the Roe v. Wade anniversary yesterday by staying open 24 hours, though Gaiter said it was not performing abortions this weekend. More than two dozen volunteers, wearing orange "Pro-Choice" T-shirts over winter jackets, served as escorts to help clients get through the crowd of demonstrators.

At the clinic's door, protesters often greeted visitors with, "We're praying for you. God bless."

One client, a 25-year-old Capitol Hill resident who spoke on condition of anonymity for privacy reasons, said the escort helped.

The demonstrators "prayed and tried to give me rosaries," said the woman, who went to the clinic for an emergency contraceptive. "I wasn't intimidated, but the praying was a little bit creepy."

One protester, Daniel Holthouse, 20, also from the University of Kentucky, said he had been praying for the end of abortion "for as long as I've had my own opinion, as long as I can remember."

Danielle Lechleiter, 14, who arrived on a bus from Neceda, Wis., was making her second trip to Washington. She came for last year's antiabortion march.

"I'm praying," she said, "and hopefully this will save some lives."

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