Groups Backing Rally for Choice

By Ori Nir

Published November 14, 2003, issue of November 14, 2003.
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WASHINGTON — A massive abortion rights rally planned for April in Washington, D.C. is garnering support from several leading national Jewish groups.

The April 25 march is planned as a major show of strength for abortion rights supporters at a time when anti-abortion forces are on the offensive, with President Bush last week signing legislation banning the procedure widely known as “partial birth” abortion.

“It’s all about grass-roots action now,” said the National Council of Jewish Women’s vice president, Nancy Kipnis. “The strength of the April march in Washington will be in its numbers. The numbers will have to send a very strong message, and we plan to show a very substantial presence. For us, it’s a matter of freedom — personal and religious freedom. There is a lot on the line, and we can’t leave it all to elections. It’s the grass-roots activism that occurs between elections that influences policy.”

The march is being organized by Naral Pro-Choice America, the Feminist Majority Foundation, the National Organization for Women and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. The Union for Reform Judaism and its Washington-based Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism have signed on as co-sponsors, as have the National Council of Jewish Women, the American Jewish Congress’s commission for women’s equality and Hadassah. The Anti-Defamation League supports the march but has not yet decided if it will join as a co-sponsor, an ADL spokeswoman said.

Addressing participants of the Reform union’s biennial convention in Minneapolis last week, Naral president Kate Michelman urged the members of America’s largest network of Jewish congregations to “start planning to attend” the march.

“We are counting on groups like this — activists like you — to pack the buses and come to Washington,” she said.

Michelman — widely considered the doyenne of the national pro-choice movement — described the battle between abortion foes led by President Bush and organizations such as hers as a war between darkness and light. She said that Bush’s ultimate goal is to ban abortion, and that if elected to another term in office he would be able to appoint two or more anti-abortion Supreme Court justices — creating a majority that would be able to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that guaranteed abortion rights.

“Our most immediate challenge is electing a pro-choice president next year. If we do not, it is difficult to see how a woman’s right to choose as we know it can be preserved,” Michelman said.

The enactment of the ban on so-called “partial birth” abortions — a term coined by abortion foes to describe what is known in the medical community as “dilation and extraction” — has galvanized liberal women’s rights groups, which on Wednesday flexed their political muscle to oppose Bush’s more conservative judicial nominees. Leading activists from several organizations initiated a November 12 “fly-in” to Capitol Hill, where they held a press conference and lobbied senators in response to Senate Republicans’ attempts to embarrass Democrats by highlighting their opposition to Bush’s female nominees. Republican senators have scheduled a 30-hour debate on the Senate floor on the nominations of three female Bush appointees, Janice Rogers-Brown, Carolyn Kuhl and Priscilla Owen.

Republican senators, frustrated by a Democratic filibuster that is blocking confirmation of several nominees, have been seeking to leverage public opinion by portraying the Democrats’ opposition as motivated by prejudice. They accused Democrats of being anti-Hispanic when they opposed Miguel Estrada, a Washington lawyer nominated by Bush to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Republicans attempted six times to break the Democratic filibuster on Estrada but failed to muster the 60-vote majority needed, and Estrada withdrew his candidacy. Similarly, Republicans accused Democrats of being anti-Catholic when they opposed the nomination of Alabama Attorney General William Pryor to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. They accused Democrats of being anti-black when they opposed the recent nomination of California judge Janice Rogers Brown to the District of Columbia federal appellate court.

“Now they are they are trying to say that liberals are anti-women, which is all a part of a political ploy,” said Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

Republican senators complain that their colleagues across the aisle are abusing the filibuster to obstruct perfectly reasonable nominees, and that the president should be allowed some discretion in naming judges.

“We’re going to highlight this obstructionism by staying on the floor and making our arguments,” Senator Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told reporters last week. “We want the American people to know how pitiful the process has become.”

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