Casting Stereotypes Aside: Young Crowd at Annual March Views Antiabortion Cause as Human Rights Issue

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A passerby could easily have mistaken some aspects of the 31st annual March for Life for a "Bush for President" rally The traditional pre-march assembly between the White House's South Lawn and the Washington Monument consisted of a stream of Republican members of Congress praising Bush to rousing response from an eager crowd.

"We pro-life Americans now have a friend in the White House," declared Ohio Congressman Steve Chabot. The enthusiastic gathering applauded.

"We have a pro-life president in President Bush," shouted three-term Representative Patrick Toomey, "and we have to reelect President Bush." Cheers erupted.

Bush, as he did last year, addressed the marchers by telephone. Speaking from Roswell, N.M.--he was there to promote his economic program--Bush highlighted the ban on "partial-birth abortion" and his support for the recently enacted Born Alive Infants Protection Act. He reiterated his opposition to "the destruction of embryos for stem cell research" and to funding of "international programs that promote abortion overseas."

Said Bush: "During the past three years we've made real progress toward building a culture of life in America."

The march--held each year to commemorate the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion throughout the United States--is a gritty grass-roots affair. Overwhelmingly Republican? No doubt. But this is not the country club or corporate set.

Young mothers and fathers push stroller-strapped toddlers along the national mall's hardened grass; motorized scooters help the disabled navigate through the throng. Mass manufactured signs ("Stop Abortion Now") and T-shirts ("Abortion is Homicide") abound.

And while it's an ecumenical gathering, it's also a decidedly Catholic event. For every Baptist, Pentecostal or mainline Protestant denomination represented, there were dozens of parish groups and parochial school students who made the trek to Washington. More demographics: The crowd was disproportionately young, largely female and firmly committed to the cause.

And despite the stereotypes ("The antiabortion wackos are in town," one Washingtonian, frustrated at traffic delays, barked into a pay phone) the marchers--particularly the college students--are not noticeably intolerant or doctrinaire. To them, abortion is not primarily about the "tough cases," a "women's right to choose," irresponsible sex or politics. It's a human rights issue--and the "human" they defend is the unborn child in the womb.

"I've never done anything like this before," says Beth Tulli, one of 140 St. Louis University students, three charter busloads full, who came to Washington. Tulli and her friend, fellow St. Louis University freshman Claire Cole, would like to see Roe v. Wade overturned. But they don't expect that to happen anytime soon.

Cole says education is the key. "I hope people realize there are other options." She mentions adoption. "A lot of people think we're just about saving the babies, but we're here for the moms too," said Cole.

Senior biology major and future doctor Joe Eble of the same university was attending his fourth march. Influenced by Pope John Paul II, said Eble, "My generation is more pro-life" than any since the 1973 court decision.

Still, the inconsistencies of the pro-life movement concern him.

"Take, for example, the college Republicans," explained Eble. "They are very much against abortion and they are also very much for capital punishment. …