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Abortion opponents, supporters mark anniversary
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About 2,000 people attended a Capitol rally Thursday in opposition to legalized abortion. (MPR Photo/Laura McCallum)
Supporters and opponents of legalized abortion marked the 31st anniversary of Roe versus Wade on Thursday. Abortion rights groups say the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion is being eroded by state and federal abortion restrictions. Abortion opponents are celebrating recent legislative victories, and gearing up for another push at the Minnesota Capitol.

St. Paul, Minn. — A coalition of abortion-rights groups began the day with a prayer breakfast. Several women talked about the significance of Roe versus Wade in their lives. Arlene Ashbach, 28, says she has never experienced a time when abortion was illegal.

"My aunts and my mother talked about the times that they went through, and the friends that they've had to help with illegal abortions, and I would hate for that to happen again. And I think people in my generation don't realize that the rights are crumbling away," she said.

Ashbach says she knows many people who support legalized abortion, but don't speak out or get involved. Some leaders of groups supporting legalized abortion have expressed a similar concern. They say abortion opponents have often done a better job of mobilizing activists, and their effort has paid off in recent elections.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and a majority of state legislators are opposed to legalized abortion.

Many of those legislators were present at the annual March for Life organized by the anti-abortion group Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life. More than 2,000 abortion opponents braved the bitter cold for what has become an annual rally in front of the state Capitol.

MCCL president Leo LaLonde told the crowd they have several reasons to celebrate this year.

"My friends, 2003 will be remembered as a year of historic progress for the right to life movement. For the very first time since 1973, the people acting through their elected government were successful in passing a law that ended a particularly brutal type of abortion," LaLonde said.

LaLonde refers to the law signed by President George W. Bush that bans a procedure known as partial birth abortion. In Minnesota, abortion opponents finally passed a 24-hour abortion waiting period called the Women's Right to Know law.

MCCL Executive Director Scott Fischbach says the group will now push for the "Taxpayer Protection Act." The bill would prohibit organizations that provide abortions or refer women to abortion services from receiving state family planning money. Fischbach says the bill would stop Planned Parenthood and other groups from receiving about $5 million a year.

"Planned Parenthood and the other abortionists love getting their hands on your tax dollars. They're addicted to government handouts, and we need to break that addiction this year," he said.

Fischbach also urged abortion opponents to work to re-elect President Bush in November. Both sides of the abortion debate say the presidential election is critical.

"It is going to be the election that's going to essentially determine whether Roe versus Wade survives for another generation or not."

Tim Stanley, executive director of the recently-renamed "NARAL Pro-Choice Minnesota," says the next president will almost certainly appoint a new Supreme Court justice, and if President Bush is re-elected, he will appoint an abortion opponent. Stanley says supporters of legalized abortion are also struggling to stave off abortion restrictions.

"Unfortunately, all branches of government right now are stacked against the right to choose. We've got all branches of the federal government, all branches of the state government, and our last stronghold, our last finger in the dike, was the Senate majority leadership, and we have just lost that," he said.

Senate Democrats recently replaced John Hottinger, a supporter of legalized abortion, with abortion opponent Dean Johnson. Johnson may be more willing to let abortion bills get to the floor for a vote, and has said he'll let Senate Democrats vote their conscience on social issues such as abortion.

Republican House Speaker Steve Sviggum says he thinks if the Taxpayer Protection Act gets to the Senate floor, it will pass.

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