Protesters See Mood Shift Against 'Roe'

Abortion Opponents Rally for The March
Abortion opponents rally near the Lincoln Memorial for a march to the U.S. Capitol to mark the 33rd anniversary of the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. (Dima Gavrysh for washingtonpost.com)

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By Michelle Boorstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Tens of thousands of abortion opponents held an upbeat rally on the cold, gray streets of downtown Washington yesterday and described what they see as a societal tide turning against the 33-year-old Roe v. Wade court decision that legalized the procedure.

Demonstrators at the annual March for Life said their movement has been buoyed by two recent Supreme Court nominees -- one of them confirmed -- who appear open to reconsidering the 1973 decision. They talked optimistically about how technological advances are producing clearer sonograms, which could make it harder to argue that a fetus is not a person.

And they noted yesterday's large turnout of young people, who filled the march route along Constitution Avenue and lined the walls outside the Supreme Court in cheerleader jackets, black leather outfits with studs and T-shirts that read, "Abortion is Mean" and "Sex is good, the pill is not."

"This is the beginning of the end. We'll look back at some point soon and won't believe that people were ever killing babies like it was nothing," said Ryan McAlpin, 19, who came from Chicago with a group of friends.

The rally and march were the culmination of three days of antiabortion conferences and lobbying. Yesterday's events began on the Mall, in front of the Smithsonian Castle, with speakers including Christian and Jewish religious leaders from across the country and Bobby Schindler, the brother of Terri Schiavo, the brain-damaged woman at the center of a right-to-die debate last year.

The march is held each year to protest the Supreme Court's Jan. 22, 1973, decision that most laws against abortion violate a constitutional right to privacy. The first protest was in 1974 in Washington.

Stephen G. Peroutka, chairman of the National Pro-Life Action Center, one of the event's sponsors, estimated the crowd size at 225,000 to 250,000 people, while D.C. police gave an estimate of 70,000.

The streets were filled with banners, many of them from churches across the country, and many groups wore matching T-shirts or hats so as not to get separated. The mood was closer to a party than a political protest, and the soundtrack of the day was the laughter of young people.

Joe Giganti, a spokesman for the action center, said more Americans are starting to question the notion that Roe is settled law. "I'd say the mood has changed significantly just in the past year," he said. "We're going to see the overturning of Roe ."

Charmaine Yoest, a vice president at the Family Research Council, told a morning gathering of 40 antiabortion bloggers that the demise of Roe would mean a battle within each state over whether abortion should be legal -- a more localized, grass-roots fight.

"Consensus is building that we are moving into a post- Roe future, and we need to be ready," she said.

The pendulum swing, she said, is reflected in the confirmation of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and the nomination of Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. to the Supreme Court. Neither man is a guaranteed antiabortion vote in any court case, Yoest noted, and even if both men vote to overturn Roe , the balance on the court is still 5 to 4 in favor of the ruling.


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