Abortion Ruling Anniversary Marked

Anti-abortion protesters from several Philadelphia area Catholic Schools rally at City Hall in Philadelphia, Friday, Jan. 19, 2007.
Activists on both sides of the issue Monday were marking the 34th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion.

The annual March for Life will be held in Washington. President Bush will call in his support to the anti-abortion rally.

Abortion rights activists will hold a vigil at the Supreme Court and present political leaders with a petition signed by thousands of women who have said they have had abortions.

In contrast to recent years, when participants at the March for Life in Washington urged the Republican-controlled Congress to expand fetal rights and restrict abortions, activists are now discussing defensive strategies in the face of the Democratic takeover.

"Christ said we must be as clever as serpents and harmless as doves," said the Rev. Rob Schenck, president of the National Clergy Council. "With pro-choice leaders in the House and Senate, we may need to be downright snaky."

Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota was announcing its legislative agenda for the year Monday, while Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life was holding its annual March for Life and program on the front steps of the state Capitol.

A North Dakota House committee was considering abortion bills that the sponsors say would take effect only if the U.S. Supreme Court bans abortion. One bill would bar abortions except to save a woman's life. Another would make it a felony for a doctor to perform an abortion or to prescribe the so-called "morning after" pill.

Doctors in Mississippi would be required to give a woman the chance to listen to her fetal or embryonic heartbeat and view a sonogram before undergoing an abortion, if some lawmakers get their way.

In New York, supporters of abortion rights will gather at the state Capitol in Albany to thank lawmakers for legalizing abortion in New York before it was legal in the rest of the country. The New York Legislature passed a bill that legalized abortion in April 1970. It was quickly signed into law by then-Gov. Nelson Rockefeller.

Events elsewhere include a Walk for Life in San Francisco and a protest in Wichita, Kan., targeting a clinic where late-term abortions are performed. Abortion-rights activists also will be energized, holding a vigil at the U.S. Supreme Court and presenting political leaders with a petition signed by thousands of women declaring they had abortions.

"I feel the wind is at our back, for the first time in years," said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation and a driving force behind Ms. magazine's "I had an Abortion" petition drive.

On the other side, Kimberly Zenarolla of the National Pro-Life Action Center predicted anti-abortion marchers will be more motivated than ever this year because of the election results.

"It's serving to unite the pro-life effort more," she said. "They see a need to stand up."

Republican presidents have made it a practice to telephone their remarks to the annual March for Life rally, reports CBS News White House correspondent Mark Knoller. The practice began in 1985 when President Reagan called the rally by phone to hail "pro-life Americans" and to voice solidarity with them.

But no president has actually spoken to the rallies in person. They're out on the National Mall, and the security hassles would be enormous, says Knoller. "And frankly, there's no political upside. Republican presidents nominally oppose abortion — but have never made a major effort to repeal the ruling in Roe v. Wade."

The emphasis now is on state legislation, not federal, Gregg Trude, a member of the board of directors of the National Right to Life Committee, told CBS Radio News.

"Not only do I have a parental notification bill in Montana, we're also going to have an unborn victims of violence bill, which is similar to Laci Peterson legislation, which basically says that if a woman is murdered and she's pregnant, that it's two victims and not one," Trude said in a telephone interview in advance of the anniversary.

In Congress, any anti-abortion measures are likely to be blocked by the new leadership. Democrats instead will push a "Prevention First" initiative intended to reduce abortions by improving family-planning services, requiring insurance companies to cover birth control, and requiring federally funded sex education programs to provide accurate information on contraceptives.

"We can reduce the incidence of abortion, not by denying women their right to decide when to bear a child, but by improving their control over the condition of their lives so they don't even get to that place," Kate Michelman, president emeritus of NARAL, the National Abortion Rights Action League, told CBS Radio News.

"The threat to losing that right of privacy and making these reproductive decisions is great. We're only one or two justices away on the Supreme Court from an overturn of Roe. States are vigorously trying to criminalize all abortions," Michelman said.

In the November election, abortion-rights supporters prevailed in defeating three state ballot measures — a sweeping ban on abortions in South Dakota and parental-notification measures in Oregon and California. Abortion opponents know they're on the defensive after the 2006 elections.

"It certainly doesn't help it, that is for sure, considering [Speaker of the House] Nancy Pelosi is probably one of the staunchest supporters of abortion-on-demand, all the way through nine months of pregnancy," said Trude.

On Friday, NARAL released its latest state-by-state rankings on those issues, giving A's to 13 states and F's to 19 states. From an abortion-rights standpoint, the highest grades went to California and Washington state; the lowest to Louisiana, Kentucky and Pennsylvania.