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Pro-choice marchers counter Walk for Life’s silent treatment
Henry K. Lee, Wyatt Buchanan, Michael Cabanatuan, Chronicle Staff Writers
Sunday, January 22, 2006
The nationwide battle over abortion rights drew thousands to San Francisco on Saturday for dueling demonstrations that combined elements of prayer meeting, political rally and street theater as they rolled along the waterfront — carefully watched by police who kept them as far apart physically as they are ideologically.
Abortion foes from all over the West converged on San Francisco for the second Walk for Life, an event designed to show that opposition to abortion exists even in the liberal Bay Area.
“We want people to know that there is another kind of voice in San Francisco,” said Eva Muntean, a San Franciscan and co-chairwoman of the Walk for Life.
That voice was, by design, mostly silent. Marchers were urged to leave photos of aborted fetuses and signs equating abortion to murder at home. And at a rally before the march, they were urged to ignore those who might try to goad them into an argument.
“We ask you to hold your tongues today,” Muntean said. “This isn’t a day for interaction.”
Saturday’s events come at a pivotal moment in the fight over abortion rights. The Senate is soon expected to confirm conservative Judge Samuel Alito’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, which pro-choice activists fear will endanger Roe vs. Wade, the decision that legalized abortion 33 years ago.
In addition, the anti-abortion movement is gaining ground in California, with forces narrowly failing last fall to get a ballot measure passed requiring parental consent before minors could get an abortion. They are preparing to gather signatures next month that could lead to another vote in November.
Abortion rights advocates, concerned that the Bay Area movement has become too complacent, showed up en masse to protest the march. And they took a different approach. Although they were easily outnumbered by the marchers, the pro-choice supporters were loud and confrontational.
Many jeered and taunted the marchers, while others stood along the street, waved wire hangers and chanted slogans.
One group wore sheets and gowns dipped in red paint to symbolize their image of back-alley abortions.
Some sang “If you don’t like abortion, don’t have one” to the tune of “If You’re Happy and You Know It.”
“We’re here today because abortion is a right, not a choice,” said Maya Jones of Oakland, a volunteer with the anti-war group Not in Our Name. “As we come up against this Christian fascism that is condoned by our government, it is more important than ever for people to come into the streets and take a stand.”
Abortion opponents gathered in late morning in Justin Herman Plaza, where they listened to prayers, sang the national anthem and heard speakers, including women from Democrats for Life and Feminists for Life, who said they wanted to combat the perception that those who are against abortion rights are all conservative Republicans.
Carol Crossed, vice president of Democrats for Life, told the crowd someone had asked her if the group’s members were “real Democrats.”
“We are the only real Democrats,” she said. “We don’t exclude anyone.”
Many speeches urged conciliation over confrontation. Most marchers heeded organizers’ entreaties to tone down their side of the debate. While many carried handmade signs with such personal messages as “Thanks Mom for not having an abortion,” most waved printed white on black signs that read “Women deserve better than abortion.”
But at least three brought signs with gory photos of aborted fetuses, saying they thought it was a message that needed to be seen.
“We wanted the truth to be known,” said Carol Anderson of San Luis Obispo, wearing a black veil and holding a life-size poster of an aborted fetus.
Her friend, Charles Fetylou, also of San Luis Obispo, carried an oversize photo of an aborted fetus’ head. Both were taken aback when organizers asked them not to join the marchers, a request they ignored.
“I felt a little rejected,” Fetylou said.
One marcher, Joyce Newlun, held a sign reading “Choose life” decorated with pictures of babies. She and several other relatives got in a van in Tacoma, Wash., on Wednesday afternoon to travel to San Francisco for the event.
“This is where we believe we can make a difference. We’re pro-life. I don’t know what more to say than that,” Newlun said.
Many others held signs showing where they came from, including Yuba City (Sutter County) and Clovis (Fresno County), and many brought children in strollers.
Marchers left Justin Herman Plaza at 11:45 a. m. and took to the nearby Embarcadero, where their procession stretched for nearly a mile.
Marching behind a banner reading “Abortion hurts women,” they headed north toward Pier 7, where abortion rights supporters had rallied forces for a counterdemonstration that aimed to disrupt the march.
As marchers closed in on the counterprotest, some softly singing “Ave Maria” or reciting prayers, police kept them in the street and herded abortion rights advocates onto the sidewalk, inserting a line of officers between the two.
Underscoring the polarizing nature of a debate where people rarely find middle ground, the police maintained a 10-foot buffer zone between the two groups, who occasionally yelled back and forth.
At Pier 7, abortion rights supporters held green balloons and a variety of handmade signs that ranged from the obscene, “F — your agenda,” to the snide, “Keep your rosaries off my ovaries.” And they chanted: “March for Life, that’s a lie, you don’t care if women die,” referring to fears of unsafe, back-alley abortions if the procedure were to be outlawed. Some mixed in signs and shouted messages of opposition to President Bush and the war in Iraq.
Sara Jane of San Francisco, a supporter of abortion rights, said she couldn’t let the Walk for Life march happen without showing up and speaking out.
“I think it’s important for us as women and feminists to not let this statement be made without any sort of resistance,” said Jane, 24. “I want to let them know they can’t come in and just do and say what they want.”
When the demonstrations reached Pier 39, they began attracting the attention of wide-eyed tourists.
Katie Selenski, 27, of Sacramento was in San Francisco for the day for lunch with a couple of relatives. Had she been marching, she would have been a counterprotester, she said, but she doesn’t think such marches change people’s minds.
