Protesting the “Walk for Life”

January 26, 2011

SAN FRANCISCO--Some 100 supporters turned out for a pro-choice demonstration organized to counter the "Walk for Life," which bused in some 5,000 people, many mobilized by churches, to what has become an annual event on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion.

The counterprotest was sponsored by Bay Area Coalition for Our Reproductive Rights, alongside other groups that mobilized for the event, including Code Pink, ANSWER, Calendar Feminists, San Francisco Atheists and the International Socialist Organization.

Protesters emphasized the fact that San Francisco is a pro-choice town, which was re-enforced by San Francisco Supervisor David Chiu, the first speaker at the rally. Yet the turnout on pro-choice side has dwindled in the last few years.

The first year of the "Walk for Life," the anti-choice invasion of San Francisco was greeted by a large crowd of pro-choice supporters from around the Bay Area, including those mobilized by groups like Planned Parenthood. In subsequent years, this has not been the case.

Despite being far outnumbered, abortion rights supporters at the rally showed passion and determination. Several speakers linked this issue to other struggles, some pointing out the hypocrisy of both church and state proclaiming concern for the sanctity of human life yet supporting bloodletting in Central Asia and Iraq.

Antiwar activist Cindy Sheehan, who lost her son in the Iraq War, asked, "If George Bush is pro-life, why is my son dead. Why are there a million people in Iraq dead and Afghanistan?" Karen of Calendar Feminist quoted George Carlin: "Pro-lifers want live babies so they can become dead soldiers."

Another speaker drew connections with the austerity measures being imposed by all levels of government, calling the erosion of reproductive rights a "part of the attacks against working people across the board."

A small group of pro-choice protesters stormed the stage of the so-called "Walk for Life" demonstration, unfurling a banner before being escorted away by police. During the march that followed, pro-choice protesters chanted, " Our bodies, our lives, our right to decide" and "Not the church, not the state, women must decide they're fate."

Early on, there were more police than pro-choice demonstrators, but the protest increased in size as the march proceeded up Embarcadero, though it was still vastly outnumbered by the "pro-lifers."

Laura, a participant in the rally, asked, "Where is NARAL, where is NOW?" pointing out that groups like the National Organization for Women have not mobilized to confront anti-abortion forces. She also said that many of her friends believe that the anti-choice demonstrations should be ignored.

But ignoring the people who want to take away a woman's right to choose hasn't worked--it's only made the right more confident. Nor has many liberal women's rights organizations' single-minded focus on supporting Democratic politicians defended abortion rights.

The Republican-led House of Representatives has prepared legislation that would further restrict access to abortion. One bill would effectively ban federal funding of abortion services and tax insurance plans that cover the procedure. Governors and legislatures in several states are poised to restrict abortion rights at the state level. Already, California, the "bastion of liberalism," has just 12 counties out of 58 that provide abortion services.

After their win in November, some right-wing politicians believe that this is their best chance of gutting abortion rights in years, and this has reinvigorated anti-abortion organizations.

As for our side, pro-choice activism will have to be rebuilt from the bottom up if we are going to push back the attacks from the right. Independent movements must emerge and demand access to abortion services and contraception to prevent the state from controlling women's choices.

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