Four decades ago, Joannie Santoro-Griffin's mother, Gerri Santoro, bled to death on a motel room floor, the victim of a botched abortion. The photo became the icon for a movement. Tomorrow, Santoro-Griffin will walk with her own daughter and Santoro's sister Leona T. Gordon in the March for Women's Lives.
For Santoro-Griffin, 46, of Lake Forest, Calif., the march marks the first time she has signed up for an abortion rights rally. "I can't change what happened to my mother," she said. "But I can help change what's happening to our laws and make sure this doesn't happen to anyone else."
Kathryn Drake had a legal abortion in 1978, a decision she says she instantly regretted. She said she was haunted for years and found solace in her Christian faith and in the antiabortion movement, whose members plan to confront the abortion rights marchers.
"It was a long process of healing," said Drake, 50, of St. Augustine, Fla. Tomorrow, she said, she'll dress in black and encourage women who've had abortions "to come out of hiding from their shame."
Hundreds of thousands of women, their families and friends -- and their opponents -- plan to take to the streets tomorrow. Organizers of the rally and march say this is the city's first large-scale abortion rights rally in more than a decade.
Spurred by what they see as erosion of the abortion rights established by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1973, they've expanded what for years had been their core demand into a sweeping plea for equal access to birth control, women's health care and sex education.
A relatively small number of counter-protesters are expected to come out as well and oppose them. On both sides of the barricades, personal history underpins the politics -- the individual reasons that have moved so many to book flights or board buses, to get to Washington and make themselves heard.
In 1992, the March for Women's Lives was sponsored by the National Organization for Women. Sponsors of tomorrow's march reflect the expanded pitch: In addition to NOW, they include Planned Parenthood Federation of America, NARAL Pro-Choice America, Feminist Majority, American Civil Liberties Union, Black Women's Health Imperative and National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health. An additional 1,400 co-sponsors have signed on, from the feminist newspaper Off Our Backs to Black Men for Black Women, which march co-director Loretta Ross described as "a bunch of brothers from the Million Man March."
Renee Turner Inman of Washington found a march flier in Sisterspace and Books, an African American women-owned bookstore on U Street NW. She said she hadn't been to a demonstration since college, when she demanded equal educational opportunities for African Americans. A human resources executive at Howard University, Inman, 45, has seen the fruit of those protests.
After a two-decade hiatus from activism taken to grow her career and family, she plans to march tomorrow with her husband, Paris, and her boys, Aaron, 8, and Asher, 6. This time, equal access to health insurance is her issue: Due in part to poorer health care options, African American and Latina women suffer from higher rates of childbirth mortality, sexually transmitted diseases and infant mortality than do Caucasian women.
"This march is full circle for me," Inman said. "It's not about abortion rights. It's for all women's rights."
But for many marchers, abortion remains the reason to raise their voices.
Maria Jose Rosado is a former Catholic nun who flew in from Sao Paulo, Brazil, to march because she said she is tired of seeing "poor women suffer from political decisions taken in the U.S." Rosado, 59, is an aid worker and the head of the Brazilian chapter of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. She said illegal abortions are one of the chief causes of injury and death among poor women of childbearing age in Brazil.
They suffer, she said, from America's "Mexico City policy," which requires that nongovernmental organizations working abroad agree to neither perform nor actively promote abortion as a method of family planning, as a condition of receiving federal money. The Reagan-era policy, rescinded in 1993, was reinstated by President Bush in early 2001. Abortion rights activists call it the "Global Gag Rule."
"All over our country, there are women's voices for the right to . . . have control over their own bodies, especially contraception and abortion," Rosado said. "To talk about this question is to talk about social justice."
To Kathryn Drake, abortion is a crime it took her years to atone for. The Roe v. Wade decision was still relatively new in 1978 when, Drake said, she was ashamed to have a second child out of wedlock and visited a New York clinic for an abortion. "They make it very easy, and it was done," leaving her "numb," she said.
Four years ago, Drake joined her church in an antiabortion march and came face to face with the movement's "gruesome pictures of aborted fetuses, and I freaked." Through prayer and support from her church, she said, "Jesus healed me of my shame," and she became a counselor to other women who have had abortions.
Drake, who declined a request to be photographed, is associated today with Randall Terry, who is organizing abortion opponents to assemble along Pennsylvania Avenue NW between Seventh and 15th streets.
"It doesn't mean it's lawful just because it's legal," Drake said this week of abortion. "There is a higher law that we will answer to, you know."
Leona Gordon, 74, of Westmoreland, N.H., said she remembers when all abortions were illegal. She recalls what she went through in 1964, with five kids and a bad marriage, to get one. And she recalls what it was like, a few weeks later, to claim the body of her sister, Gerri Santoro, who died after one.
"Oh, here I go," she said, beginning to weep, as she said she does most nights.
Gerri Santoro was one of her younger sisters, bubbly and trusting, the mother of two girls by a man who abused her and them. They separated, Santoro had a relationship with another man and became pregnant. When she was more than six months along, her husband contacted her: He was returning to her Coventry, Conn., home in hopes of reconciling.
Santoro panicked, her sister said. When he saw she was pregnant, she feared, he might kill her. Leona scraped together $700 and told her to hide. Instead, the man by whom she was pregnant borrowed a set of medical instruments and a textbook from a work colleague. When the procedure went wrong he fled, leaving Santoro to bleed to death at a Norwich, Conn., motel.
For years, the family told Santoro's daughters that she'd died in a car accident. After the Roe decision, Ms. magazine published a police photo of Santoro's death scene. Gordon recognized her sister, lying nude, facedown on the motel room floor, gripping a towel she'd used to try and stop the bleeding. The photo became a symbol for the abortion rights movement, a "never again," said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority, which publishes Ms.
Ms. editors at the time said they were unsure how they had gotten the photo and did not identify Santoro. Gordon was appalled, traumatized, then glad, she said. "People needed to be shocked into believing that something like this really happens." She said she has marched holding aloft a poster-size version of the photo.
When Joannie Santoro-Griffin, Santoro's younger daughter, was 17, Gordon told her the truth about her mother. "I really wanted her to be wrong," Santoro-Griffin said. For years, she and her sister kept silent "out of a combination of shame and fear," she said.
Then, only a couple of weeks ago, she said, she saw the antiabortion posters of dead fetuses.
"I walked away thinking, 'How do you fight something that nasty?' " she recalled. "Then my mother's image came to mind, and I thought, that's why they did this. I decided I'm not going to be silent anymore."
Santoro-Griffin arrived in Washington yesterday with her daughter, Tara Bueche, 18. Tomorrow, for the first time, Gerri Santoro's sister, daughter and granddaughter will march together.
"My sister would be proud," Gordon said.