WEB EXCLUSIVE: Students march with NOW

Picket signs and rally cries filled the typically calm Sunday streets of D.C., as more than 150 sponsors and representatives from nearly 160 college campuses came out for the Emergency Action for Women’s Lives March.

Almost members of GW’s Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance group and supporters marched to support women’s rights to privacy and reproductive freedom.

The event began with a rally in Upper Senate Park near Union Station, which included speakers such as Eleanor Smeal from the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance, Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Gloria Feldt and musical acts ranging from the contemporary blues of Deanna Bogart to Mary Prankster’s folk rock.

Activists then marched past the Senate office buildings, the United States Supreme Court and the Capitol building to the National Mall, where booths from pro-choice organizations made up a Reproductive Health Fair.

Sophomore Jen Heitel, president of GW’s Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance, a feminist outreach group, said Sunday’s rally and march was to protect women’s rights.

“The Bush Administration has attacked women’s rights since day one,” Heitel said, referring to President Bush’s decision to reinstate “the global gag rule,” during his first day in office, which denies U.S. aid to family planning organizations abroad that use their funds to provide abortion services to their patients.

The event stemmed from the National Organization for Women President, Patricia Ireland’s call on March 1 for an unprecedented Emergency Action for Women’s Lives and the beginning of “a long and critical fight for our lives.” Sunday’s rally and march kicked off a four-year campaign by NOW and more than 150 organizational and congressional sponsors to uphold the right to choose.

“With a Bush administration committed to limiting reproductive rights and rumors that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor may retire at the end of this term, NOW has declared a state of emergency,” Ireland said in an Apr. 6 press release.

On Sunday, Ireland continued her fight to ensure a Supreme Court bench that will uphold Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court case recognizing that the constitutional right to privacy extends to a woman’s decision to terminate her pregnancy. She urged marchers to sign petitions circulating through the crowd to preserve the right to privacy and reproductive rights.

“We must, and we will, convince our Senators to reject or, if necessary, filibuster to block confirmation of any Bush nominees who would overturn these long-recognized rights,” Ireland said.

Sylvia Henriquez, who spoke at the rally on behalf of the National Abortion Federation, said Justice O’Connor has traditionally been the crucial fifth vote to preserve Roe v. Wade.

“We are one vote away from losing Roe v. Wade,” Henriquez said. “If Justice O’Connor retires, who knows who Bush will appoint as a replacement.”

As the marchers headed down Constitution Ave., they chanted “not the church, not the state, women must decide their fate!” and shouted “save the courts!” as they passed the U.S. Supreme Court on 1st Street.

Pro-life advocates lined the marchers’ route, holding up signs with graphic pictures of aborted babies and signs that compared Planned Parenthood to the Ku Klux Klan. The marchers shouted back “all women have the right to choose, how would you feel if you were in our shoes?”

At the National Mall the marchers, who faced temperatures upwards of 85 degrees, were greeted by water stands, a stage where more people performed, and tables with information about women’s rights.

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