c. 1997 Religion News Service
WASHINGTON _ Tens of thousands of abortion opponents gathered Wednesday (Jan. 22) in the shadow of the White House to condemn President Clinton’s veto of a ban on a controversial abortion procedure and to urge its quick congressional reconsideration.
Not far away, supporters of abortion rights also met, although less visibly.
The contending gatherings to mark the 24th anniversary of the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that made most abortions legal have become an annual January rite in the nation’s capital.
At a luncheon sponsored by the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton told the crowd that abortion is”never an easy issue,”urging both sides to reject extremism.
She said she hopes that”people of good faith who do not share extremism as their rallying cry”might work together to further decrease the number of abortions and teen pregnancies.
At the Ellipse, a stretch of lawn between the White House and the Washington Monument, abortion opponents gathered for the annual March for Life rally before marching to the Supreme Court to denounce its 1973 Roe vs. Wade ruling.
Young and old, walking and in wheelchairs, marchers gathered for the rally with signs and banners. Some signs depicted a close-up of a cherubic baby that read”Face it! Abortion kills!”on one side and”Stop all abortions!”on the other.
Many of the protesters traveled from across the nation and represented Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant Christian groups from as far away as Kansas, Wisconsin and Vermont.”I don’t like where our nation is headed, especially with abortion,”said Tom Mulloy, an 18-year-old freshman at Jesuit-run John Carroll University in Cleveland, who was attending his first anti-abortion demonstration in Washington.”I’ve never had a chance to voice my opinion this loudly before,”he said.”So when I got this chance, I took it.” Mulloy and others listened as a host of Congress members promised early action on their anti-abortion legislative agenda.
Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, told the crowd that Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., intends to make the”Partial-Birth Abortion Ban”among Republicans’ top initiatives in the new Congress.”We commit to you with your help and your support that we will once again pass that bill in the Senate and we will pass it in the House and we will send it back to Bill Clinton,”said DeWine.”I am convinced that if we do a good enough job _ all of us _ explaining to the American people what a partial-birth abortion is, that the public opinion will sweep this country and that even Bill Clinton will have to say yes, I have to sign it.” Last year, Clinton vetoed the bill that would have outlawed the procedure known medically as an”intact dilation and evacuation”that involves partially extracting a fetus, feet first, and then collapsing the skull in the birth canal by suctioning out the brain. He said he opposed the bill because it did not provide exceptions for use of the procedure to protect the health of the mother.
White House spokeswoman Patricia Lewis said Clinton vetoed the bill only after praying and discussing it with women who could have been affected by the ban. She said the procedure is sometimes medically necessary to save a woman’s life or preserve her ability to bear children.”The president said that the procedure described is very disturbing and he doesn’t support its use on an elective basis,”Lewis said.”But he was elected to represent all the people and for a few hundred people every year this is what they need to have done.” Despite Clinton’s veto, March for Life president Nellie Gray urged that any new proposed legislation allow no exceptions, including the exception in last year’s bill that would allow its use to save the life of the mother.
Although many speakers said they were saddened there is still a need to hold the anti-abortion rally, Rep. Mike Pappas, R-N.J., a freshman member of Congress, sounded a note of optimism. He said the abortion debate, as well as the one over assisted suicide, has made Americans think about these issues.”On a person-by-person basis, we are winning this soul-searching argument,”he said.
Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., read a letter he wrote to Clinton that said although the president celebrated his second inaugural Monday,”millions of us mourn the probable consequences of your re-election to a second term.” Roman Catholic Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston challenged Clinton to meet with him and a doctor opposed to the procedure to discuss it. The church has made enactment of the ban one of its top legislative priorities and Law signaled that it would continue to oppose the compromise legislation reportedly being readied by the administration.
Orthodox Jewish Rabbi Yehuda Levin of New York City said Congress”voted for life”but Clinton didn’t go along with them.”Mr. President, the problem is one single man who exclusively has the blood of partially born and totally killed babies on his hands,”he said.
Among the demonstrators, there was little optimism that the ban could be enacted while Clinton is in office.”As long as he’s (President Clinton’s) there,”said Tebra Cloer, a marcher from Powdersville, S.C., nodding toward the White House,”things aren’t going to change unless God changes his heart.” (OPTIONAL TRIM – STORY MAY END HERE)
For many, abortion is just one issue in what they see as a nation sliding down a slippery slope toward a”culture of death.” At a news conference before the rally, Wanda Franz, president of the National Right to Life Committee, the nation’s largest grassroots anti-abortion group, said the 1973 ruling has led to a wholesale desensitization on life issues.”Twenty four years ago, Roe vs. Wade established killing as a legal purpose of medicine and thus perverted medicine’s noble purpose of healing and `doing no harm,'”Franz said.”From the small group of abortionists who have specialized in killing, this infectious perversion has spread to others in the medical profession. To bring about death by withholding treatment, even food and fluids, is becoming commonplace.” Earlier in the day, the explosion of a small fuse assembly near a Planned Parenthood clinic in Washington was initially thought to be connected to the anti-abortion rally. Police later said there was no evidence linking the incident to the protest.
But bombings have occurred recently at abortion clinics in Atlanta and Tulsa, Okla.
Nevertheless, many of the speakers at the rally touched on the need to oppose abortion non-violently.”We’re not about the business of bombs or guns,”Law said.”We’re about the business of love.”
MJP END RNS