TOPICS : Women’s rights marchers gather in Washington

Neeta Maskey

The March for Women’s Lives, held Sunday, April 25, transcended borders. The Feminist movement in the US expanded into a global campaign as people from across the world converged on Washington to participate in the rally. Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets for the march, whose sponsors included NARAL Pro-Choice America (formerly known as National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League) and National Organisation for Women. The event organisers said this was the biggest abortion rights rally since the pro-choice demonstration of 1992, which drew nearly 500,000 people. Opponents of abortion rights, altho-ugh a smaller group, also demonstrated at the rally. Many women of this group were those who have had abortions and regretted it. With them were various religious and conservative groups to protest what they called “the death march.” Some protestors carried graphic pictures of aborted foetuses.

Although the right to a safe abortion was the major focus of the day, the rally’s overall emphasis was on women’s reproductive freedom. Other issues concerning women’s reproductive rights like better healthcare, access to birth control, and sex education were as much a part of the rally as the right to choose. Joining the crowd were women’s rights activists from nearly 60 countries who brought to light the state of women’s reproductive health worldwide. Highlighting the impact of US policies on people in developing countries, delegates particularly criticised the Bush administration’s so-called “global gag-rule.” The US is a major source of aid for many NGOs assisting developing countries. But, under the gag-rule, NGOs that promote or perform abortions overseas do not get any US government money. As a result, family planning services that these organisations provide abroad are severely affected due to lack of funds. The rally was held to stress that the administration’s policies threaten women’s reproductive rights both at home and abroad. National Organisation for Women President Kim Gandy called for the march soon after President Bush signed what is called the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban into law last November. Pro-choice advocates say abortion rights have eroded under the Bush administration. The recently passed federal law that grants an unborn child legal rights is just one of the many new rules that limit abortion rights. Abortions have become more complicated in many states that have imposed waiting periods and the rule that girls under 18 must inform their parents. It is feared that if Bush wins a second term in office, he might be able to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade abortion ruling by nominating so-called “pro-life” judges to the Supreme Court. Abortion has always been a major divisive issue in American politics. President Bush and many Republicans are pro-life advocates. The Democrats are overwhelmingly pro-choice. The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, although a Catholic, supports abortion rights. Seizing the momentum generated by the march, the National Organisation for Women announced the launch of a new campaign to galvanise the pro-choice vote enough to sway the outcome of the presidential election in their favour.