The annual anti- and pro-abortion protests that have become an San Francisco tradition took place again during Saturday’s morning rains. The two marches started at opposite ends of Justin Herman Plaza near the Ferry Building, and once the ralliers got to walking, they merged on the Embarcadero in a march that went past Fisherman’s Wharf and on to Marina Green.
The protest was the fifth annual Walk for Life West Coast, and it started at the plaza’s lawn space north of Market. The counter-protest, which started at the music concourse, billed itself as the Day of Action for Reproductive Justice and was organized by the Bay Area Coalition for Reproductive Rights.
Both rallies began with speakers bolstering their respective causes. Over at the Day of Action, Alison Ostendorf from Berkeley NOW, Deirdre Wilson of California Coalition for Women Prisoners, Linci Comy of the West Coast Feminist Health Project, and more spoke to the crowd while a Sister of Perpetual Indulgence chatted with the press about why it was important for men to be involved in the pro-choice cause. Meanwhile, Lila Rose of the Live Action project and baptist pastor Reverend Clenard Childress of BlackGenocide.org were among those to address the Walk for Life Crowd.
As noon approached, the two groups moved simultaneously toward the Embarcadero, each crossing the street at separate times and avoiding the other’s path. For a moment, the groups stood on opposite sides of the street, facing each other with placards, banners and signs. A man on the Walk for Life side sang into a bullhorn, adapting the words to an old hymn: “Deep in my heart, I do believe, the babies wi-ill live someday.” A woman on the Day of Action side held up a sign saying, “Statistically speaking, 1/3 of you have had abortions.”
When the light changed the Walk for Life crowd took the street, and the two groups marched side by side, separated by police officers and metal barriers. The police stood stoically as reporters darted between the lines and joggers ran through the melee. Soon a torrent of rain opened up on the crowd and umbrellas sprouted throughout the street.
This pageant has been played out by activists on both sides of the issue in San Francisco ever since organizer Dolores Meehan executed the first Walk For Life West Coast in 2005. Despite the similar choreography, however, the climate surrounding the event has changed over the past five years.
The first Walk For Life West Coast drew the attention of the city government, and Mayor Gavin Newsom recognized a resolution to declare January 22nd, 2005 “Stand Up For Choice” day in San Francisco; The Mayor urged pro-choicers on at the rally and was quoted in the Chronicle as expounding, “This whole movement is about the value of choice and the empowerment of women.”
This year, while many San Francisco politicians signed onto the pro-choice side (Public Defender Adachi, Supervisors Chiu and Daly, and and State Senator Leno to name a few), State Representative Tom Ammiano was the only office holder on hand to speak at the Day of Action rally.
Furthermore, protesters in the past cited the Bush administration as one of their main bones of contention. Mark Leno was quoted as describing the counter-protest as the opposition Bush would face “if he intends to upset the balance of the Supreme Court on this issue.”
This year, “The focus on our side included many expressions of disappointment about Obama. Not much new except remarks on [health care reform] and Haiti,” said Day of Action organizer Eric Schiller.
Indeed, while many feminist groups were present at the Day of Action rally, a mish-mash of other issues were represented via the San Francisco LaborFest Writing Group, the Haiti Action Committee, the Freedom Socialist Party, and one man carrying a huge Anarchy sign.
The times were different for the participants of Walk for Life, too. The thrust of their message still seems to be aimed at San Francisco liberalism (why else have it on the Embarcadero, the tourist’s San Francisco, instead of in front of City Hall, a corporate office, or the House Speaker’s office like all the card carrying liberals do?), and the Walk’s website asserts, “Our mission is to change the perceptions of a society that thinks abortion is an answer.”
However, with a new administration in the White House, the largely Catholic movement’s political victories in California with Proposition 8 are closer at hand than a federal approach to overturning Roe vs. Wade. In fact, Meehan also organized a 2005 protest in the Marina against gay marriage.
As the protest continued this year, rain kept pouring on the marchers. Banners exhorting readers to pray for the end of abortion bobbed next to signs demanding that the Stupak amendment be struck from health care reform, which is about as close together as these ideas get in San Francisco.
Laura Hautala briefly wrote for RH Reality Check in 2008, an openly pro-choice website, by volunteering to update their wiki about pro-choice organizations. As it was a wiki, she was uncredited.