Thursday, January 23, 2003

Dueling abortion marches see urgency

By Laurie Kellman
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - Opponents and supporters of abortion rights rallied at the nation's symbols of freedom Wednesday, energized on both sides by Republican hopes of curbing the procedure 30 years after the Supreme Court legalized it.

Dueling protests are a ritual in the nation's capital on the anniversary of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. But both sides said there was greater urgency this year with the GOP now controlling Congress and the White House.

Abortion opponents see their best chance in years to erode if not overturn Roe.

"It just seems like it's more optimistic this year after the November elections," said Dennis Voglesong, 50, of Hagerstown, Md., who has attended the anti-abortion March for Life for five years. He and others bundled against the bitter cold said they see a surge against abortion among a new generation.

"Every year it seems the youth gets to be a larger part of the movement," he said.

Abortion rights advocates, meanwhile, acknowledged that their opponents have reason to cheer this year.

"President Bush is just itching to put forward anti-choice legislation," said Polly Stamatopoulos, 32, of Washington, D.C., as she attended a dinnertime vigil at the Supreme Court. At the time the event was to begin, she and about 20 other abortion rights advocates found themselves outnumbered by roughly 50 women carrying signs that said, "I regret my abortion."

"They're pumped. It's almost like a football game pep rally," Ms. Stamatopoulous said.

Earlier, Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women, said, "We will not be the generation that both won and lost reproductive rights in our lifetime."

The flashpoint comes as abortions become less common in the U.S. - particularly among teenagers. The overall abortion rate fell from 1994 to 2000, from 24 abortions for every 1,000 women of childbearing age to 21, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, which was begun by Planned Parenthood but now is an independent nonprofit corporation.

As is traditional, Mr. Bush broadcast a message to the anti-abortion rally, saying Americans "must protect the lives of innocent children waiting to be born."

Mr. Bush, who was in St. Louis to give a speech on his tax-cut plan, noted that the gathering on the National Mall was near the memorial to Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence.

"The March for Life upholds the self-evident truth of that declaration - that all are created equal, and given the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," he said.

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