The 28th anniversary of a U.S. Supreme Court decision to legalize abortion brought pro-life and pro-choice demonstrators to the state Capitol steps Monday, with both sides vowing to fight the forces opposing them.
More than 130 people huddled in frigid rain at noon to hear about a dozen lawmakers and pro-life activists urge supporters to continue fighting abortions.
"We need to ask ourselves - when will this stop?" Sid Heidersdorf, of Alaskans For Life, asked the crowd. "When can we, individually and collectively, gain enough support of those around us to make this stop?"
Several hours later, the Juneau Coalition For Pro Choice and about 80 supporters gathered outside the Capitol in the dark bearing candles and signs reading "Pro Choice or No Choice." The group walked down Seward Street chanting and held a rally inside the Silverbow Inn.
"When the Supreme Court declared abortion legal 28 years ago, little did we dream that the rights would be taken away bit by bit by bit," former lawmaker Caren Robinson, a Juneau Democrat, told the crowd.
Robinson criticized Republican President George Bush for his decision Monday to restrict federal funds to international family-planning groups involved in abortions. She said it's clear the new administration is anti-choice and called on the crowd to oppose Bush's policies.
"We must not give up. We must continue to fight," Robinson said.
Heidersdorf, of the pro-life group, called Bush's decision "wonderful" and said he hoped the president would do more to stop abortions. Heidersdorf called on supporters to fight the use of RU 486, known as the abortion pill. The federal Food and Drug Administration last year approved the drug for use in the United States, a move Heidersdorf called "a very black day for America."
Tommy Thompson, Bush's choice for Secretary of Health and Human Services, said Friday he would review the decision to allow the drug in the U.S. because he's not convinced it's safe for women, a comment that alarmed pro-choice advocates.
"I think it's ludicrous," Robinson said.
But both sides said they expect difficulty pushing their agendas on a federal level. Although Republicans dominate the White House, hold the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives and hold half the U.S. Senate seats, pro-life advocate Ida Barnack called on the crowd Monday to be vigilant about "constantly contacting" lawmakers in Washington, D.C.
"It isn't going to be easy to put any pro-life judge in the Supreme Court," said Barnack, president of Alaskans For Life. "Any pro-life legislation is not going to pass that easily."
Karen Allen, vice president of Juneau Coalition For Pro Choice, said the Republican edge is a challenge but she noted power is more evenly divided in Congress than in the past.
"There are also pro-choice Republicans out there," Allen said. "So, it's going to be a fight. I don't think it's going to be necessarily a losing fight."
The groups also are taking their battles to the state Legislature.
The Juneau Coalition For Pro Choice is calling on state lawmakers to pass a Senate bill requiring health insurance companies to cover birth control pills.
"It's an outrage in this country that major health insurance plans will pay for Viagra, but won't cover birth control pills," bill sponsor Sen. Johnny Ellis, an Anchorage Democrat, told the pro-choice crowd at the Silverbow.
Heidersdorf, of Alaskans For Life, said he hopes to persuade lawmakers to continue an effort to deny state funding to poor women for most abortions. The group also wants the Legislature to pass a bill requiring doctors to inform pregnant women about possible psychological effects and health risks of abortions and to show photographs of fetuses in various stages of growth to women planning abortions.
The bill was introduced last session by Rep. John Coghill, but it died in committee. The Fairbanks Republican said he plans to introduce a similar measure in a couple weeks.
Kathy Dye can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.