An abortion rights dinner commemorating the 30th anniversary of Roe v Wade drew all six declared Democratic presidential hopefuls, who spoke to a crowd of nearly 1,500 last night about the importance of saving women’s reproductive rights. The dinner, hosted by NARAL Pro-Choice America, marked the first time the six candidates shared a stage. Kate Michelman, president of NARAL, spoke of the need to save abortion rights, saying, “If Roe is overturned, women will return to and die in the back alleys of this nation.” The dinner drew celebrities as well as political leaders, with Kathleen Turner and Ossie Davis opening the night’s events. “I am pro-choice because I am pro-life,” said Turner. “I believe we can save this freedom, and I know we must.”
“Make no mistake about it–[the right to have an abortion] is under attack today,” said Sen. John Edwards (NC), a theme that ran through all the presidential candidates’ speeches. Each of the candidates underscored the Bush Administration’s attack on women’s reproductive rights. Sen. John Kerry (MA) said that if he had the chance to debate the president, he would say “I trust women to make their own decisions, and you don’t, Mr. President.” Sen. Joe Lieberman (CT) said of his fellow candidates, “There are probably going to be many issues we disagree on, but not this one.” Rep. Richard Gephardt (MO) agreed, saying “We are all committed to the necessity of replacing George Bush in 2004.”
Gephardt explained at the dinner why in his early career he was a strong abortion rights opponent, supporting a Constitutional amendment to ban abortion and buying a an ad in the program for the 1985 Right to Life convention, according to the New York Times. Blaming his early beliefs on his religious upbringing, he said that he struggled long and hard over the issue of abortion, finally casting his first pro-choice vote in 1986. Now, he says, he believes “there is one thing that must be certainÑthe right and the freedom to choose.” Gephardt did not address the fact that he still supports banning so-called “partial-birth” abortions and supports limits on funding for abortions for poor women. Former governor of Vermont Howard Dean, however, made it clear that he understood that the issue of “partial-birth” abortion is really just an anti-choice strategy to strike fear into the public’s mind. He compared the issue to the use of the term “quota” by affirmative action opponents, such as President Bush. Dean, a doctor, spoke of a pregnant 12-year old patient whose own father was the father of her child in explaining why he would veto parental notification laws.
The event also drew several anti-abortion protesters, who called out to dinner attendees that “murder is nothing to celebrate.” Rev. Al Sharpton, who only yesterday formed his presidential committee, said that of all the candidates on stage, he had probably participated in the most protestsÑ”I cannot remember a time I crossed a picket lineÑbut tonight I proudly crossed that line,” he said. Speaking to a cheering crowd, Sharpton said, “We are the real patriots because we believe in freedom for all Americans É This is about women having the say-so over their own bodies.”