Helping women oppose choice
Abortion foes are putting a moderate face on their first San Francisco march in memory


By Tali Woodward and Rachel Brahinsky

Opponents of abortion are making a local stand Jan. 22, the 32nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, and they plan to bring a moderate-sounding message to the streets of this pro-choice stronghold. The Walk for Life's purpose, according to its Web site, is "to establish a new West Coast tradition of celebrating life" and "inform society of the damage done to women by abortion."

Organizer Dolores Meehan told the Bay Guardian she wants to show that "women deserve better than abortion," which is a new approach from a movement that a decade ago was asserting that women who seek abortions are murderers. Meehan said the event is unconnected to any legislative effort and even refused to say whether she personally would like to see abortion outlawed.

"Let me ask you this: do you think we are freer as women today because of being turned against the children who are in our wombs?" she said.

Therese Wilson, vice president of Planned Parenthood Golden Gate, cautioned that the language of female empowerment being used by the Walk for Life is disingenuous.

"Antichoice organizations can say what they want, but their real agenda is to restrict health care for women," including access to contraception, she told us. "Being pro-choice really does encompass all women and their ability to decide what's best for themselves." Wilson and other activists are hoping to out-show the antiabortion crowd with a march in support of Roe that's bigger than usual.

The Walk for Life has been endorsed by a roster of faith-heavy organizations like the Coalition on Urban Renewal and Education and the Archdiocese of San Francisco. And most of them have an agenda that goes beyond abortion. Take the Walnut Creek-based California Right to Life, which is fighting a state bill that would require pharmacists to dispense contraception. Another sponsor, the Ignatius Press, publishes books on Christianity as well as tomes on the dangers of birth control and the medically discredited claim that abortion causes breast cancer.

It's also possible the more radical elements of the antiabortion movement aren't far off the stage. Planned Parenthood spokesperson Erin Kiernon told us her group got its first inkling of the event months ago when someone forwarded a call to action posted on the Web site of Operation Save America (formerly Operation Rescue), famous for extreme tactics like clinic blockades and harassment of abortion providers. Reproductive rights activists told us they certainly expect increased protesting at women's clinics the day of the walk.

It may seem that San Francisco, where the Board of Supervisors designated Jan. 22 "Stand Up for Choice Day," and even the state of California, with its pro-choice Republican governor, would be impervious to any antichoice message. But abortion rights activists, who are gearing up for four years of fighting Republicans in Washington, D.C., see the Walk for Life as yet another sign that the antiabortion movement is emboldened.

The two protests come just weeks after some high-profile hints that the Democratic Party was moving away from its decades-old commitment to abortion rights. The Democrats' new leader in the U.S. Senate, Harry Reid, opposes abortion. And Reid is backing Rep. Tim Roemer, another pro-lifer, to head the Democratic National Committee, which oversees the party's policy platform as well as fundraising efforts.

Even Rep. Nancy Pelosi has reportedly encouraged Roemer to throw his hat in the ring. Meanwhile, high-profile Dems like former presidential candidate Howard Dean have been telling media outlets the party should be more welcoming to people who oppose abortion.

The Jan. 22 march to Defend Women's Health and Rights starts with a 10 a.m. rally at Powell and Market Streets, S.F., then an 11 a.m. march to the Embarcadero, where the Walk for Life protesters will be gathering at 11 a.m. to walk to the Marina Green at noon. For more information go to www.indybay.org/womyn and www.walkforlifewc.com.

E-mail Tali Woodward and Rachel Brahinsky