From the Lincoln Memorial to the Golden Gate Bridge, abortion rights advocates rallied Sunday by the hundreds of thousands, warning politicians that they will be holding them accountable in next year's elections and beyond.
Their prime target, they said, is President Bush, an abortion foe who recently vetoed legislation that would have permitted the government to pay for abortions performed on poor women who are victims of rape or incest.
"No woman can be free to plan her life if she cannot decide when and whether to have children," National Organization for Women President Molly Yard told the rally at the base of the Lincoln Memorial. "As the Berlin Wall comes tumbling down, President Bush would enslave the women of this country by not allowing us to control our reproductive lives."
People were jammed along the reflecting pool on the grassy mall that stretches from the Lincoln Memorial to the Washington Monument. Police estimated the crowd at 150,000 but organizers insisted that the number was twice that.
The day's events began with a sunrise candlelight vigil in Kennebunk, Me., near Bush's vacation retreat.
"In his inaugural address, George Bush spoke of a new breeze of freedom refreshing the nation," Planned Parenthood President Faye Wattleton said there. "This is no fresh breeze of freedom. This is a piercing gust of oppression."
Then came more than 1,000 events in 120 cities across the country. Rallies were held or scheduled in cities such as Lincoln, Neb.; Austin, Tex.; New Orleans; Charleston, W. Va.; Tallahassee, Fla.; Atlanta; Laramie, Wyo.; Oklahoma City; Milwaukee; Watertown, N.Y., and Seattle.
The final event was another candlelight ceremony--in San Francisco--on another coast. As many as 2,000 abortion rights activists filled a corner of Alamo Square for the rally, listening to speakers including Rep. Barbara Boxer (D-Greenbrae), Assembly Speaker Willie Brown and former Rep. Bella Abzug of New York.
Many who gathered for the demonstrations were still euphoric over the victories of abortion rights supporters in last week's gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey.
"Did you get the message, George Bush?" Rep. Don Edwards (D-San Jose) asked at the Washington rally.
The New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial races had been seen as the first big electoral tests of the abortion rights issue in the wake of last July's U.S. Supreme Court decision giving states more power to restrict the procedure.
After protecting abortion as a right for more than 16 years, the high court suddenly threw the issue at least partly back into the political arena, where those who would outlaw abortion have long been a potent force.
The possibility of new limits on abortion has energized and mobilized long-complacent supporters of legal abortion.
Tammy Bruce, a 27-year-old publicist who had traveled to the Washington rally from Los Angeles, said that she had voted for former President Ronald Reagan in 1980, despite his anti-abortion stance. It was not until the radical anti-abortion group Operation Rescue blockaded several Los Angeles abortion clinics that she became active in the movement to keep abortion legal.
"Some people need to be hit with a brick. I needed that," Bruce said.
A few blocks away, several hundred abortion opponents demonstrated quietly. Many shook baby rattles at the abortion rights advocates who passed by and waved graphic photographs of dismembered fetuses.
"I'm terrified by the number of people here and that they wouldn't think twice about liquidating children each day," said the Rev. Richard Simmons of Seattle, who was part of the anti-abortion group. "God didn't give us that choice, but he gave us the choice to stay out of bed."
Some of the wildest cheers at the Washington rally were for David N. Dinkins, who had emphasized his support for abortion rights in his successful race for mayor of New York.
"In Virginia, New Jersey and New York City, the people spoke, and the people were heard, and the people said: 'We believe in choice, we believe in liberty and we will not be denied,' " Dinkins said.
The new political strength of the abortion rights movement also could be measured by the number of 1990 candidates who showed up at the rallies.
Former San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein, a possible gubernatorial contender in California, made a pitch for herself and other women candidates at the Washington rally.
"We will send them a message in 1990," Feinstein said. "Elect Ann Richards in Texas, Evelyn Murphy in Massachusetts, Joanne Zimmerman in Iowa, Madeline Kunin in Vermont and Dianne Feinstein in California."
"This mobilization is more than a one-day event. It represents the first day in a 51-week countdown to the 1990 elections," said Kate Michelman, executive director of the National Abortion Rights Action League, who spoke at the rallies in Kennebunk, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Many of the demonstrators wore purple and white, the colors of the suffrage movement that won women the right to vote in 1920. Some pushed their babies in strollers and Martin Fischer of Philadelphia waved a sign that said: "Grandparents for Choice."
Some of the hottest items at the Washington rally were stickers--"Another Catholic for Choice"--that were being passed out by several dozen members of a Catholic group that favors legal abortion.
Though their church has long been one of the nation's most powerful forces against abortion, "we're finding more and more Catholics willing to stand up and be public in their pro-choice views," said Margaret Conway, coordinator of state projects for Catholics for a Free Choice.
Although abortion is usually seen as a women's issue, it appeared that at least one-quarter of the crowd in Washington was male. "If you look around, there are almost as many men here as women, which demonstrates that this is the mainstream thinking in this country," said 70-year-old Harold Mayer of Milford, Conn.
It was also largely a white group. "How come there aren't any of us up there?" Elaine Brown, a 19-year-old black woman from the Bronx, N.Y., asked, indicating the huge stage full of luminaries from politics and entertainment. Dinkins, New York City's first elected black mayor, had addressed the rally earlier.
Abortion rights groups, noting that poor women and minorities would be most affected by proposed restrictions on abortion, are sensitive to criticism that they have failed to draw much enthusiasm from those communities. Shortly before the rally, a group called African American Women for Reproductive Freedom staged a breakfast for minority women participating in the rally.
And in what was called an "open letter to African-Americans," several black leaders of the abortion rights movement said: "African-American women and other women of color have the most to lose if access to legal abortion is denied in any way. Statistics show that we use the procedure with far greater frequency than white women. Yet we, far more than others, will lose access if the right to abortion is left to the politics of each of the 50 states."
Thousands of pro-choice activists and dozens of celebrities rallied in Los Angeles. A3