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Thousands in New York Rally for Abortion Rights

Organizers estimate that 25,000 activists join the march across the Brooklyn Bridge. More protests are to come.

August 29, 2004|David Zucchino | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — Thousands of activists marched across the Brooklyn Bridge on Saturday to promote abortion rights and family planning two days before the start of the Republican National Convention, which has a strong anti-abortion platform.

Carrying signs and chanting slogans, the activists walked across the bridge for more than two hours in what organizers called the largest abortion-rights rally held in New York City. They said 25,000 people, most of them women, took part.

Today, a protest of Bush administration policies is expected to draw 250,000 people, according to organizers. The demonstrators are planning to march past Madison Square Garden, the convention site, in what could be the largest such event of the week.

The demonstration is being sponsored by United for Peace and Justice, a coalition of more than 300 political organizations, and it has drawn activists from around the country, many arriving in New York during the last 48 hours, organizers said.

Although sponsors lost a court battle to stage a rally in Central Park at the end of the march, they reached a last-minute compromise with police last week that would enable participants to go past Madison Square Garden and conclude the demonstration in Union Square Park, the site of historic political rallies.

On Friday evening, police arrested about 250 out of an estimated 5,000 protesters on bicycles who, they said, were disrupting traffic near Madison Square Garden and in the East Village, where the ride ended.

Saturday's abortion-rights marchers chanted, "Not the church, not the state, women must decide our fate!" as they walked across the Brooklyn Bridge. They held signs and wore T-shirts with slogans like "Reproductive Justice For All" and "Real Sex Ed Saves Lives."

They were met at the foot of the bridge by a small but vocal band of anti-abortion activists led by Randall Terry, the founder of Operation Rescue, a national anti-abortion organization. The group waved signs and shouted "Baby killers!" and "Abortion is the ultimate child abuse!" Police set up barricades to separate the two groups, which exchanged insults but avoided direct confrontation.

At a two-hour rally at City Hall Park, the abortion-rights marchers fanned out along Broadway to listen to speakers advocate access to abortion and more funding for family planning and sex education. The march and rally were sponsored by Planned Parenthood.

"We will not go back to a time when women were denied access to birth control ... when the narrow beliefs of some created a moral authority for all," JoAnn M. Smith, president of Family Planning Advocates of New York State, told the cheering crowd.

Actress Kathleen Turner, wearing a "Stand Up For Choice" T-shirt, said the majority of Americans favor keeping abortion legal. "We are not free until every woman everywhere in the world has this right," she told the crowd.

Speaking to a reporter afterward, Turner criticized the Bush administration as "very hostile to women's rights."

Organizers described the rally as nonpolitical and nonpartisan, but many marchers carried signs mocking President Bush and the Republican Party. Some carried posters promoting the candidacy of Sen. John F. Kerry.

Kerry's sister, Peggy Kerry, addressed the crowd, saying her message boiled down to "a four-letter word: Vote."

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