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United Methodists join march for reproductive rights

 


United Methodists join march for reproductive rights

April 27, 2004 

A UMNS Report By Pat Rogers*

WASHINGTON (UMNS) — United Methodists were among the hundreds of thousands who gathered April 25 at the National Mall in Washington to focus attention on what they say are attacks on women’s reproductive rights.

wazshington march photo
Representatives from the United Methodist Board of Church and Society and the Women's Division of the churchwide Board of Global Ministries participate in the "March for Women's Lives" on the National Mall.
Called the “March for Women’s Lives,” the event included women from across the nation and 60 foreign countries. The daylong event featured speeches by celebrities, politicians and religious activists.

The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice brought together some 70 religious and religiously affiliated organizations for the march, including contingents from the United Methodist Board of Church and Society and the Women’s Division, United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.

“The hope is that the march will raise the awareness of people and it will remind people that women can be trusted with the decisions they need to make regarding their reproductive health,” said Julie Taylor, a Women’s Division staff executive.

 United Methodist Social Principles sanction abortion when an “unacceptable” pregnancy may cause “devastating damage” to the mother. But the church opposes partial-birth abortion, a late-term procedure now banned by legislation President Bush signed into law last November.

Women's March Photo
The “March For Women’s Lives” included women from across the nation and 60 foreign countries.
That law, and other measures aimed at limiting women’s access to reproductive choice, cause concern, according to Taylor. “Where will we go? Will there be a list of procedures you can’t do and a list of procedures you can?” she asked.

She fears that more and more doctors and pharmacists are either unwilling or unable to provide information on reproductive health care. “Now, when doctors are being trained, they can opt out of any kind of an abortion procedure on women so that they don’t learn how to do the procedures at all,” Taylor explained.

The marchers gathered under an overcast sky on the National Mall near the Washington Monument, walked down Pennsylvania Avenue and then headed back to the mall near the Capitol.

It’s been 10 years since pro-choice organizers last held such a march in Washington, and organizers say this year’s turnout far exceeded the last march. The Associated Press cited police sources who estimated the crowd at between 500,000 and 800,000.

 That number included a much smaller group protesting the march. A member of that group carried a sign that said “Baby Killers” and heckled marchers with a bullhorn as they walked by.

Washington March Photo
Police estimated the crowd at the "March for Women's Lives" at between 500,000 and 800,000.
The Rev. Paul Stallsworth, a United Methodist pastor, attended the march as an abortion opponent. “Abortion is something to be resisted, and the unborn child is to be defended and protected as well as his or her mother,” he said.

Stallsworth, who is also the editor and president of Lifewatch, an anti-abortion publication, described the stance of many at the march as “rigid, unqualified and unyielding” and claimed they were in favor of abortion for any reason or at any stage of pregnancy.

Other marchers appreciated the chance to be in solidarity with women from all walks of life. “I like the fact that there are women who have made it to the top and could be doing a million different things right now, but instead they’ve come here and they are with us in fighting for what they believe in,” said Beth Preston, 27, who came to the march from Richmond, Va.

Taylor Snyder, 20, drove from Colorado with two friends to attend the march. As many in the crowd, she wanted to send a message to politicians intent on restricting abortion-rights laws. “We believe we women should have the decisions over our own bodies, not the government,” she said.

Many at the march were unhappy with the policies of the Bush administration. “Anybody but Bush,” said Tracy Oswald, 43. “Bush is catering to the religious right on the abortion issue and just about everything else.”

While the overwhelming focus was on reproductive rights, there was a host of special-interest groups on the mall, including those supporting separation of church and state, environmental groups and even a small number of Communist Party supporters.

As expected, there was only a smattering of men in the crowd. Dusting Kowalski, 30, drove 10 hours from Lansing, Mich., to attend. “This is a much larger issue than a man-versus-women thing. For me, it is an issue of state control, how much the state controls what we as people can do with our bodies,” Kowalski said.

*Rogers is a UMNS correspondent based in Washington.

News media contact: Linda Bloom (646)369-3759

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