Washington Post, January 23, 2007

Abortion Foes to Renew Efforts; Activists Rally on Mall, Vow to Keep Pressure on Congress

By Michael Alison Chandler and Michelle Boorstein

Tens of thousands of abortion opponents marched through melting snow on the Mall yesterday and vowed to work harder -- since Democrats have taken control of the Capitol -- to overturn the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in 1973.

Demonstrators' hopes were buoyed a year ago at the annual March for Life by two new appointments to the Supreme Court. Now, with Democrats in power in both houses of Congress, abortion foes find themselves without allies in some key positions for the first time in more than a decade.

"Pro-lifers aren't going to pack up and go home because of the 2006 elections," said Karen Cross, political director of the National Right to Life Committee, at a news conference before the march. "Indeed, we will redouble our efforts and continue working until every unborn child is protected."

Democratic leaders have said they prefer what they consider a less combative approach in preparing legislation on the abortion issue. Several bills are circulating that would change the focus of the abortion debate to pregnancy prevention, through such measures as improved access to contraception.

Democrats say their goal is to find a political compromise, an approach echoed yesterday by some abortion rights advocates.

"We wish those people who are coming in town for a great adventure one day a year would join with us to put forth a prevention-first agenda that would significantly reduce the need for abortion," said Jatrice Martel Gaiter, president and chief executive of Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington.

Some abortion opponents said a compromise might not be realistic.

"The pro-abortionists say you legally can kill an unborn child for any reason. We say the child should live. Where is the middle ground?" said Wanda Franz, president of the National Right to Life Committee.

Teenagers made up the majority of demonstrators yesterday who poured out of buses from across the country, wearing matching colored scarves or carrying posters with statements such as "Face It Abortion Kills."

"It's amazing!" said Annie Forsthoefel, 17, after an overnight trip with a church youth group from Cincinnati. She and her friends wore matching fleece headbands that said "PRO-LIFE." She said she had wanted to come to the march for the last three years. "How can you not love a baby? It seems unnatural," she said.

The young people joined older abortion opponents, some holding rosaries or draped in blankets depicting the Virgin Mary. Some said they make the pilgrimage every year. Organizers could not be reached for a crowd estimate, and police said they no longer provide such numbers.

About 100 abortion opponents had demonstrated Sunday morning in front of the Planned Parenthood abortion clinic on 16th Street NW, and dozens more gathered there yesterday.

The crowd on the Mall cheered when President Bush spoke to the protesters through a loudspeaker from Camp David, thanking those gathered for their help "to build a culture of life." Bush reminded demonstrators about progress his administration has made in the antiabortion movement, including supporting parental notification laws, funding crisis pregnancy centers and signing into law a ban on partial-birth abortions that the Supreme Court is expected to rule on this year.

The rally mirrored similar demonstrations in state capitals and was the culmination of a weekend of events in Washington, including a series of workshops and seminars, a youth rally and Mass that filled Verizon Center and a conference at which antiabortion bloggers discussed potential 2008 presidential candidates.

As the sun set in front of the Supreme Court at the end of the march, a group of women took to the microphone, one after another, holding black signs that said: "I regret my abortion."

Cindy Rose, 49, of Saginaw, Mich., told the lingering demonstrators about abortions she had in 1979 and 1981.

Rose said the guilt over her abortions killed her relationships and pushed her to alcohol and drugs. "One night I asked God to please forgive me," she said. "Abortion is a lie and not a solution."

As the women spoke, some in English and some in Spanish, their words were interrupted by about 100 abortion rights advocates linking arms and holding signs saying: "Trust women."

"Tonight I'm going to speak for my generation," said Susan Scanlan, chairwoman of the National Council of Women's Organizations. "Younger women do not share our memories of women going to grimy apartments. I took such a trip with a college roommate in 1968."

As Scanlon spoke, a chorus of abortion opponents rose in volume chanting Hail Marys.

Staff writer Shailagh Murray contributed to this report.

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