On Roe v. Wade's 28th anniversary, fight goes on

Posted: Tuesday, January 23, 2001

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Welcomed by the new president and led in prayer by a U.S. senator, thousands of abortion foes staged their annual march on the nation's capital Monday to protest the 28th anniversary of the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.

''Two days ago Americans gathered on the Washington Mall to celebrate our nation's ideals,'' President Bush, who opposes abortion, said in a message read by Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J. ''Today, you are gathered to remind our country that one of those ideals is the infinite value of every life.''

Smith is one of Congress' most outspoken opponents of abortion.

The protesters, who massed on the Ellipse just south of the White House for a rally, were led in prayer by Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., before they began spilling onto Constitution Avenue for the annual protest march to the Supreme Court.

''Boy it feels good to say former President Clinton,'' said Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio.

He noted Clinton's support for abortion rights and added that the White House is now occupied by someone who believes that ''human life is sacred.''

Twice during his presidency Clinton vetoed legislation to outlaw a late-term procedure described as ''partial-birth abortion'' by its critics. Chabot said the bill would be introduced anew.

''He will sign it, not veto it,'' Chabot said of Bush.

Abortion foes feel energized by the changed political landscape -- Bush is president, his choice for attorney general, former Missouri Sen. John Ashcroft, an even more staunch abortion opponent, awaiting Senate confirmation, and Republicans in control of both houses of Congress.

But, ''as long as Roe v. Wade is the law of the land, Jan. 22 will live in infamy,'' Wanda Franz, president of the National Right to Life Committee told a news conference.

White House chief of staff Andrew Card served notice Sunday that several key abortion policies would be quickly reviewed by the Bush administration.

Asked about the recently approved RU-486 abortion pill, Card said, ''We're going to take a look at all of the regulations. We're going to take a look at all the executive orders.''

Bush also has decided to overturn Clinton's decision that restored federal funding for international family-planning groups offering abortion counseling, a White House official said Monday.

Bush supports tightening standards for doctors administering RU-486 and has said he would sign legislation banning ''partial-birth abortion.'' He also opposes federally funded research using stem cells from discarded human embryos.

Abortion rights groups acknowledge that they have to look elsewhere for support.

''Certainly we can't count on the White House now,'' said Patricia Ireland, president of the National Organization for Women. ''And we may not be able to count on the court even now -- but for sure if one more nominee gets through that's anything like the Ashcroft model.''

As a senator, Ashcroft proposed a constitutional amendment that would outlaw nearly all abortions, including in cases of rape and incest. He also opposes most forms of contraception.

Aside from Republican control of Congress, Bush also could appoint one or more Supreme Court justices. Just one appointment could tip the balance -- with many decisions now being made on 5-4 votes. Any nominee, however, would have to be approved by a Senate divided 50-50.

''It's like a shot across the bow -- a warning of things to come that could impact long past Bush's term, even if he's a two-term president,'' Ireland said.

First lady Laura Bush broke from her husband last week, saying she did not think the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision should be overturned. But that gives little comfort to abortion rights supporters.

Regardless of what his wife thinks, ''Bush has signaled that he is going to act on his personal convictions that a woman should not have the right to choose,'' said Gloria Feldt, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Abortion opponents are more upbeat than they have been in years.

''I think the majority of pro-lifers are really looking forward to President Bush getting into office,'' said Norma McCorvey, the ''Jane Roe'' of Roe v. Wade who now runs Dallas-based No More Ministry, a speakers' referral service for the anti-abortion cause. ''I think we all have the same dream: We'd like to see Roe v. Wade overturned.''

Neither side is taking anything for granted in this fight.

Monday's marches and other anti-abortion events were met with efforts by abortion rights groups to mobilize their forces against Ashcroft with radio ads and Internet campaigns.

Americans in split on abortion. An exit poll in the presidential election found more voters favored keeping abortion legal, 55 percent to 42 percent. But only 20 percent thought it should be legal in all cases and 35 percent said it should be legal in most cases.

Associated Press writer John Heilprin contributed to this report.

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