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1,000 Activists Lobby for Abortion Rights : Congress Urged to Uphold Protections

Times Staff Writers

In the largest lobbying effort ever undertaken on the abortion issue, more than 1,000 activists jammed the halls of Congress Monday, urging lawmakers to uphold women’s abortion rights, family-planning services and equal protection under the laws.

“We’re sending Congress a big signal today because we’re never turning back, we’ll never allow abortion protections to be taken away,” said Eleanor Smeal, former president of the National Organization for Women, which coordinated the turnout on Capitol Hill. “This is the largest campaign we’ve pulled together so far.”

Targeted Friends, Foes

The lobbying, a continuation of a Sunday march that drew between 300,000 and 600,000 participants from across the nation, targeted congressional friends and foes with carefully crafted pitches to preserve the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision that made abortion legal.

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A contingent of 10 Orange County women, bearing copies of a petition signed by 32 local marchers, went away disappointed from the offices of Orange County Reps. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove), William E. Dannemeyer (R-Fullerton), C. Christopher Cox (R-Newport Beach) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-Lomita). The women had hoped to persuade the four that the majority of their constituents are pro-choice and oppose their anti-abortion votes.

The four Orange County lawmakers have signed a friend-of-the-court brief, providing additional anti-abortion arguments in Webster vs. Reproductive Health Services, a Missouri test case that abortion rights activists fear will overturn Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 court decision that legalized abortion. In 2 weeks, the U.S. Supreme Court will begin hearing arguments in the Webster case.

As part of the national lobbying effort, lawmakers also were urged to increase funds for birth-control programs, to pass the equal rights amendment and to support the availability of RU-486, a controversial pill that can induce an abortion. The drug is not sold in the United States.

As they made their rounds to House and Senate offices, most of the advocates delivered information packages containing a 30-minute “Abortion for Survival” video, which NOW president Molly Yard said showed an actual first trimester abortion. The tape shows that the aborted fetus does not resemble a baby, as anti-abortion activists contend, Yard said.

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Some activists were dismayed to learn that their representatives were not available and that they would have to talk instead with staff members.

Honeymooners Merrily Curtis and Pat Freeman of Newport Beach found Cox out of his office, but an aide described Cox’s anti-abortion views. A Los Angeles group said Rohrabacher’s position was “very, very, very anti-abortion.”

While the Orange County contingent said they expected their lawmakers to take an anti-abortion position, Barbara Martinez, who led a group to Dornan and Dannemeyer’s offices, said she was surprised to find the responses “arrogant” and “cavalier.”

Dornan and Dannemeyer--so similar in their opinions that activists called them “Dornemeyer,'--are “some of the worst in the country” on women’s rights issues, said Shireen Miles, coordinator of California NOW.

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Dornan was out when activists arrived at his office, so the group met privately with his legislative director, Jerry Gideon.

Martinez said Gideon persistently interrupted another female aide in the room, was unimpressed that 1,200 people had turned out for a pro-choice rally Sunday in Santa Ana and dismissed their petition.

“He said the congressman was so certain his positions are correct, that it’s his duty to fulfill his mission,” said Martinez, public affairs coordinator for Planned Parenthood in Orange County.

Reached later at his home in Vienna, Va., Dornan said, “It’s like trying to change my belief in Jesus Christ. It’s not going to work.”

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The mood was more cordial at Dannemeyer’s office, where activists spoke at length as the congressman listened.

Martinez told Dannemeyer: “It’s unacceptable to inflict your beliefs on the majority of the constituency.” Shirley Bernard, founder of NOW in Orange County asked him to condemn Operation Rescue, the New York-based anti-abortion group that led recent blockades of family planning clinic entrances in Orange and Los Angeles counties.

Dannemeyer, 59, replied obliquely that he does not condone violence and suggested that the group’s statistics are wrong. He said he does not try to reflect his voters’ wishes in moral matters, including abortion, prayer in schools and homosexual issues.

“I assure you I will continue to vote pro-life on the basis of my conviction,” Dannemeyer said politely.

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In the hallway, Martinez muttered: “He knows he’s going to be (reelected).


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