[Marxism] Huge Demo in Washington for Women's Rights

Tony Abdo 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
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Pro-Choice March Largest in History
By Allison Stevens
WeNews correspondent

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 
entertainment-world celebrities.

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 
1973.

"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, 
never again."

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 
chose.

"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 
march.

"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 
for us."

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 
scale.

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 
security.

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 
conscience."

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:
http://www.marchforwomen.org

National Organization for Women:
http://www.now.org

Global Women's Issues Scorecard on the Bush Administration:
http://www.wglobalscorecard.org
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