Abortion rights activists congregate on Mall

Hundreds of thousands of abortion rights activists flooded the National Mall Sunday, waving signs and wearing T-shirts to display their opposition to Bush administration policies that they said threatened women’s lives.

The March for Women’s Lives, organized by seven leading national women’s rights groups, was the largest abortion rights demonstration in 12 years. The event served as a venue for women and men to criticize what they said was a Republican effort to restrict access to abortion procedures.

“We are determined to stop this war on women,” Feminist Majority Executive Director Ellie Smeal said. “We say in one voice, ‘Don’t mess with women because this is not a one-day march. We are changing the future of this country because women must be at the tables.'”

Between 500,000 and 800,000 demonstrators from across the country attended the event, The Associated Press reported. Diana Gordon, who traveled from Oregon with a group of more than 200 people, said there is more “power in numbers.”

“I see a backward trend in our government,” she said. “Roe v. Wade” – the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal – “and women reproductive freedoms are in place for good reasons.”

Activists also highlighted the importance of a vacancy on the Supreme Court, which could allow President Bush to appoint an anti-abortion judge to the nation’s highest judicial body. In November, Bush signed the “Partial-Birth Abortion Act,” which prevents doctors from performing a controversial abortion procedure in the second or third trimester of a women’s pregnancy.

Celebrity activists also emphasized the importance of voter registration.

“We need to register people to vote,” comedian Whoopi Goldberg said. “It’s OK to voice your opinion, but you must keep choice. Even God gave us freedom of choice. Let’s make the right choice and put the right person in office this time.”

Actress Ashley Judd said abortions could be avoided if women had better access to contraception.

“Keep your laws off my body,” Judd said to the protesters. “Can you hear me 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue? If you don’t want us to abort our pregnancies have healthcare cover our birth control.”

The march had a partisan tone, as the crowd denounced the Bush administration with signs reading “My bush would make a better president” and “Abort Bush now.”

The two-mile march route took protesters from the Mall down 14th Street and across the Ellipse. Counter-protesters lined the route with graphic illustrations of dismembered fetuses and signs stating “Abortion = murder” and “God hates you.”

Colonials for Life, a pro-life GW student organization, participated in the counter-protest near L’Efant Plaza.

“We believe that (abortion) is the ultimate exploitation of women and the greatest sign that society has failed women,” Colonials for Life Chair Suanne Edmiston said. “We believe it is genocide.”

U.S. Park Police arrested 16 counter-protesters from the Christian Defense Coalition for protesting without a permit and another demonstrator for throwing a plastic ink-filled egg at the marchers, said Sgt. Scott Fear, of the Park Police Public Information Office. n

Ryan Holeywell contributed to this report.

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