March For Women’s Lives




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ike
many who participated in the April 25 March for Women’s Lives,
nurse Joyce Amit marched in memory of women she had never met. “Two
of my great aunts died from illegal abortions,” she said. “They
were between 18 and 20 and unmarried. My family didn’t talk
about them much so I know very little about what actually happened.
But I know enough that I never want to see another woman die that
way.” 


Some
marchers carried photos of loved ones lost to back alleys, while
others carried signs of a less personal nature. Their messages targeted
an array of social ills: 


  • Regulate industries,
    not ovaries 

  • Fight for women’s
    lives, not world domination 

  • Against abortion?
    Have a vasectomy 

  • Like father,
    like son:

    no second term 


  • Terminate unwanted
    presidencies 

  • Derechos reproductivos
    son derechos humanos 

  • Keep your rosaries
    off my

    ovaries 


Susan
Davis, a feminist activist who first demonstrated for abortion-on-demand
in 1970, was impressed that the march was about reproductive rights,
rather than simply abortion. “It felt like an anti-Bush rally
that tackled a range of issues, from welfare to racism to misogynist
polices in the U.S. and around the world,” she said. “It
was also great to see more men, more young people, and more women
of color than usual.” 


Organizers
boasted that the demonstration drew participants from 57 countries.
In addition, youth came in droves, with at least one-third of the
more than one million marchers younger than 25.  Colleges—including
Catholic Notre Dame and Georgetown—sent huge delegations.



For
many, the march was the culmination of a week of activities. Planned
Parenthood sponsored a street fair in Dupont Circle, distributing
information on everything from emergency contraception to AIDS prevention,
while the National Network of Abortion Funds held its annual conference
to promote programs to assist low-income women. Fundraisers of all
kinds generated revenue for a host of cash-starved groups. 


Militancy
was also on display. Catholics for a Free Choice (CFFC), a thorn
in the Church’s side for more than 30 years, hosted a rally
at the Vatican Embassy the day before the march to denounce “Christian
fundamentalism.”  Calling the Embassy a “crass, crude
political machine,” CFFC president Frances Kissling denounced
the church for sitting at the UN “like any other state and
voting on whether women live or die.” 


“It
is sometimes hard for Catholics to call their own religious leaders
fundamentalists,” she continued.  “But one of fundamentalism’s
central tenets is the control of women’s lives, especially
over reproduction. No other religion has blanket prohibitions against
contraception for married couples and against abortion for all reasons.” 


Pauline
Muchina, a member of the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians,
further lambasted Catholic protocols that teach that condom use
is wrong, despite its proven effectiveness against disease. “Saving
lives is more important than preserving traditions,” she said.
“There are 14 million African children living without parents
because of AIDS. We can stop HIV/AIDS if we end gender discrimination
and poverty and give people the tools to protect them- selves from
infection.” 


This
theme was echoed at the Sunday March for Women’s Lives.  Speakers—120
were scheduled—included celebrities alongside politicians and
activists. While some used the podium to solicit support for Democratic
candidates, others denounced: 


  • the narrowing
    separation between church and state 

  • the winnowing
    away of abortion rights and abortion access 

  • the global gag
    rule that cut funding to health centers that counsel women about,
    or perform, abortions in 16 countries 

  • the curtailment
    of civil liberties since September 11 

  • abstinence-only
    sex education programs 


“There
is a war going on, a war on women,” Whoopi Goldberg told cheering
rally-goers. “We are one Supreme Court vote away from losing

Roe

in the U.S. and, as we stand here, women around the world
are dying from illegal abortion. One woman dies of an illegal procedure
every six minutes. They die because they got pregnant in the wrong
country.” 


“You’d
think the Administration would support contraception to reduce the
number of abortions, but they don’t,” Representative Nancy
Pelosi (D-CA) thundered. “This government is the greatest danger
on earth,” veteran feminist Gloria Steinem declared. “It
has broken every environmental treaty and stands with only the Vatican
and Muslim extremist countries against reproductive freedom.”
Although Steinem urged demonstrators to oppose Bush and his minions,
she also asked that they remember movement martyrs: 


  • Fannie Lou Hamer,
    who was sterilized against her will 

  • Becky Bell,
    the first teen to die because of parental consent laws 

  • Rosie Jimenez,
    a single mother who died because she could not get a government-funded
    Medicaid abortion 


Other
speakers posited more pragmatic agendas. “The battle is won
or lost at the ballot box,” said Bylle Avery, of the National
Black Women’s Health Project. “You need to go up to strangers
and be a walking, talking voting machine between now and November.” 


New
York Senator Hillary Clinton got the day’s biggest applause
when she told the crowd, “If all we do is march today, it will
not change the direction this country is heading in. This must be
the beginning, not the end. Keep in mind, 50 million women in our
country did not vote in 2000. You have to be willing to stand up
for the Constitution and elect John Kerry in November.” 


Although
a few demonstrators sported “Republicans for Choice” placards,
the crowd was largely in Kerry’s corner. As marchers reached
17th Streets and Constitution Avenue, a team of Democratic Party
activists handed “Women for Kerry” stickers to an overwhelmingly
appreciative crowd. “J.K. all the way” chants erupted. 


Other
chants were aired as participants made their way through streets
lined with anti-abortionists: 


  • Ho, ho, hey,
    hey: abortion rights are here to stay 

  • Pro-life, that’s
    a lie. You don’t care if women die 

  • 2,4,6,8: we’re
    the one’s who ovulate 

  • George Bush,
    you’ve got to go. When you get pregnant, let us know 


Bethel
Schlau, a Brooklyn, New York editor and mother who has had two abortions,
felt enormously empowered by the messages she heard at both the
march and rally. “It was fantastic seeing all those people
together saying, ‘Keep your hands off my body’.”
She says, “I had to terminate a pregnancy in my 20th week because
of a genetic abnormality, so I am especially furious about the so-called
partial birth prohibition. If I hadn’t been able to have a
D&E, I would have gone insane.” 


Virtually
everyone queried at the march had something positive to say about
the event, yet many worry that the day’s momentum will be difficult
to sustain. Alison Garcia, a first time demonstrator, fears, “All
of our energy is going to go into defeating Bush and not enough
is going into making sure that Kerry and the Democrats uphold reproductive
freedom. We need to be sure that both parties are held accountable
to women and the issues feminists care about.” 


For
its part, NARAL is losing no time in keeping activists engaged.
The day after the march, the group sent an email to supporters asking
them to share their march stories, write letters to the editor to
contest inaccurate march coverage, register to vote, and participate
in both local and national elections.  “The effort of
31 years since Roe v. Wade can be undone if we lose in November,”
the email warned.



 





Eleanor Bader
is a freelance writer and teacher. She is also co-author of



Targets
of Hatred: Anti-Abortion Terrorism.