WASHINGTON -- With the Supreme Court poised to consider a case that could overturn the landmark abortion case Roe vs. Wade, thousands of demonstrators on both sides of the debate are gathering here this week for rallies, marches and blockades of abortion clinics.
January is usually the month when abortion opponents converge on the nation's capital for a peaceful "March for Life" to the Supreme Court building, bemoaning the Jan. 22, 1973, decision that guaranteed women's rights to end unwanted pregnancies. Abortion-rights activists have held low-key celebrations in the past.
But in this presidential election year, with both sides expecting the demise of Roe vs. Wade, the anniversary has taken on heightened significance.
"The 19th anniversary of Roe could be the last anniversary," says Loretta Ucelli, director of communications for the National Abortion Rights Action League.
"Roe vs. Wade is history," says Bob Jamison, a spokesman for Operation Rescue National, a militant anti-abortion group.
The Supreme Court was expected to decide, possibly this week or next, whether to hear a case testing the constitutionality of a Pennsylvania law requiring pregnant women to inform their husbands about their intentions to have abortions. The law also requires that women wait 24 hours and hear information about the development of the fetus and alternatives to abortion.
The case, Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania vs. Casey, asks the court to determine whether Roe is still the law of the land.
"If Pennsylvania doesn't do it, how about Utah? How about Guam? How about Louisiana? It's just a matter of time . . . Roe is going down," Jamison says, referring to several other cases challenging Roe vs. Wade.
Says Ucelli: "It's not a question of if but when and how and to what degree."
Both sides are trying to put a spotlight on the issue with a variety of high-profile events. An abortion-rights anniversary fund-raiser tomorrow night features the leading Democratic presidential candidates.
Today and tomorrow, Operation Rescue National planned to stage trademark blockades, dubbed "rescues," to prevent women from entering clinics in Washington and its suburbs. "There will be rescues, and there will be babies saved," says Jamison.
In response, abortion-rights activists say they have mobilized 1,000 local volunteers to set up "defense" lines to keep nearly 30 clinics open.