[Marxism] Huge Demo in Washington for Women's Rights
gojack10 at hotmail.com
Sun Apr 25 21:57:31 MDT 2004
Despite the reformist Democratic Party politics of the majority of the major
organizers of this demo, this still was a most needed and timely rally. It
must have truly been sickening to hear Madeleine Albright discourse on her
support for women though. Tony Abdo
Pro-Choice March Largest in History
By Allison Stevens
More than a million pro-choice demonstrators turned out for The March for
Women's Lives, making it a historic day. Speakers urged marchers to elect
politicians who will safeguard women's health and reproductive rights.
WASHINGTON (WOMENSENEWS)--More than one million pro-choice activists
converged in the nation's capital Sunday to protest the government's
persistent effort to chip away at women's reproductive and health rights.
The March for Women's Lives--organized by a coalition of activist
organizations--easily broke attendance records for national
reproductive-rights rallies, overwhelming the 750,000 benchmark set in 1992.
After a two-mile walk from the Washington monument down Pennsylvania past
the White House and toward the U.S. Capitol Building, demonstrators returned
to their starting point on the national mall for a four-hour late-afternoon
rally led by a diverse group of women's rights leaders and
Brandishing a white coat hanger, comedian Whoopi Goldberg kicked off the
afternoon rally with a vow to never to return to the days of back-alley
abortions that prevailed before the Supreme Court legalized abortion in
"This was the choice," Goldberg said as she held up the hanger. "This was
it. And I'm here to tell you, never again. We are not going backwards child,
A sea of faces stretched more than a mile, from one end of the national mall
to the other. Under an overcast sky, the dozens of lawmakers, celebrities
and political organizers looked out at them and issued a collective call to
restore and preserve women's health and reproductive rights.
Delivering a Political Warning
While avoiding partisan politics, one speaker after the next warned that the
anti-choice leaders who control the White House and Congress will pay a
political price in this fall's elections for restricting the access of women
in the United States and around the globe to abortion and reproductive
health services. They portrayed the Bush administration's anti-abortion and
abstinence-only policies as steps toward an ultimate goal of outlawing
abortion and dramatically reducing the availability of contraception.
Speakers included House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat
who is the highest ranking elected official in U.S. history; former
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright; and feminist leaders from the past,
present and future including Gloria Steinem, who founded the National
Organization for Women, Kate Michelman, who will step down from the helm of
NARAL Pro-Choice America at the end of the year, and Carrie Sietstra,
executive director and founder of Law Students for Choice. Speakers
representing the African American, Hispanic and gay and lesbian communities
also addressed the crowd.
At the morning rally before the walk, New York Senator Hillary Clinton
received a rousing welcome as participants assembled on the national mall
before the walk, which began at 1 p.m. Saying that the last national
reproductive rights march in 1992 had ushered in the election of a
pro-choice president, Clinton called for all assembled to register and vote
in the fall election; a major message of the event. "To support individual
freedom and oppose the threats to individual rights, abortion is a question
of conscience," she said.
The delegation of pro-choice Republicans was 500-strong with representatives
from 12 states. Jennifer Blei Stockman, head of the Republican Pro-Choice
Coalition, said that her members were marching because they oppose
government's intrusion into individual lives and are deeply concerned by
recent actions by Congress and White House that attacked women's right to
"We support our party on many traditional issues," Stockman said, "but we do
not agree with the recent actions that limit personal freedom." It was a
reference to what many demonstrators here consider an intensifying and
frontal attack on abortion rights since 2002, when an anti-choice White
House and Congress began using legislation, judicial appointments and
executive fiat to roll back the clock on abortion rights.
November Abortion Ban
Last November, Bush signed a law criminalizing "partial birth" abortions, a
term criticized for being so clinically vague that it leaves women and
doctors open to prosecution for any procedure occurring after the 12th week
of pregnancy. The law includes an exception to preserve the life of the
mother but not her health. It is the first federal statute to restrict
abortion since the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision giving women the
legal right to abortion. Now being appealed by a number of pro-choice
organizations, the partial-birth law is currently blocked from enforcement
by a federal court injunction.
In April, Bush signed the Unborn Victims of Crime Act, a federal law that
confers legal status to fetuses injured by crimes against pregnant women.
Pro-choice activists worry that by granting embryos and fetuses full human
rights it may create a precedent for those seeking to overturn Roe v. Wade.
They also say the law may be used to prosecute pregnant women for either
drug or alcohol abuse.
The demonstration was officially opened in the morning by the soprano Margie
Adam singing "We shall go forth," the spiritual she had written for the
abortion-rights march 25 years ago. By the time she sang, the 1.5-mile-long
mall was filled with women, men and even nursing babies wearing the bright
pink T-shirts identifying them with the demonstration and listening to a
virtual Who's Who of the women's movement.
Speakers' messages throughout the day resonated with the calm crowd
representing a U.S. cross-section and including leaders from more than 50
countries. More than one-third of the mostly female crowd was college age or
younger and many speakers pointed that out and said it belied the
conventional wisdom that young people were politically apathetic. A
contingent of anti-globalization activists in town to protest the spring
meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank also joined the
"I'm marching because I'm showing my people we do have a choice, said
Melinda Garcia, a 26-year-old mother from Massachusetts who said her main
reasons for attending the march were political. "If you let Bush win, he's
going to take all choices away," she said. "He won't stop."
