Features

A different drummer

National | But youthful demonstrators marking the Roe anniversary marched to the same beat as veteran pro-life activists

Issue: "Illegal siblings project," Feb. 2, 2002

in Washington-With the sun at its midday peak in a cloudless sky, the gathering crowds of the annual March for Life might have wondered if they were wandering into the right event. While singers from Liberty University performed old-fashioned patriotic and religious selections from the march's official podium, about a block's distance to the west, the rock group Hangnail was pounding away with an electric guitar and drum attack. The dissonance (and the young crowd it attracted) came from the American Life League's Rock 4 Life program, which works to publicize the activism of pro-life rock musicians ("Rocking for life," July 17, 1999). Veteran activists and politicians were delighted by the strong turnout of teenagers at this year's event. They didn't just groove to the music, either. Once the rock program ended, they proudly sang along to a rendition of Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA." With a broad, grandmotherly smile, Mary Alice Rymniak of Pittsburgh, who's been to every March for Life since 1983, felt "exhilarated" by the young people's example. "Why aren't there more of our friends and brothers and sisters? I just feel that these young people are the chosen ones." She particularly liked a short rallying speech by one of the junior-high-school students who spoke as a winner of the march's poster contest. Jon Frei, 17, came with a group of teenagers on a 22-hour bus ride from La Crosse, Wis. Why take time out from high-school hijinks for this? "Love of life," he said. "We need to get someone in office with a love for life. There's Supreme Court vacancies coming, and William Rehnquist won't be around forever." One of his cohorts, Eli David, 19, underscored the high hopes and expectations of the attendees. He displayed his National Right to Life Committee sign that said "Thank you, President Bush," with "thank you" crossed out and replaced with "please." Why? "He hasn't really done anything yet to stop abortion, so we need to say 'please,' nicely." The president was traveling to Charleston, W. Va., to visit a factory and tout the broad TeamBush agenda, but he called in to speak to the marchers by telephone and praised organizer Nellie Gray and the crowd for their dedication. Mr. Bush declared: "A generous society values all human life. A merciful society seeks to expand legal protection to every life, including early life. And a compassionate society will defend a simple, moral proposition, life should never be used as a tool, or a means to an end." In his three minutes of remarks, Mr. Bush touched on the administration's opposition to partial-birth abortion, taxpayer funding of abortions, and human cloning, as well as its support of abstinence and crisis-pregnancy programs. The larger focus of the march, the Roe vs. Wade decision and its repeal, went unremarked except for his phrase that the unborn should be "welcomed in life and protected in law." The speech echoed a theme from four days earlier, in which Mr. Bush proclaimed Jan. 20 National Sanctity of Human Life Day. While abortion advocates have saved their marches for warm summer days once or twice a decade, tens of thousands of pro-lifers brave the January temperatures every year to make a polite and prayerful statement on behalf of the unborn. This crowd won't make the news like anti-globalization activists did in Seattle a few years ago, breaking windows and dodging tear-gas canisters. The pro-life marchers only played to the few cameras that were present with color-the Kansas delegation wore red, white, and blue handkerchiefs on their heads, while Missourians donned yellow scarves, and the contingent from Butler, Pa., wore iridescent green caps. They clogged the streets for two miles on Constitution Avenue and turned right to walk calmly past the Supreme Court, where D.C. policemen stood on the steps behind metal barricades with nothing to do except watch. After they concluded their walk, many activists headed for receptions with their congressmen and senators. In the Russell Senate Office Building, Pennsylvania constituents heard from pro-life Sen. Rick Santorum, and by phone, pro-abortion Sen. Arlen Specter, who has recently been very active in watering down President Bush's restrictions on federal funding for embryo-destroying stem-cell research. Mr. Specter tried to emphasize his respect for the skeptical audience, and sell his support for abstinence programs, his vote against partial-birth abortion, and his support in 1991 for Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. But he grew prickly when a physician told him that his refusal to work against the Supreme Court's decision in Roe ignored a "higher court, God's law." After the crowd erupted in cheers, Mr. Specter insisted that "she has her view of God and I have my own view, and I'm not going to take second place to anybody on my views on God. It's highly personal." Mr. Santorum pointed out that Mr. Specter had worked hard to break the deadlock over President Bush's judicial nominations, but just minutes after Mr. Specter touted his support for "therapeutic cloning," Mr. Santorum protested those who "cloud the issue with words like therapeutic. An embryo is an embryo, and the only difference is your intentions." Not a single podium speaker attacked feminists or their heroes, but pro-abortion counter-protesters weren't so nice. About five hours after the march began, the National Organization for Women (NOW) held a vigil in front of the Supreme Court building. As a crowd of about 100 marched in a circle with candles, they echoed the slogans NOW staffers yelled into a bullhorn, including "Pray by day! Bomb by night! That's the motto of pro-life!" and "Pro-life, your name's a lie! You don't care if women die!" While several TV cameras captured the action, NOW officials must have been glad that political debates aren't decided by turnouts at rallies. While the pro-lifers once again attracted tens of thousands, they attracted just tens.

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