WASHINGTON — On an emotional day marking the 13th anniversary of legal abortion, thousands of opponents Wednesday marched on the Supreme Court, lobbied Congress and listened to speeches, including one from President Reagan, who vowed to help them "overturn the tragedy" of the high court decision.
Speaking by a telephone hookup to the crowd gathered on the Ellipse, behind the White House, Reagan asserted that advances in prenatal medicine have provided "dramatic confirmation" that a child in the womb is a "live member of the human family." He went on to say that he is "proud to stand with you in the long march for the right to life."
Meeting With Reagan
Later, two dozen leaders of anti-abortion groups met with Reagan, emerging seemingly satisfied with the President's support for their cause but sharply divided over the issue of whether presidential amnesty should be extended to militants who have been convicted of bombing abortion clinics.
The rally, an annual rite that was drenched in sunlight on a springlike day, attracted a broad range of participants, young and old, wearing everything from suits to jeans. Estimated at about 36,000 by local police, the crowd--many of whom carried signs and banners--was about half the size of last year's.
'I Love Babies'
Rose of Sharon Keel, 14, of Danville, Va., wearing lavender corduroy slacks and a cardboard box that invited signatures of those opposed to abortion, explained her reason for protesting: "I love babies and I don't want to see them murdered."
Walter Andruszkiewicz, 72, a retired factory worker from Salem, Mass., said he made the trip because he "just became a grandfather five months ago and I believe in having babies and bringing them up."
Referring to the 1973 Supreme Court decision, Reagan said in his speech: "We'll continue to work together with members of the Congress to overturn the tragedy of Roe vs. Wade." The protesters applauded thunderously.
Several congressmen and senators later addressed the rally, which was plagued by a poor sound system, leaving many protesters unable to hear the speakers. Among those echoing Reagan's promise to help overturn the court decision were Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.) and California Reps. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove) and William E. Dannemeyer (R-Fullerton).
But Carolyn Buhl, national board chairwoman of the National Abortion Rights League, a leading "pro-choice" organization, expressed doubt that opponents of abortion would ever succeed in getting a constitutional amendment to overturn the decision.
"What they are doing today is what they have done year after year, with very little effect," she said in an interview.
Carry White Coffins
After the 1 1/2-hour rally, the protesters marched past the White House to Capitol Hill, with those near the front of the procession carrying 13 white coffins to symbolize millions of abortions performed since the Supreme Court decision on Jan. 22, 1973.
At the court, the protesters were met by a group of about 30 women calling themselves "Ladies Against Women." Satirizing the protesters, the women chanted several slogans, including: "No condom, no IUD, we believe in chastity."
In addition, several hecklers lambasted the protesters, although the rally remained peaceful.
The issue of a presidential pardon for convicted bombers who abortion foes claim were "unjustly incarcerated" was raised during the meeting between Reagan and anti-abortion leaders. Paul Brown, chief executive officer of the American Life League, told reporters afterward that the President had said he might someday "view these on a case-by-case basis."
Case May Be Reviewed
However, White House spokesman Rusty Brashear, who attended the session, quoted Reagan as saying that he "might get a review" on a specific case in which an opponent of abortion was sentenced to 42 years in prison for kidnaping a doctor who performs abortions.
Several other participants immediately sought to ensure that Brown's remarks were not interpreted as an expression of support by the President or by them for bombings.
Times staff writer Rudy Abramson contributed to this story.