WASHINGTON -- The struggle over abortion rights returns to the streets of the nation's capital this weekend as activists on both sides gear up for showdowns in the Supreme Court and Congress.
A "Freedom of Choice" rally tomorrow will be "the largest demonstration and march this city has ever seen," said Patricia Ireland, president of the National Organization for Women (NOW).
She said the abortion-rights demonstration would attract five to 10 times as many protesters as the 70,000 anti-abortion activists who marched on the Capitol earlier this year.
Meanwhile, the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue is expected to blockade abortion clinics here over the weekend and perhaps confront the marchers. A coalition of women's groups opposed to abortion will hold a counter-demonstration on the Capitol grounds while the abortion-rights parade passes.
Leaders in both the "pro choice" and "pro life" movements believe the Supreme Court will allow further limits on abortion when it rules in a Pennsylvania case this summer. Oral arguments in Casey vs. Planned Parenthood of S.E. Pennsylvania will be heard April 22.
The justices are likely to stop short of an outright reversal of Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 decision that said the Constitution grants women the right to end an unwanted pregnancy. While allowing Pennsylvania to require parental notification for minor girls who want an abortion, a waiting period and other restrictions, she said, the court probably will not overturn Roe until it acts on other cases "after the presidential election."
If the Supreme Court overturns Roe vs. Wade, state legislatures or Congress could decide whether abortions should be legal and under what circumstances.
Indeed, the mass rallies are staged to demonstrate political clout as the abortion issue moves from the courts to legislative bodies. In Congress, a Freedom of Choice Act that guarantees abortion rights is being considered.
Tomorrow's march also is aimed at re-introducing the emotional abortion issue into the presidential race. Democratic candidates Bill Clinton and Jerry Brown are expected to attend the abortion-rights rally.
The march will include a sizable contingent from Hollywood: Jane Fonda, Joanne Woodward, Cybill Shepherd, Molly Ringwald, Morgan Fairchild, Mary Steenburgen, Sara Jessica Parker, Jill Eikenberry and Oscar-winning director Jonathan Demme ("Silence of the Lambs").
Meanwhile, a coalition of abortion abolitionists announced the formation of a "National Women's Coalition for Life" aimed at demonstrating that NOW and the National Abortion Rights Action League "do not speak for the women of this country."
The news media portray the abortion rights struggle as "religious fanatics against reasonable women," complained Irene Esteves, director of the Professional Women's Network. But she said millions of women are anti-abortion.