Thousands of anti-abortion and abortion rights advocates flooded The Embarcadero’s Justin Herman Plaza on Saturday for the seventh annual Walk for Life West Coast. The rally occurred amidst heightened attention over abortion and marked the 38th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade.
Abortion rights have once again been brought to the national stage as conservatives use the controversial health reform law as a platform to discuss their own health care agenda.
Even though the new health law, passed before the Republicans’ massive victory in the 2010 midterm elections, says nothing about abortion, many in congress argue that the law allows for possible federal funding of abortion. So, after House Republicans passed the “Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Reform Law” bill last week – largely symbolic, considering neither Senate Democrats nor President Obama will allow it to succeed – they introduced new legislation reaffirming their stance against federal funding for abortion.
“The No Tax-Payer Funding for Abortion Act” and other planned pieces of legislation could fuel the abortion debate all the way to the 2012 presidential election.
“The health care bill has mobilized pro-lifers in an unprecedented way,” said Dolores Meehan, co-chair and co-founder of Walk for Life.
Early estimates of the turnout ranged from 35,000 to 45,000, according to Meehan. Approximately 10,000 people were bused to the rally from all over the Bay Area, Sacramento, and even as far away as Los Angeles.
“It keeps growing,” Meehan said. “It’s an incredible endeavor that all comes together.”
The anti-abortion rally began as a West Coast extension of Washington D.C.’s March for Life, which will occur Monday, Jan. 24. March for Life was formed as a reaction against Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that gave women the right to an abortion.
“Our focus from the beginning has been on women,” Meehan said.
Women are “irrevocably changed” by abortion, she said, because their essential purpose is to nurture life. Walk for Life serves to connect these women to people who can help, Meehan said.
A grassroots counter-protest organized by the Bay Area Coalition for Our Reproductive Rights marches alongside Walk for Life every year. BACORR was formed as a response to violence against abortion clinics in the late 80s and reformed in 2005 to counteract Walk for Life.
The counter-protest was deafened by the sheer size of Walk for Life.
“They’re so strong that there’s no airspace,” said abortion rights advocate Grace Severtson.
Walk for Life was sponsored by the Archdiocese of San Francisco in Oakland. The $50,000 rally was funded entirely by donations.
The counter-protest attracted a few hundred supporters, according to BACORR organizer Marit Knutson. BACORR has had difficulty drawing in supporters since Planned Parenthood discontinued participation in 2005 after a violent counter-protest.
“We need them out there,” Knutson said.
Both organizations touted messages of peace this year, and confrontations were rare thanks to a large police presence.
“They want us to be nasty, horrible people,” Meehan said. “But our message is a message of peace.”
Knutson argued that there has always been and always will be a need for abortion in our society.
“Both sides view women completely differently,” Knutson said. “We see women as having many different roles whereas pro-life advocates view women as vessels for procreation.”
BACORR directed a message to the youth during today’s rally.
“Young people saw us defending the right to abortion and hopefully this will impact their future thinking on the subject,” Knutson said.
Meanwhile, Meehan vocalized her wish to see abortion become illegalized.
“We’re making an innocent child pay for the mistakes of someone else,” she said.
With each organization’s obvious passion and dedication to their perspectives, at least one thing, as Meehan said, is for sure: “This is an issue that will always be controversial.”