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Thursday, January 26, 2006

Protesters See Mood Shift Against 'Roe'

Court Nominees, Young Activists Cited at Annual Antiabortion March

Tens of thousands of abortion opponents held an upbeat rally on the cold, gray streets of downtown Washington yesterday and described what they see as a societal tide turning against the 33-year-old Roe v. Wade court decision that legalized the procedure.

Demonstrators at the annual March for Life said their movement has been buoyed by two recent Supreme Court nominees -- one of them confirmed -- who appear open to reconsidering the 1973 decision. They talked optimistically about how technological advances are producing clearer sonograms, which could make it harder to argue that a fetus is not a person.

And they noted yesterday's large turnout of young people, who filled the march route along Constitution Avenue and lined the walls outside the Supreme Court in cheerleader jackets, black leather outfits with studs and T-shirts that read, "Abortion is Mean" and "Sex is good, the pill is not."

"This is the beginning of the end. We'll look back at some point soon and won't believe that people were ever killing babies like it was nothing," said Ryan McAlpin, 19, who came from Chicago with a group of friends.

The rally and march were the culmination of three days of antiabortion conferences and lobbying. Yesterday's events began on the Mall, in front of the Smithsonian Castle, with speakers including Christian and Jewish religious leaders from across the country and Bobby Schindler, the brother of Terri Schiavo, the brain-damaged woman at the center of a right-to-die debate last year.

The march is held each year to protest the Supreme Court's Jan. 22, 1973, decision that most laws against abortion violate a constitutional right to privacy. The first protest was in 1974 in Washington.

Stephen G. Peroutka, chairman of the National Pro-Life Action Center, one of the event's sponsors, estimated the crowd size at 225,000 to 250,000 people, while D.C. police gave an estimate of 70,000.

The streets were filled with banners, many of them from churches across the country, and many groups wore matching T-shirts or hats so as not to get separated. The mood was closer to a party than a political protest, and the soundtrack of the day was the laughter of young people.

Joe Giganti, a spokesman for the action center, said more Americans are starting to question the notion that Roe is settled law. "I'd say the mood has changed significantly just in the past year," he said. "We're going to see the overturning of Roe ."

Charmaine Yoest, a vice president at the Family Research Council, told a morning gathering of 40 antiabortion bloggers that the demise of Roe would mean a battle within each state over whether abortion should be legal -- a more localized, grass-roots fight.

"Consensus is building that we are moving into a post- Roe future, and we need to be ready," she said.

The pendulum swing, she said, is reflected in the confirmation of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and the nomination of Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. to the Supreme Court. Neither man is a guaranteed antiabortion vote in any court case, Yoest noted, and even if both men vote to overturn Roe , the balance on the court is still 5 to 4 in favor of the ruling.

But society is clearly more open to the idea that Roe was a bad ruling on constitutional grounds, Yoest said, and is generally becoming more concerned about ethical ramifications in such areas as stem cell research and euthanasia.

"You're seeing an increasing feeling that Roe was poorly decided. And Alito's confirmation will be a watershed moment in that direction," she said.

The bloggers, a mix of middle-aged men in suits and young women who are college or graduate school students, said they are part of an increased sophistication in the movement that speaks to young people today.

"I think there is definitely a cultural shift going on. People are seeing that the questions are deeper cultural questions, not just political ones," said Johannes L. Jacobse, a priest who came from Naples, Fla., and runs the site OrthodoxyToday.org. "I think in the next couple years people will be able to say: 'I am a pro-life Democrat.' "

His blog is among those on ProLifeBlogs.com, which links to 500 sites, its organizer said at the conference.

President Bush addressed the event by telephone from Kansas, where he traveled yesterday for a speech on terrorism. In four minutes of remarks that largely followed the language he has used in past calls to the march, Bush vowed to continue fighting for what he calls a "culture of life" and the principle that every life has value.

"These principles call us to defend the sick and dying, persons with disabilities and birth defects, all who are weak and vulnerable, especially unborn children," he said. Although he rarely discusses abortion in detail before general audiences, Bush recited his record on the issue for the activists, boasting that one of his first acts as president was to cut off taxpayer money to programs that promote abortion overseas and hailing other actions such as a ban on the procedure opponents call "partial birth" abortion. He also urged the Senate to pass legislation approved by the House aimed at preventing people from taking minors across state lines to avoid parental notification laws.

Few counter-demonstrators were visible at yesterday's event, although a small group was gathered around a light pole across the street from the Supreme Court. As they yelled, "My body, my choice," through a bullhorn, they were drowned out by dozens of young abortion opponents shouting, "Boo!" On the other side of the wide sidewalk in front of the court building, rows of teenagers stood in a silent protest, a single strip of red tape across their mouths with the word "life" written in black.

Also protesting in silence were dozens of people who began to pray before the building, dropping to their knees in a tight block just as a band of kilted bagpipers passed, playing "Amazing Grace."

Michelle Boorstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 24, 2006; Page A03

Staff writers Peter Baker and Del Quentin Wilber contributed to this report.



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