Abortion rights activists march in Washington

By Alex Kingsbury & Jane Smith
U-WIRE Washington Bureau
April 23, 2001

Thousands of activists rallied on Capitol Hill Sunday, voicing their concerns and opposition to Bush administration moves that they see as potentially fatal to the cause of abortion rights.

Prominent women’s rights groups including the National Organization of Women, Planned Parenthood and the Feminist Majority organized the rally and march.

Women came from across the country to Senate Park, adjacent to the Capitol, united in the cause of preserving their right to have abortions. Made up largely of students and other young activists who braved the sweltering heat to rally for their cause, the crowd heard from NOW President Patricia Ireland, who called for “the need to take extraordinary measures in these dangerous times.”

“We need to remind the country that we won’t go back to coat hangers and back alleys,” Elizabeth Schoenfeldt, an activist and senior at Brown University, told the cheering crowd.

“Not only are they not going to take Roe v. Wade away from us, but we want other rights too,” Schoenfeldt told U-WIRE after her speech.

Schoenfeldt, who works part-time at a women’s clinic in Providence, is collecting stories from women and doctors involved in illegal abortions before the Supreme Court’s landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

Demonstrators gathered to hear a host of speakers and musical acts before marching on the National Mall.

Across from the park pro-life groups assembled displaying graphic pictures of aborted fetuses, carrying signs and shouting at their pro-choice counterparts.

“We don’t expect to change these people,” said Tina Whittington, leader of Rock For Life, a Christian organization that educates students through music. “(The two groups) are so polarized, and this is not the place to change their hearts and minds.”

Police stood between the two groups although there was no physical confrontation on the divisive issue.

“I am an abortion provider in a town where the last clinic was burned to the ground. I wear a bullet-proof vest to work,” said Dr. James Pendergraft, a physician running five abortion clinics in Florida. “My clinic is the site of daily protests and I fear for the physical safety of my patients, my employees and myself.”

“I’m sick of hearing about college students being asleep on issues,” said Marisa Glaser, a senior at Boston College. “If we can’t protect (a woman’s right to choose) here in America, we’ll never change things anywhere.”

Glaser said that birth control is not available on the campus of the Jesuit school, “you can’t even talk about it.”

“The struggle to save this fundamental right for women is also symbolic of a larger fight for all of the basic rights and expectations under attack by the Bush administration,” Ireland said. “Much of the progress we have made and our hopes for the future are on the line.”

Women’s rights groups from across the country opposed Bush’s reinstatement of the “Global Gag Rule” that prevents government money from funding international organizations that distribute birth control and provide abortions. Another concern raised at the demonstration was the governmental investigation of RU-486, a non-surgical abortion drug now offered on some college campuses.

Ireland said that the investigation was unwarranted and unnecessary citing, “extraordinary record of safety in a dozen years’ use by hundreds of thousands of women around the world.”

“Now mind you, no one in the administration has suggested we review the safety of Viagra!” Ireland said, citing a report that men who use the sexually enhancing drug may go temporarily or permanently blind. Many women expressed the fear that they would be of the generation that won and lost the right to legalized abortions. “We’re not going back!” was the rallying cry that was repeated by event speakers.

“I came up here because I think that Bush is a serious threat to reproductive freedom,” said Roberta Haynes, of Atlanta. “I have a daughter in college in Wisconsin, she isn’t here today, because she is pro-life.”

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