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 Wednesday, 22 January, 2003, 21:48 GMT
Abortion activists get White House boost
30th March for Life
Anti-abortion activists are increasingly optimistic

It was freezing cold on the Washington Mall as anti-abortion protests began their March for Life from the White House to the Supreme Court.

But in the bright sunshine, the thousands of anti-abortion activists waving signs and American flags were in a positive mood.

Demonstrator dressed as death and doctor at anti abortion rally in DC
Abortion: A potent symbol of evil for the protesters
Not only did they have the White House in their sights, but they believed that the first time since the Supreme Court legalised abortion 30 years ago, they had a real friend in President George W Bush.

Joe Mowrici, a dentist from Cannonburg, Pennsylvania, had travelled with his son to be on the march.

He told BBC News Online that he was optimistic that the Bush Administration would support his cause.

He said that the logic of abortion was the logic of the Holocaust - so that even those without religious convictions should embrace the cause.

Joe Mowroci at March for Life anti abortion rally, Washington 22 Jan 2003
Joe Mowroci hopes the President will support him
And Mr Bush did not disappoint him, telling the rally by telephone to loud cheers that America should "value and protect the lives of innocent children waiting to be born".

Several Republican Congressmen vowed to take the fight to ban abortion to the floor of Congress - and win - this year.

Religion the key

But the argument about abortion - which is becoming one of the central political divides in America - is more than just about the single issue.

It is essentially a battle to refight the cultural wars of the l960s.

For the anti-abortionists, it is a religious and moral duty to oppose the "feminist abortionists who have killed 42 million unborn Americans" since l973, and to throw out the "hippie generation of judges" who had legalised abortion.

At the side of the rally the activists had planted hundreds of crosses, representing those deaths, while several activists strode through the crowd dressed as death and coffins adorned the stage.

Demonstrators at anti abortion protest, Washington DC 22 January 2003
Christine Bowler says her faith has guided her anti-abortion stance
Christine Bowler told BBC News Online that she had vowed to herself and her church that she would come on the march.

She has been a homemaker from Waldorf, Maryland, and raised two sons.

And she feels that fighting abortion is her way of finding God in her heart.

And religion is still a key motivating force for the protesters, many of whose banners displayed the names of the churches they were from rather than their states.

High-powered feminists

The night before these largely working class anti-abortion protesters from the Midwest took to the streets, a high-powered fundraising event was taking place for the pro-choice forces.

Joe Lieberman and Al Sharpton at NARAL rally, Washington DC, 21 Jan 03
Democrats united at a rally to support the right to abortion
At the swanky Omni Shoreham hotel, 2,000 well-dressed activists had gathered to hear the six Democratic hopefuls for the Presidency denounce the Bush Administration as anti-women and pledge their support for the pro-choice forces.

It was a glitzy event, with three huge video screens and four stages projecting the images of the distinguished speakers, who included the actress Kathleen Turner and Ossie Davis, and the wife of former Vice President Al Gore.

There were two well produced videos, a history of the pro-choice movement and a new television commercial appealing for support.

The pro-choice activists had the advantage in style and glamour.

But with pro-life forces gathering strength, there was a nervousness in the air - about whether, 30 years after their victory, they had the ability to mobilise again to face their biggest political fight.

And as Democratic hopeful Richard Gephardt told the gathering, "we do need a strategy and a plan and a vision - and it begins by not ceding the moral high ground."

In the political battle to come, it will be whoever is more effective at mobilising the grassroots who will gain the advantage.

And in a religious America, it remains to be seen whether the church or Hollywood will provide more effective in rallying their supporters.

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's Nick Bryant
"Critics complain the Bush administration is trying to ban abortion through the back door"
See also:

22 Jan 03 | Americas
15 Jan 03 | Americas
16 Jan 03 | Americas
23 Jan 02 | Americas
27 Apr 01 | Americas
28 Sep 00 | Health
03 Feb 99 | US abortion rights
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