March For Women's Lives
25 April 2004
story ~ speech excerpts ~ photos ~ pro-choice essay ~ links
My partner and I drove to suburban Maryland, parked at the end of the Metro line, and took the train into the city. Along the way people packed into the cars. At the Smithsonian stop we got out and stood for a while, locked shoulder-to-shoulder in a mass of people on the platform while the crowd trickled up the escalator.
The lawns of the National Mall were filled with people with grey hair and people with pink hair, older people, women and men, families with children and babies, college students, people of all shades of skin color, with buttons, signs, and banners, with wheelchairs and baby carriers.
About an hour after the march was scheduled to begin, we were still bunched up in a crowd taking small, intermittent steps in the general direction where, in the distance, marchers were moving in a stream of humanity. Fifteen minutes later we reached a street and soon were able to begin walking at a normal pace into the flow.
During the couple hours of marching, we started out around the periphery of the Mall, then circled around back across the Mall. My partner and I rested on the lawn for a minute and looked at marchers winding around the Mall and down cross streets. Now, with the march in progress, the lawns of the Mall were relatively clear, and we could see far to the west and to the east. We saw people marching many blocks away to our left and at the same time more people marching many blocks away to our right -- filling the streets from curb to curb. Realizing that we still could not see either the beginning or the end of the procession, we got a sense of how mighty long and mighty big the flood of demonstrators was.
We rejoined the procession and headed down Pennsylvania Avenue for the final stretch. By the time we got back to the Mall, the post-march speeches had been going on for some time.
It was the first time I participated in a big march, and, with over a million people, it was the largest march EVER in U.S. history. It was exhilarating to feel united in commitment with the mass of people surrounding me, a natural high that energized me long after the day was over. The sense of connection with people who believe and value what I do is something I felt missing in the rural community where I lived.
The isolation I felt for years dissolved as I recognized in the faces of the millions of people around me a shared understanding: an understanding of the outrage against a woman's life when her rights to reproductive choice and health are violated. Why else would a million people march in Washington?
Here are excerpts from some of the speeches at the rally.
Whoopi Goldberg, actress
This is not a fundamentalist country. The separation of church and state must be maintained. We need to help stop the attacks on women's reproductive rights in the name of religion.
Does anybody remember this? [She holds up a wire coat hanger.] You remember what this was used for? There's a whole generation out there standing with us who don't know what this is for. A couple of people said to me, "Why are you carrying a hanger?" I said, "Because this is what life was like before choice." This was the choice. This was it. And I'm here to tell you, never again! We are not going backwards, child. Never again.
There is a war going on. It's a war on women, access to family planning, sex education, abortion. It's been attacked and restricted. Explain to me how, if you do not have family planning, you can bitch about abortion?
The government continues to slash and destroy critical family planning, safe delivery, prenatal care, AIDS/HIV prevention funding here and around the world. We've seen critical life-saving dollars diverted so that abstinence-only programs can exist. Excuse me! Excuse me! That cannot be the only choice.
It's okay to have your opinion, but you must keep freedom of choice. Even God gave you freedom of choice!
In the far distance, one small segment of the procession crosses the National Mall.
Nancy Pelosi, House Democratic leader
Many mothers here -- and I -- know the sacred and blessed choice of life. That decision does not belong to politicians. It is ours to make, as women, with our families, our physicians, and our faith. It is our decision -- not theirs.
As a grandmother, I want my children and grandchildren to grow up in a society that respects their right and values their health. The right to plan for healthy families, the right to privacy, the right to choose: these are fundamental American rights to be preserved for all time and all generations.
I know first-hand the anti-choice extremists now in control of the Capitol and of the White House are opposed to basic contraception, they are opposed to sex education, and they are opposed to international family planning and reproductive health services. Now, you would think if they wanted to really reduce the number of abortions in our country and the world, they would support family planning, but they do not.
Madeline Albright, former Secretary of State
Name a problem, from poverty, to pollution, to terrorism, to crime, to the spread of sexually-transmitted disease, and I can bear witness, having traveled everywhere in the world, that family planning and the exercise of reproductive rights are part of the solution.
