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`We're making progress,' Bush tells abortion foes rallying on Mall

WASHINGTON—President Bush touted recent gains in restricting abortion at a National Mall rally by abortion opponents Tuesday, but he also urged patience among his fervent supporters, who hope that electoral victories in 2004 will bring major change to abortion laws in 2005.

"The America of our dreams, where every child is welcomed in law ... may still be some ways away," Bush said in a telephone address at the annual March for Life rally, held to oppose the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.

Bush cited last year's ban on what opponents call partial-birth abortion and a new law that allows prosecutors to charge a person who harms or kills a pregnant woman with "harming or killing the woman's unborn child" as gains in creating a "culture of life" in America.

Speaking from his retreat at Camp David, Md., Bush told thousands of demonstrators: "We're making progress, and this progress is a tribute to your perseverance and to the prayers of the people."

The crowd on the mall, many of them brought to Washington by churches around the country, was smaller than those of previous years, perhaps because of bad weather in the Midwest and Northeast over the weekend.

The crowd was also predominantly Republican—one protester's sign read "Visualize No Democrats." Among the speakers were several GOP conservatives, including Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., and freshman Rep. Bobby Jindal, R-La.

Many demonstrators offered ambitious agendas for Congress. With possible retirements looming on the Supreme Court and stronger congressional Republican majorities, John Seiler, of Colwich, Kan., said he thinks Roe v. Wade won't stand much longer.

Seiler said that when he first started attending the annual anti-abortion march on Washington in 1990, "we were lucky to have one or two senators or representatives out here speaking to us," he said. "Now we go for an hour and we still don't get through them all."

The potential retirement most talked about, that of Chief Justice William Rehnquist, would at most end up replacing a current abortion opponent with another one, however. And inside the Capitol on Monday, lawmakers downplayed the chances of any major abortion initiatives passing this year.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., mentioned tax cuts, tsunami relief and welfare reauthorization as top legislative priorities, but made no promises on abortion other than to predict the Senate would "deal with" a bill to make it illegal to evade state parental-consent laws by transporting minors across state lines to have abortions. Congress has rejected such measures in the past.

Stephanie Tobin, of West Grove, Pa., said she hoped Bush would use his influence to further restrict abortion, but added that public opinion needs to change further before legal abortion can be rolled back.

Scientific advances such as ultrasound "are teaching people that life truly begins at conception," said Tobin, who traveled to the rally with churchgoers from her Philadelphia archdiocese. "People are really becoming educated on this issue."

While abortion opponents rallied, abortion-rights supporters vowed not to let the Bush administration overturn Roe v. Wade, which was decided on Jan. 22, 1973.

Bush "is going to hear from that pro-choice majority loud and clear" if he tries to end legal abortion, said Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, a leading abortion-rights group.

Opinion polls in recent years have shown one-fifth of Americans supporting a general abortion ban, another fifth to one-quarter supporting abortion without restrictions, and the rest somewhere in the middle.

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(Bjerga reports for The Wichita Eagle.)

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): ABORTION

GRAPHIC (from KRT Graphics, 202-383-6064): 20050124 Abortion stats

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