Drenched by a late winter downpour and spattered by mud, thousands of demonstrators slogged through the streets of Century City Sunday, parading for legalized abortion in a march that feminist leaders said was the largest of its kind on the West Coast.
The marchers stood for more than two hours in a field of mud at Cheviot Hills Park, as feminist leader Eleanor Smeal, actresses Jane Fonda and Morgan Fairchild and Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley urged them to defend abortion laws.
Bradley used the occasion to chide Gov. George Deukmejian for siding with anti-abortion forces.
Los Angeles police and march organizers from the National Organization for Women gave widely varying estimates of the size of march. Police officials first said the crowd was 20,000, but later revised the number to 13,000 after getting reports from the field.
Others Join the March
Lois Reckitt, NOW executive vice president, said her early counts placed the crowd at 23,000. Although some demonstrators dropped out because of the rain, Reckitt said many more showed up during the march, boosting the size of the crowd to 25,000 to 30,000 participants.
None of those figures approached the size of last week's "March for Women's Lives" in Washington, where 90,000 to 100,000 demonstrators gathered near the White House to show support for the Supreme Court's landmark 1973 decision to legalize abortion. But Reckitt said the Los Angeles march was the largest on record for women's rights on the West Coast, surpassing a 1981 demonstration in Los Angeles for the Equal Rights Amendment.
The outdoor rallies have come as part of a new campaign by feminists to win public sympathy for abortion and to counter attempts to weaken abortion laws by pro-life groups and their supporters in Congress and the Reagan Administration.
"There's no way we're going back one inch," shouted hoarse-voiced NOW President Smeal at the Cheviot Hills Park rally. "We are telling church leaders and political leaders to stop playing with women's lives."
Her audience cheered and bobbed their umbrellas in response. Then they began to chant: "Not the church! Not the state! Women will decide their fate!"
Attack on Governor
Bradley, who has aligned himself with pro-abortion groups in the past, took the stage briefly to deliver a strong attack on Deukmejian for his stance against abortion on demand. "Let me remind you of one who doesn't believe in this cause," Bradley said. The mayor is seeking the Democratic nomination to oppose the Republican governor in the November election.
Smeal and Bradley spoke from beneath a tall canvas canopy erected to shield a small crowd of celebrity marchers from the storm. But the rain spared almost no one, soaking feminists Smeal and Betty Friedan and actresses Cybill Shepherd and Shelly Hack.
Others who joined Smeal on stage included actors William Schallert and Ed Asner ("This is a hell of a way to make my shoes fit," he said), feminist attorney Gloria Allred and state Sen. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles).
At the side of the stage, Diane Pelikan, 31, a bank teller, wiped the remaining mascara from her cheeks as she watched Morgan Fairchild, her face and hair untouched by the rain, exhort the crowd to protect abortion laws.
Would Rather Be Dry
"Do we want to go back to a time when we had to risk injury or death to get an abortion?" Fairchild asked.
"Nooo," Pelikan yelled. A spinning umbrella sprayed her face with a new stream of rain. "Boy, do I wish I could be up there," Pelikan muttered. "Just for one dry minute."
Sara Culmone, 38, an artist from Marina del Rey, avoided the field of mud at Cheviot Hills Park by standing in a park grandstand. Protected by a military-green poncho, she peered through rain-dappled glasses at the speakers' tent.
"There was no way I wasn't going to be here," she said. "We have to show our strength. We can't assume that our sisters will do it for us."
Nearby, under a dripping oak, Ava Johnston, 53, kept as dry as she could with her tattered umbrella. A former medical secretary and NOW member from Miami, she was visiting relatives in San Diego when she read about the pro-abortion march.
'A Time of Regression'
"I came up by charter bus," she said. "If my relatives knew I was out here, they'd have a fit. But we're in such a time of regression now, I just feel we have to speak out. I really feel among friends here."
The march also drew a few enemies. About 50 anti-abortion demonstrators staged a small counter-protest soon after the pro-abortion march got under way. Wielding bullhorns and anti-abortion placards, several members of the counter group yelled: "Repent, you murderers and adulterers, repent!"
The pro-abortion marchers responded by warbling an off-key version of Helen Reddy's feminist anthem, "I Am Woman." Their singing, along with the driving rain, drowned out the anti-abortion chants.