Pro-choice activists flocked by the thousands to Rancho Park on Sunday for a star-studded rally that featured dozens of politicians and Hollywood celebrities--from the cast of the television show "L.A. Law" to the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who exhorted the crowd to "fight for the right of self-determination."
"We're not the puppets of the court!" Jackson bellowed from a stage festooned with purple and white balloons--colors chosen because they were used in the women's suffrage movement.
"Puppets do not have choices," Jackson declared. "People have choices, and that which God has endowed us with, no court can take away."
His message came midway through the rally, which was part of a series of sunrise-to-sunset demonstrations that began at dawn in Kennebunk, Me., near the vacation home of President Bush, and ended at dusk with a candlelight vigil in San Francisco. The day was intended to mobilize pro-choice forces in the wake of last July's U.S. Supreme Court decision giving states more power to restrict abortions.
The Rancho Park celebration, reportedly the nation's second-largest, drew 20,000 people, according to Los Angeles police. But rally organizers put the figure at 100,000.
"We're overwhelmed," said John Hoyt, who organized the event for the Greater Los Angeles Coalition for Reproductive Freedom. "It's the biggest crowd I've ever been in."
The densely packed crowd stretched from the stage near Motor Avenue to a soccer field about a hundred yards away, blending into a colorful sea highlighted by hot-pink baseball caps bearing the word "Choice" and bright blue "Keep Abortion Legal" signs.
Police assigned about 40 officers--including 10 on horseback--to the rally and said the event was peaceful. But throughout the day, small pockets of anti-abortion protesters at the edge of the park confronted pro-choice activists, who far outnumbered them.
At one point about six college students--all members of the conservative Young Americans for Freedom--chanted, "Shame! Shame! Shame!" while dozens of pro-choice activists encircled them, drowning them out with shouts of "Choice! Choice! Choice!"
"We're outnumbered about 1,000 to one," 25-year-old Craig Denofrio, one of the anti-abortion protesters, yelled above the din. "I feel really intimidated."
In another confrontation, a woman approached a group of fundamentalist Christians, leaned over and declared to one man: "You're a woman killer. How does it feel to be a woman killer?"
She then snapped his picture and walked away, explaining afterward that she is a health teacher who deals with pregnant teen-agers.
Such incidents, however, were rare. Instead, the mood at the park near Century City was largely relaxed and festive, with parents and their children enjoying the sunshine, elderly people picnicking on blankets and dogs romping about. One German shepherd sported a pro-choice T-shirt, prompting a passer-by to remark, "Another dog for choice."
The rally kicked off at 12:30 p.m., with the celebrities singing an off-key rendition of "America the Beautiful" while many in the crowd waved tiny American flags. The song was followed by actress Barbra Streisand, who read the text of the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision, which legalized the right to abortion.
Then actress Holly Hunter--who portrayed "Jane Roe" in a television movie about the landmark case--introduced the real Roe: Norma McCorvey.
"After 16 years," McCorvey told the crowd, "the abortion battle has turned to war."
The event, which concluded at about 5 p.m., drew people of all ages--including three pro-choice junior high school students who came without their parents. Those who came said they did so for both personal and philosophical reasons.
"I don't want women ever to be put upon the way we were," said Marcia Spiegel, 62, of Rolling Hills Estates. "I saw my friends who had back-room, coat-hanger abortions. I'm terrified. I see movement back to a world my grandmother came out of."
Cathy Scribner of San Pedro came to Rancho Park with a pro-choice placard in her hand, a baby in a pouch strapped across her chest and three other young children in tow. "We're living in a man's world," she said. "If men were the child bearers, there would be abortion clinics on every street corner."
Explained Paula Williams of Whittier: "I've had an abortion, and I've had a child. I know what it's like to carry a child when you want one and when you don't, and it's two different things."
Other women at the rally said they, too, have had first-hand experiences with abortion. Among them was actress Ali McGraw, who told a hushed audience that she ended an unwanted pregnancy before the procedure became legal.
"It's about fear, degradation, potential maiming--the absolute reality that your doctor, if you were lucky enough to have one, would go to jail, the probability that you could die," she said.
In addition to stars, the celebration was attended by various elected officials who chastised President Bush and Gov. George Deukmejian. In October, Bush vetoed legislation that would have authorized federal abortion funding for rape and incest victims. In July, Deukmejian cut $24.1 million from the state budget for family planning clinics.
California Assemblywoman Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) pledged that her fellow state legislators would restore the governor's cuts.
"We're starting a campaign that says, 'This legislature belongs to women, too!' " Waters said. "We're starting a campaign to say, 'George Deukmejian, give us back our money.' "
Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Pat Schroeder (D-Colo.) offered words to another chief executive named George.
"George," she said, referring to President Bush, "read their lips."
Times Staff Writer Hector Tobar also contributed to this story.