Precious Nthanga, a 23-year-old woman who works with Planned Parenthood in
Zambia, agreed. "It's the women from the United States who helped liberate
the women from Africa," she said. "If the women from the United States lose
their rights, we will be doomed, because there will be no one to stand up
Dispensing Morning-After Prescriptions
In what they called an act of civil disobedience, a group of physicians
stood near the beginning of the march dispensing prescriptions to those who
asked for morning-after pills. Dr. Kaneen Geer, from the Institute for Urban
Family Health in New York City, said that 15 physicians had joined the
action and by the midpoint of the walk she had dispensed more than 150
prescriptions. "It has 12 refills," she told one recipient. "We want it to
be over-the-counter, so please give them to your friends." The
surprised-looking woman quickly agreed.
A contingent of anti-choice protesters also took the opportunity to air
their views on what they called a "Death March." Randall Terry, head of the
anti-choice group called Operation Witness, said more than 1,000 members of
his movement participated. Members of Silent No More Awareness Campaign,
with offices in the Northeast, held signs saying "I Regret My Abortion" and
"I Regret Lost Fatherhood." Police reported that 16 activists were arrested
for demonstrating without a permit.
The march on Washington--a rich symbol of the power of the people's power
over their government--is taking place at a critical time for reproductive
rights, organizers said.
"The reason for this march is really to sound the alarm that our policies
both globally and domestically are hurting women," said Eleanor Smeal,
president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, a Northern Virginia-based
group helping to organize event. "A large portion of our population does not
know the terrible impact of our policies."
Smeal insisted that the message of the march is not an "electoral one."
Rather, she said, it is intended to send a message to leaders of both
parties at all levels of government. More generally, Smeal said she hopes it
will serve as a wake-up call to a public that may not be aware of recent
efforts to undermine women's rights.
High Stakes Politically
Nonetheless, pro-choice activists routinely acknowledge that a lot is at
stake in this year's elections. If Bush wins reelection this fall, he will
likely appoint a successor to at least one of the five Supreme Court
justices who support abortion rights. If Republicans retain Senate control,
that nominee could lead to the repeal of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court
case that guaranteed women the right to decide--free from government
interference--whether to end a pregnancy.
Although focused on defending a woman's right to choose from any further
restrictions, demonstrators were also rallying around other issues: justice
and equality for women in all socio-economic strata around the world; access
for all women to the full range of contraceptive services and family
planning options; the need for better health services for women of all
races, incomes and ages; and the effect of the federal government's foreign
and policies on women worldwide.
Smeal, the former head of the Washington, D.C.-based National Organization
for Women, oversaw the first national march for abortion rights nearly two
decades ago. Unlike that 1986 march, organized by one group and focused
exclusively on the rights of U.S. women, this year's event is being led by
seven activist groups addressing health and reproductive issues on a global
They are the National Organization for Women, NARAL Pro-Choice America, the
Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the Feminist Majority Foundation,
the American Civil Liberties Union, the Black Women's Health Imperative, and
the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health. Some 1,400
groups--focused on everything from civil rights, religion, healthcare,
feminism and the environment also helped organize and lead the event.
"This march is an opportunity to express solidarity among women both in the
United States and globally to say 'No more!' to these policies that hurt
women here and abroad," said June Zeitlin, executive director of the New
York-based Women's Environment and Development Organization. "The women's
movement is a global movement. We really want women here to understand the
linkages" with their peers overseas.
Attacking the 'Global Gag' Rule
Most prominent among these is the Mexico City policy, or the so-called
global gag rule. It bars U.S. family-planning assistance to any foreign
health care agency that uses funds from any source to perform abortions,
provide counseling and referral for abortion or lobby to make abortion legal
or more available in their country. To receive U.S. funding, the agencies
may perform abortions only when there is a threat to the woman's life or the
pregnancy is the result of rape or incest. Announced by the Reagan
administration, the ban was lifted by President Bill Clinton on his first
day in office. Bush reinstated it on his first day in office, Jan. 22, 2001.
Republicans don't seem too worried about the message delivered by the
marchers. Christine Iverson, a spokeswoman for the Republican National
Committee, doubts the event will threaten Bush's bid for reelection. And
even though the event may energize the liberal base of voters, she suggested
that voters are more concerned about issues such as the economy national
Officials from the Bush campaign did not return calls for comment. But Vice
President Dick Cheney said that abortion was a top priority for the Bush
administration on Tuesday night during an awards dinner for the National
Right to Life Committee, which he reportedly hailed as "a great movement of
Before the last national reproductive rights march in 1992, NOW had
organized three others: two in 1989 and one in 1986. Smeal said pro-choice
groups won't wait so long between marches again, a "mistake" activists made
because they felt the situation for women worldwide had been improving under
the Clinton administration.
Cynthia L. Cooper and Shaya Mohajer contributed to this story.Allison
Stevens covers politics in Washington, D.C. Cynthia L. Cooper writes
frequently about reproductive rights, justice and equality. Shaya Mohajer is
an intern at Women's eNews.
For more information:
March for Women's Lives:
National Organization for Women:
Global Women's Issues Scorecard on the Bush Administration:
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