We must be part of a global network striving to save women's lives, raise healthy children, strengthen families, build communities, and rebut those who seek to impose their own values and choices on the world.
Ted Turner, businessman and philanthropist
I am anti-war, anti-poverty, anti-AIDS, anti-hunger, anti-hate. And I am pro-UN, pro-freedom, pro-competition, pro-democracy, pro-woman, and pro-choice.
Ashley Judd, actress
The average woman needs three decades of birth control or she will have 12 to 15 pregnancies in her lifetime. You don't want us to have to abort these pregnancies? Have health insurance cover our birth control.
Resting before the home stretch.
Gloria Steinem, feminist, activist
This is the biggest march [in the history of this country] because we are fed up and we are not going to take it anymore. We are fed up with U.S. policies that are so anti-woman, so anti-reproductive freedom, that at the last United Nations meeting the only allies this administration had were the Vatican and Muslim extremists.
And that's part of the reason that these policies are now making us the least popular nation with our own allies. Think of the goodwill and the empathy that we had after 9/11, and think of the public opinion polls now that show that in every European country -- our allies -- the majority of people believe that this government -- this government -- is the greatest danger on earth.
Do you think that's what the terrorists don't want or what they want?
Reproductive freedom is the issue that most indicates an entire world view: pro-environment, pro-health, pro-education. Reproductive freedom itself is a fundamental human right, like freedom of speech, and it is also the issue that most indicates how we feel about every other issue.
Susan Sarandon, actress
At a time when we are sending our young men and women to a foreign country to fight and die for self-determination, we are here today to say that we demand that right also to self-determine here as well as for the women in foreign countries.
We are here in solidarity with our sisters in Africa and all over the world who are feeling the devastating effects of the current administration's Gag Rule. One of the first acts of the Bush administration was to re-enact the law that effectively denies reproductive services to millions of women in the developing world.
The Gag Rule prohibits U.S. funding to any organization that provides abortion service or abortion counseling as part of their larger commitment to reproductive health. This means the closure of significant numbers of planning clinics that serve as one-stop centers that give women access to contraception, pre- and post-natal health care, management of STDs [sexually-transmitted diseases], including HIV and AIDS. These clinics are often the only health care providers for entire communities in rural Africa.
When clinics close down, women in Africa do what women in this country did years ago when they had no legal abortion: they turn to black-market abortion. It is estimated that five million African women seek unsafe, back-alley abortions. More than 34,000 of them die.
By restricting access to contraception, the effect of this rule is more likely to raise the rate of unsafe abortions. And while this president claims to be concerned about the spread of AIDS globally, this rule also denies funding to AIDS organizations that share medical workers or clinic space with family planning non-profits, thus limiting the treatment and prevention of AIDS.
Alice Cohan, director of March For Women's Lives
This is the largest march in U.S. history: over one-million strong, and marchers are still arriving on the Mall!
Anthony Romeno, executive director, American Civil Liberties Union
The government does not belong in our bedrooms. It does not belong in our doctor's offices. It does not belong snooping into the bank accounts of innocent Americans. It should not have the power to monitor your bookstore purchases or know what books you check out of your libraries. Our fundamental right to privacy is under assault.
The right to reproductive freedom is more than the right to a safe and legal abortion. It is the right to adequate reproductive health services. It is the right to have access to sexuality education. It is the right to have access to pre-natal care.
Kim Gandy, president, National Organization For Women
I want to talk about what's on many of our minds and in our hearts, and that's our daughters. I have my daughter here, and I'm here for her and for all of your daughters. They weigh heavy on me, these hopes and dreams that we have for our daughters: that when they grow up, if we succeed, they will grow up in charge of their bodies and their lives and their destiny. They will decide whether and when to have children. They'll decide whether to marry, and they'll marry who they want to marry.
We hope and dream that they'll grow up with clean air and clean water, a good education, full health care, freedom from bigotry and hatred and violence, and with equal access to the bounty of this country without taking it from the pockets of the rest of the world -- and all of this in a world at peace.
We hope that some day their leaders will have learned that "plays well with others" is as important for national leaders as it is for six-year-olds.
March For Women's Lives page 1
Why I Am Pro-Choice
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