Despite fears of Iraqi-sponsored terrorism, thousands of anti-abortion advocates rallied on the Washington Mall on Tuesday to commemorate the 18th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal.
President Bush, speaking to the demonstrators through a telephone hookup from the Oval Office, urged them to “make it your goal to keep this issue alive and predominant in Congress, the courts and in the minds of the American people.”
Organizers of the event acknowledged that fears of possible terrorist attacks had hurt attendance, which they said was more than 50,000. Police estimated the turnout at 25,000, down from last year’s estimated 75,000.
Barbara Lyons, a marcher from Oshkosh, Wis., said that her attendance demonstrated the strength of her convictions. “My daughter is terrified--she begged me not to come,” she said.
A number of state anti-abortion groups canceled bus caravans to the march, organizers said.
Police arrested five anti-abortion activists and six supporters of abortion rights for disorderly conduct during the march, which followed a route from the Mall near the Smithsonian Institution to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The march came at a time when anti-abortion advocates are pushing for legislation to restrict or ban abortion in a number of states, including Utah, Wyoming, Louisiana, South Dakota, Michigan, Indiana and Texas. No such bill is pending in California.
In addition, anti-abortion activists are lobbying for a “paramount human life amendment” to the U.S. Constitution. The proposed amendment would outlaw abortion.
Organizers of the march met Tuesday morning with Vice President Dan Quayle and White House Chief of Staff John H. Sununu for about 45 minutes.
The subject of the Persian Gulf War was heard again and again during the event.
Nellie Gray, president of the March for Life, told the crowd that many present were wearing yellow ribbons to demonstrate their support of troops in the gulf. But she said they must also be concerned about the “war” against fetuses: “We will have body bags of babies. . . .”
In an emotional speech, Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove) shouted to the crowd: “Are you for the Scuds or the Patriots?” Some shouted back: “The Patriots!” Dornan was referring to Soviet-built missiles that Iraq has been firing into Israel and Saudi Arabia, and U.S.-made missiles that have been used to counter them.
One marcher carried a sign reading: “Saddam Hussein or Pro-Choice--What’s the Difference?”
While the crowd cheered loudly and repeatedly in support of the U.S. effort in the gulf, some anti-war sentiment was also evident. Some demonstrators carried anti-war placards, including one that urged: “Choose Life: Say No to War and Abortion.”
The march brought heated exchanges between anti-abortion activists and a small group of abortion-rights proponents from the National Organization for Women, who at one point on the march route held up placards bearing 25,000 signatures of abortion-rights supporters.
Several anti-abortion marchers waved posters of dismembered fetuses at the NOW members and shouted, “Murderers!” and “Look what you’re doing, baby killers!”
Other speakers at the event included Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.), Rep. Barbara F. Vucanovich (R-Nev.) and Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.). Following the march, the demonstrators visited the Capitol Hill offices of their congressmen and senators.
Since the passage of the Supreme Court’s landmark Roe vs. Wade decision in 1973, the Jan. 22 anniversary has been observed primarily by anti-abortion advocates. Abortion rights proponents briefed members of Congress and the press Tuesday but staged no mass gatherings.
The National Abortion Rights Action League canceled a press briefing because of the war but released a report that predicted a series of battles over abortion rights this year in legislatures.
The group asserted that its side has gained strength in legislatures in the 18 months since a landmark July, 1989, Supreme Court decision that gave states greater latitude to restrict abortion.