WASHINGTON – Energized by a turnout of hundreds of thousands on the National Mall, pro-abortion activists are looking to the November presidential elections to reverse what they see as the gradual chipping away of women's reproductive rights (search).
From across the nation and from nearly 60 countries, women marched Sunday with their daughters, mothers, husbands and others in support of the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade (search) ruling that made abortion legal.
That ruling, they say, is under attack by the Bush administration. So too, they worry is a broader scope of women's health issues, including equal access to birth control and sex education.
The rally stretched from the base of the U.S. Capitol about a mile back to the Washington Monument. While authorities no longer give formal crowd estimates, various police sources informally gauged the throng at between 500,000 and 800,000 people. That would exceed the estimated 500,000 who converged on Washington for the last major pro-abortion rally in 1992.
Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (search) of New York urged marchers to vote in big numbers on Nov. 2 to evict an administration "filled with people who disparage sexual harassment laws, who claim the pay gap between women and men is phony ... who consider Roe v. Wade the worst abomination of constitutional law in our history."
From women's rights to the environment and other issues, feminist author Gloria Steinem accused the administration of squandering the outpouring of international good will after the Sept. 11 terror attacks. "This government is the greatest danger on earth," she declared.
Organizers set up voter registration tables, and supporters of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (search) handed out stickers.
Stirring anger and fear among abortion-rights supporters are two pieces of legislation President Bush (search) has signed into law in the past six months. The first is a ban on what critics call partial-birth abortion; the other is the first federal law to endow a fetus with legal rights distinct from the pregnant woman.
After opening speeches near the Washington Monument, the crowd marched along Pennsylvania Avenue, and then looped back to the Mall near the Capitol.
A much smaller number of anti-abortion activists lined several blocks along the march route. From behind steel barricades and under the watchful eye of police, they prayed and chanted "shame on you" as they waved giant posters showing a fetus at eight weeks.
Ashley Judd, Allison Janney, Susan Sarandon and other Hollywood celebrities shared the stage later with politicians, diplomats and leaders of the pro-choice movement.
Holding a white hanger, Whoopi Goldberg told the crowd: "Never again will this be the choice of any woman in our hemisphere."
"There is a war going on," she said. "It's not the war we see on TV. It's a war on women."
Carole Mehlman, 68, traveled from Tampa, Fla., to participate in the rally.
"I just had to be here to fight for the next generation and the generation after that," she said. "We cannot let them take over our bodies, our health care, our lives."
Andrea Fleming, a senior in college, came from Orrville, Ohio, with her mother. She said the right to choose is a guarantee that must not be taken away. "I don't think anybody believes abortion is a good thing, but making it illegal isn't going to stop it," she said.