“It’s a polarizing issue, and people stand firmly,” she said.
Still, there was some dialogue between the two sides. Meddle Bolger, 30, and Nicole Brennan, 21, both of Berkeley, support abortion rights but chose to march with Walk for Life and try to engage people in conversation. They didn’t advertise their stance.
Bolger asked one marcher what he thought about the hangers people were carrying, and the marcher replied, “That’s a terrible choice to force onto somebody.”
Bolger said he doubted he would have received such an honest reply if he had been trying to convince the man that his position on abortion was wrong.
“I think that people don’t want to give anything to the other side, so if you say you’re on one side, the other side takes the hard line,” Brennan said. “I think we have middle ground but no way to talk about it.”
E-mail the writers at email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
This article appeared on page B – 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle and on sfgate.com
Add Your Comment
1/22/2008 7:22:30 PM
It is interesting, and disappointing, how you have tried to portray this. If you were there, you must have noticed that there were about 25,000 on the pro life side, versus about 500 on the pro abortion side. Don’t you think that responsible reporting requires those types of facts? I’m afraid that your bias is showing.
December 14, 2008
For Bo I. Cavefors
The Pill slaughters nobility, slaughters
The heart, slaughters faith in the Son of God.
The Pill overthrows temples, depletes
Rank and file, nuns an extinct race,
Priests a dwindling, oppressed few whose power
The heal, to sanctify, is a rusty blade.
The Pill rages triumphantly, slaughters
The hidden force of life, the higher force
Of love and purpose, maims, blinds, mocks.
The Pill slaughters freedom, enslaves man
To lust, the fierce addiction, renders love
An absurd dream and life a masquerade.
The Pill blinds and deadens the mind, slaughters
The babe who enters the unreceptive womb,
The innocent unwelcome in loveless hearts.
The Pill devours the City of God, exalts
The City of Lost Purpose and Plush Death
Degrading life to a puerile escapade.
The Pill slaughters morality, slaughters
The fabric of human togetherness. The Pill
Seeps into the mind unnoticed, perverts
The very purpose of life, to produce souls
Of heroic love: descent to savagery.
The Pill has killed Christ in man and maid…
first published on bo cavefors’ blog
November 22, 2008
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa: Deaths from back street abortions have dropped by 91 percent in the decade since South Africa became one of the few African countries to legalize abortion, health care workers said.
Speaking on International Women’s Day at a conference, Elizabeth Maguire, president of Ipas, an U.S.-based reproductive rights organization, hailed the progress South Africa has made in making safe abortions accessible to more women. But health care workers said abortion still carried a stigma, and an anti-abortion group said the anniversary was no cause for celebration.
“South Africa stands as a great success story and clearly leads the region in advancing women’s reproductive health and rights,” she said Thursday.
South African legislation, passed in 1996, allows unrestricted abortions until the 12th week of pregnancy. Nearly 530,000 women had abortions between 1997 and 2006, according to figures provided by Ipas South Africa with 11 percent being provided to girls under 18 years old.
The risk of death from unsafe abortions is higher in Africa than in any other region with about 4.2 million unsafe operations being performed and 30,000 related deaths a year, said Maguire.
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“The greatest tragedy is that the deaths and injuries from unsafe abortions are largely preventable. This has been shown very dramatically in South Africa,” she said.
Maguire said a number of African countries are introducing abortion law reform. Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, Ethiopia, Guinea, Mali, Swaziland and Togo have enacted additional conditions under which abortion is legal. Mozambique is also considering liberalizing its abortion laws, she said.
But many health workers in South Africa spoke of those who performed operations being shunned by their communities or colleagues.
“It is traumatizing, especially when you see patients coming back for repeat abortions,” said nursing sister Vuyisile Makhatini. “But we do get counseling and you get used to it. I feel I must assist all those women who come for help.”
Maguire said anti-abortion forces in the United States were helping fuel a “well-organized and financed” opposition to abortion in Africa. But opposition also was rooted in traditional culture on the continent.
While safe abortions have been made accessible to more women, speakers at the conference said the practice was still not seen as totally socially acceptable, especially in more rural conservative communities.
“It is still seen as a taboo. This is often why women come for terminations late in their pregnancies,” said Makhatini.
Of the abortions performed in South Africa, 24 percent were provided to women in the second trimester.
Makhatini said women wanting abortions cited socio-economic reasons, breakdowns in relationships, unemployment and wanting to continue studies.
Professor Charles Ngwenya, head of the Department of Constitutional Law at the University of the Free State, emphasized that abortion should be seen as a last resort and that there was a need for greater contraception programs to be put in place.
“We need to celebrate that more women have access to abortions and that we have been able to reduce maternal deaths. But we can’t celebrate if the number increases for a long time. Abortion must not be the only choice for women,” he said.
However, John Smyth, spokesman for the anti-abortion organization Doctors For Life, said a decade of abortion in South Africa was no cause for celebration. He said there was concern that the law was not being followed properly and pregnant women were not being thoroughly counseled.
“The abortion figures are horrifying and there are many wounded and hurting women who wish they hadn’t had an abortion,” he said.
The organization is assisting 21-year-old Crystal Osler who was subjected to an illegal abortion at 28 weeks in 2004 while in her last year of school. Osler and her parents are suing the school, accused of arranging the abortion behind her parents back, and the clinic where the abortion took place. The case is expected to be heard in the Durban High Court next month.
this article first appeared on the international herald tribune website