Rally Strives to Project Voice of Silent Majority
Wayne Fenton, his wife and 8-year-old daughter by his side, was pulling two more little girls in a small red wagon down Constitution Avenue. An infant son slept in his backpack.
“We want a large family,” the 36-year-old Fenton said quietly. “But there are people who don’t. . . . They should not be required to live like us.” The last time the Silver Spring, Md., resident joined a demonstration was more than 20 years ago, during a protest march against the Vietnam War. And for hundreds of thousands of other marchers, mostly women, the huge rally for abortion rights was a cause unlike any other.
“I have never felt so strongly about an issue,” said Nelly Bly, a 17-year-old from Bel-Air, Calif., whose mother, Jimmie Bly-Ritchie, complained that “the women’s movement has been twiddling its toes. This is an effort to save it.”
March Had a Purpose
For many of the participants, pointing to polls showing overwhelming support for legal abortion from the American public and turning to words once used mostly by conservatives, the march was designed to show that the silent majority is finally speaking out.
“I’m really concerned and really worried,” said Miriam Cohen of Philadelphia. “I think the fact the pro-life movement got so vocal finally made a lot of women want to come out today.”
“The country has been asleep and not realized that abortion is a right and you can lose it,” said actress Anne Archer, who was participating in a protest march for the first time. “The silent majority is coming out of the closet and speaking up.”
Sue Shuff, 43, a teacher from Irvine, Calif., was also a first-time marcher. “I hope we represent the silent majority,” she said. “Too many people make the assumption we don’t need to do anything. This has become serious. I have a 12-year-old daughter. The most important thing is to protect her.”
Overwhelming the city’s subway system from early in the morning until midday, the festive crowd merged on the Washington Monument from all regions of the nation and from other countries as well. Many of the marchers danced to music and drums, carried both printed and hand-lettered signs and walked hand-in-hand with family and friends from their schools, colleges and neighborhoods.
Reminder of Suffragettes
Dozens of purple, white and gold banners, resembling the traditional banners of suffragettes for more than a century, were carried by different groups, even including a contingent from the Justice Department protesting the Bush Administration’s position on the issue.
“Best Mom on Earth--by Choice” read one T-shirt. Signs ranged from the tame “Keep Abortion and Birth Control Safe and Legal” to the blunt “Mind Your Own Uterus” and “Hangers Belong in Closets” and to the bitter “Bush Should’ve Been Aborted.” One college student walked the 1 1/2-mile route to the Capitol with a sign: “One Small Step for Me, One Giant Step for Womankind.”
For Shirley Pollock, a 67-year-old grandmother from Los Angeles, the march was a family reunion, bringing together 14 relatives from Boston, Philadelphia and Seattle. “Roe vs. Wade (the 1973 Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal) was a tremendous milestone for women’s rights and we can’t afford to have it changed,” she said.
Only a couple of hundred anti-abortion protesters gathered near the start of the march, holding such signs as: “The Baby Had No Choice” and “50% of People Who Enter Abortion Clinics Don’t Come Out Alive.”
A group of Young Americans for Freedom, wearing blue baby bonnets, sucking their thumbs and pretending to cry, held a pink and blue banner that read: “Thank God 4 the Mommy Track.”
No Serious Confrontations
The two sides were kept apart by police on horseback and there were no serious confrontations. But marchers tried to drown out the anti-abortion activists with chants of “Pro-Choice” and “Push ‘Em Back, Push ‘Em Back, Way Back.”
At the symbolic “Cemetery of the Innocents” set up by anti-abortion groups near the rally at the Capitol, about 30 people were kneeling and praying in the midst of 4,400 white wooden crosses and a scattering of Stars of David, designed to represent the average number of abortions each day in the United States.
“It is not a choice. It is life or death,” said Donica Anderson, 21, a student from Steubenville, Ohio. “We will fight to the end.” Ray Allen, chairman of the American Coalition for Life, said: “We are here for mourning. We wanted a cemetery that would have the emotional impact of Arlington National Cemetery.”
Wear Coat Hangers
Seeking to counter the highly emotional and powerful symbols of the anti-abortion movement, such as photographs of aborted fetuses and the graveyard of crosses, thousands of women protesters wore coat hangers around their necks to draw attention to the dangerous, sometimes deadly, practices that many women resorted to in the years before the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision.
“These are the surgical instruments of the past. They could be the instruments of the future if Roe vs. Wade is overturned,” said Maria Lyons, a leader of the militant group, Refuse & Resist, which has been defending abortion clinics against blockades mounted by Operation Rescue, the extreme anti-abortion group.
Busloads of college students descended on Washington, many of them participating in a demonstration for the first time. “If the (right to an abortion) is taken away, it is the beginning of the downfall,” said Natalie Calarie, a college student from Indiana, Pa., who came with her aunt. “We’ll be going back in time.”
Formerly ‘Jane Roe’
For Norma McCorvey, who was shrouded in anonymity as “Jane Roe” in the landmark Supreme Court case, the march brought back strong memories.
“It’s just beautiful. There are so many people here,” she said. “I’m just damn mad we might lose our rights.” McCorvey had been in hiding since Tuesday, when someone fired a shotgun blast through the windows of her home in Dallas.
Joan Garrity of Baltimore attended the rally with her 11-year-old son. “The main reason I’m here is that I had an illegal abortion 22 years ago,” she told a reporter. “I don’t want anyone to have to go through what I went through. It’s like they want to force us to make that point again with our blood and our lives.”
Staff writers Brian Couturier, Melissa Healy, Paul Houston and Lynn Smith contributed to this story.