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Bush Mobilizes Women

A new generation of activists is galvanized against the assault on choice. At Sunday's March for Women's Lives, the generations will meet to defend against the erosion of rights.
 
 
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George W. Bush didn't seek office hoping to launch a new wave of the women's movement. But the president has angered so many girls and women that he has helped mobilize a national march to protect women's rights.

On Sunday, April 25, an expected 1 million marchers will stream into the streets of the nation's capital for what is billed as the "March for Women's Lives." The last large pro-choice march drew 750,000 people in 1992.

According to Alice Cohan, the event's director, the march's major sponsors -- NARAL Pro-Choice America, Planned Parenthood, the Feminist Majority, the National Organization for Women, the Black Women's Health Imperative, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health and the ACLU -- will ensure that "we get numbers too large to ignore."

"Many people," says Cohan, "now realize that Bush could actually succeed in banning abortion. We've got to remind people of what life was like before, when women died from illegal abortions."

Many older women, of course, remember those desperate times and will be marching to defend Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal.

But one-third of the participants, according to Krystal Lander, the campus program director of Feminist Majority, will be college-age students, many of whom have fund-raised to pay for their plane or bus fares to Washington. Among them are students from nearly all of the University of California and California State University campuses.

"The response has just been amazing," says Lander. "Bush's relentless attempts to confer personhood on the fetus and to choose judges who are opposed to abortion have galvanized young women all over the nation. They get it now; it's real. Bush is educating a whole new wave of young women, more than anyone could have imagined."

Juliet Linderman, a 17-year-old senior at San Francisco's Lowell High School, is one of those young women who is outraged by Bush's attempts to make abortion illegal. She couldn't afford to travel to Washington and knew that many other young people would also want to have an event in San Francisco.

So, with two of her friends, Juliet has organized a rally, especially designed for people her age, for noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday, April 24, in Dolores Park.

"It's personal now," she says. "I don't take women's rights for granted anymore." The aspiring journalist is also worried about "Bush's attacks on the environment, education and health, the war in Iraq, tax cuts and, well, everything else I care about."

With a certain sense of excitement, she adds, "Thank goodness, I can finally vote in November!"

Heidi Seick, a 32-year-old technology analyst, is another youthful San Franciscan mobilized by Bush's assault on women's rights. She has organized some 20 friends, all professional young women, who will join the march as a delegation. They've named themselves "San Francisco Choice Chicks."

Linderman and Seick are hardly alone in worrying about the many ways the Bush administration has tried to roll back women's rights. Last week, the National Women's Law Center, a nonprofit research and policy center in Washington, released a report that details how Bush's policies have adversely affected American women. In addition to the administration's attempt to ban sex education and abortion, these are some of the "low profile" examples cited in the report:

-- Bush's budget would cut funding for emergency shelters, rape crisis hot lines and other domestic violence services.

-- The administration's political agenda has distorted scientific information. The National Institute of Cancer, for example, posted an inaccurate statement that abortion causes breast cancer.

-- A plan to privatize Social Security would particularly harm women workers, who generally earn less than men.

-- Budget and tax cuts will reduce or end services and programs needed by working mothers.

-- The U.S. Department of Justice has dropped cases challenging sex discrimination in employment.

The list is not short, and covers 10 key areas that affect women.

Here, then, is a success story for President Bush to publicize as he campaigns for re-election. In three years, he has managed to mobilize several generations of women -- a feat not matched by feminists for more than 30 years.

Ruth Rosen is a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle.