By Michelle Boorstein, Jenna Johnson and William Wan
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, January 23, 2009
The inauguration of a president who supports abortion rights fired up the annual March for Life yesterday, with activists warning of new, more liberal legislation and urging President Obama to view abortion as a civil-rights issue akin to slavery.
Signs read: "Yes we can -- eliminate abortion." One speaker took the microphone and called for anti-abortion "community organizers," a job the president held in Chicago. Another taunted Obama with references to one of his heroes.
Looking east at the thousands of marchers gathered from Fourth to Seventh streets on the Mall, Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) said Obama needed to be reminded "that the reason we built that monument to president Abraham Lincoln is because he saw the humanity in a slave that the Supreme Court said was not human." Nothing could make Obama less like Lincoln than "forgetting that the unborn are also little children of God," he added.
Police provided no estimate for the size of the crowd gathered on the 36th anniversary of the Supreme Court ruling Roe v. Wade. But anti-abortion leaders said they sensed a new intensity because of Obama and the new, more heavily Democratic Congress.
Deirdre McQuade, spokeswoman for Pro-Life Activities at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said turnout at the annual Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Northeast on Wednesday night filled the basilica's 16,000-person capacity and spill into two overflow buildings. A morning youth concert and Mass yesterday at Verizon Center also filled up -- there were 20,000-plus seats -- and crowds were sent to nearby churches.
"We are concerned that given the momentum pro-choice members [of Congress] may feel having a pro-abortion president, something as extreme as the Freedom of Choice Act could be proposed again," said McQuade, citing a measure that would codify a woman's right under Roe v. Wade to terminate her pregnancy and would forbid any interference with that right. Democratic leaders say the bill does not have enough support even to clear legislative committees.
The mood on the Mall yesterday was upbeat, with throngs of teenagers chatting, chasing one another and laughing.
McQuade noted that the number of yearly abortions has been down since the 1990s and that a new movement is trying to further reduce abortions through education, better health care and counseling for pregnant women and new parents.
The movement is led by progressive abortion opponents, including the groups Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good and Catholics United, who handed out fliers at yesterday's march and hosted speakers. A sign posted near the Supreme Court building -- the final destination of the march -- read: "Reduce Abortions, Support Sex Education."
For eight years, marchers had been greeted by a message from President George W. Bush, who supported their cause and appointed two Supreme Court justices who voted to uphold federal restrictions on some abortion procedures.
In contrast, Obama issued a statement yesterday reaffirming his support for a woman's right to choose to end her pregnancy. Roe v. Wade, the statement said, "not only protects women's health and reproductive freedom, but stands for a broader principle: that government should not intrude on our most private family matters."
Abortion-rights supporters traditionally haven't come out in force at the March for Life, but there were a few at the Supreme Court yesterday.
Alden Woodhull, 16, of the District organized a group of friends from her Catholic high school to stand outside the court with signs supporting the right to have an abortion.
"I just want people to know there's another side," she said. "Personally, I would choose to not have an abortion if I was pregnant. The point is, it would be my choice."