President Reagan yesterday agreed to address the annual March for Life antiabortion protest on Tuesday, the 12th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion.
White House spokesman Anson Franklin said Reagan, an outspoken opponent of abortion, would use a loudspeaker hookup from the Oval Office to speak to the rally, which last year drew 35,000 demonstrators. This will be the first time Reagan has addressed the marchers, despite requests in previous years.
Reagan's decision came as abortion clinics across the country tightened security in response to warnings by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms that the presidential inauguration on Monday and the anniversary of the abortion decision could prompt attacks against the facilities.
There have been 30 bombings or arson attacks against clinics since 1982, and two local organizations were the target of bomb threats yesterday. D.C. police bomb squad units who were dispatched to both clinics found no sign of bombs.
Reagan publicly condemned anti-abortion violence earlier this month in his strongest statement on the issue. Franklin said Reagan decided to speak to the antiabortion protesters because he is "very supportive of legislative and other efforts to overturn Roe v. Wade."
March for Life President Nellie Gray said Reagan had been invited to speak at the previous demonstrations during his administration but did not, despite a promise to do so during the 1980 presidential campaign.
"I don't think there's a change of heart or anything like that," Gray said of Reagan's decision to speak to the marchers. "I think it's just a matter of their understanding how important the march is and the number of people there."
Meanwhile, as the National Organization for Women began a weekend of vigils at 27 abortion clinics across the country, a bomb threat forced the evacuation of the Women's Medical Center at 1712 I St. NW, just three hours before NOW President Judy Goldsmith arrived to spend the first night of a three-night vigil by NOW members and other prochoice activists.
"We have said that we will not yield to bullies, that no one can tell us what to do," Goldsmith said after arriving at the clinic.
One patient at the clinic for counseling and 16 staff members were evacuated after the clinic received an anonymous call at 1 p.m. from a woman who said, "There is a bomb in the building today."
Two hours later, the headquarters of Planned Parenthood of Washington, which does not perform abortions but refers patients to abortion clinics, was the target of a bomb threat, again from a female caller. The office, at 1108 16th St. NW was evacuated, and the street between L and M streets NW was closed to traffic and pedestrians for 45 minutes as police and dogs searched for explosives.
The NOW vigils, designed to commemorate Roe v. Wade and to protest the wave of violence against abortion clinics, have drawn criticism from other prochoice groups, who charge that the vigils are a dangerous publicity ploy.
"I wouldn't ask anyone to spend the night in a clinic, and I wouldn't be willing to take that chance," said Rosann Wisman, executive director of Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington. "I think it's dangerous and it could be provocative. You just don't know how crazy people are out there."
But Katherine Rice, executive director of the Women's Medical Center, predicted that the presence of as many as 100 prochoice activists participating in the weekend vigil there would deter violence.
"Presumably people who are setting those bombs off don't want to hurt innocent people," Rice said.
Prochoice groups yesterday criticized Reagan's decision to speak to the March for Life demonstration. "It's bad timing," said Barbara Radford, executive director of the National Abortion Federation. "He could say I realize I made this commitment and I'm very sorry and I'd be happy to do it at some other point, but I'm not going to Tuesday given the fact that federal law enforcement agencies" have warned clinics about violence.
But Robert Reilly, a special assistant to the president, said there was no connection between the violence and mainstream antiabortion protesters. "There's no one we know or deal with in the pro-life movement who does not deplore the violence involved there," he said.