Tens of thousands of demonstrators assembled at the Washington Monument to speak out against abortion Monday. The annual March for Life marked the 28th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade ruling, which guarantees a woman’s right to abortion.
Protesters carried signs that read “God is pro-life” and “When does a moral wrong become a civil right?”
Propelled by new hope under the Bush administration, speakers promised change on the abortion issue, including overturning Roe v. Wade.
The march was further ignited by the announcement Monday that Bush would sign an executive order banning federal funding to any services abroad that provide abortions. Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.) delivered the message, which came eight years to the day that newly inaugurated President Bill Clinton restored funds to such international clinics.
“A long eight years is over,” said former Rep. Robert Dornan, (R-Calif.). “A man of deep faith is in the White House.”
Dornan spoke of his work on legislation to prevent federally funded abortions in D.C., military hospitals and on Native American reservations.
The march from 15th Street and Constitution Avenue to the Supreme Court drew abortion opponents from across the country. The crowd displayed mostly Christian religious signs and symbols, and some participants gathered to pray.
“The sanctity of life stems mostly from religious beliefs,” said GW sophomore Laura Cusumano, who attended the event. “It’s invigorating to be part of a protest when you feel so strongly.”
Father Robert Panke, head of the Catholic Newman Center at GW, helped organize a youth rally of about 1,000 students from around the country before the march at St. Steven’s Church.
“Most pro-choicers are misinformed as to the reality of abortion,” Panke said. “(The practice of abortion) is a poor use of what freedom truly is.”
Panke said the march was peaceful and no radicals attended. Some protesters held graphic pictures and props to illustrate abortion procedures. Panke said he did not believe the graphic material is very effective, but depicts the reality of how violent abortion is.
Sophomore Vincent DeRosa marched with the Newman Center group along with five other GW students.
“What struck me the most was that they were there peacefully,” DeRosa said. “There was no violence, shouting or disrespect. Everyone was singing and praying – it was amazing.”
DeRosa said he has a difficult time presenting his pro-life views at GW.
“People have to come to an understanding with each other,” he said. “We are told we are close-minded, but we ignore that and march peacefully. Pro-choicers should be able to do that in the same manner.”
Officials from family planning services such as Planned Parenthood have expressed concern about the consequences of the order Bush signed Monday to eliminate federal funding to groups that perform abortions or offer abortion counseling.
“The `gag order’ will affect vulnerable women in impoverished nations,” said Virginia Martin, vice president of external affairs for Planned Parenthood in D.C. People seeking aid abroad will not able to use these agencies for counseling or prevention of pregnancy, she said.
“An HIV-positive woman in Africa with three kids already won’t even be able to get information about how to prevent the spread of HIV,” Martin said.
Martin said the fact that the order was signed on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade sends a very strong message.
Planned Parenthood has constant security concerns, as protesters stand outside the clinic at least every week, Martin said. After the march last year
they spent an additional $20,000 for security, including bulletproof vests and private security guards.
“Our response (to the march) is to stay open and make sure our patients and doctors are safe even if they are protesting outside the clinic,” Martin said.
A new student group called GW4Life hopes to find common ground on the issue, said executive director David York. The group is a political activist organization that hopes to participate in future demonstrations like the march, York said.