Pared down by threats of terrorism, the smallest "March for Life" in the event's history Tuesday protested the 29th anniversary of the Supreme Court ruling that recognized a woman's right to an abortion.
Capitol Police at first put the crowd at between 5,000 and 8,000, but later in the afternoon the estimate had swelled to 15,000. Those figures contrast with police estimates of around 35,000 for marches during most of the past decade, and organizer claims in the mid-1990s of more than 100,000 participants.
As usual, the marchers -- many carrying small signs -- gathered on the Ellipse near the White House for speeches and pep talks before making the long march up Capitol Hill along Constitution Avenue.
Both ends of the march were symbolic. Its destination, the Supreme Court, was the scene of Roe vs. Wade in 1973, when a majority of the court recognized that women have a privacy right to obtain abortions, without substantial interference from the state, during the first two trimesters of pregnancy. The beginning venue of the march, the White House, is now the home of President George W. Bush, an avowed opponent of abortion rights who has promised to appoint judges with similar views to the federal courts, and to the Supreme Court.
As it has been in the last few years, the crowd was heavily white middle class and seemed to be composed of mostly Catholic school students and their families.
The Rev. Paul Berghaut of St. Anthony's Parish in Falls Church, Va., was typical of the many religious participants in Tuesday's march. Though he couldn't cite the cases, Berghaut said he has read that many judges are beginning to recognize the "personhood" of the fetus. "Just our presence here is a victory of sorts," he said, looking beyond the police barriers to the Supreme Court building. "It's a softening of hard ground."
In a statement released Monday, the National Organization for Women painted the political situation in rather stark colors. "Roe vs. Wade is in more danger today than at any other time in the last 29 years," said NOW President Kim Gandy. "George W. Bush's anti-abortion agenda could completely tip the scales of justice against women's rights. His commitment to stacking the federal courts with right-wing ideologues is frighteningly clear."
-- Do you support a woman's right to choose whether to carry a pregnancy to term? Why or why not? Is abortion a matter for government legislation, or is it a private decision between a woman and her doctor?
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-2 Tuesday that a state must show a sexual offender suffers from some lack of personal control before it can commit him to an institution after serving a prison sentence.
The ruling invalidates part of Kansas's Sexual Predator Act -- at least 16 states have such laws and many more are considering them -- but also revisits a 1997 Supreme Court decision upholding the act.
In the 1997 decision, Kansas vs. Hendricks, the Supreme Court majority said the Kansas act was constitutional, even though under its terms the state could commit an offender to an indefinite stay in a mental institution if a judge found the offender abnormal. Doing so didn't punish an offender twice for the same offense, the court majority said, because the confinement was "civil" as opposed to a "criminal" prison sentence.
But on Tuesday, the Supreme Court ruled in the new Kansas case that the state law as it was being applied is not constitutional. A state does not have to prove total or complete lack of control, Justice Stephen Breyer wrote for the high court majority. A state must prove, however, there is some lack of control for constitutional due process to be satisfied.
Tuesday's ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court sends the case back to the Kansas Supreme Court for a new decision based on the majority opinion.
In the underlying case that brought the new ruling, Michael T. Crane was convicted of lewd and lascivious behavior and convicted of aggravated sexual battery. In the first offense, Crane exposed himself at a tanning salon. In the second, he exposed himself in a video store, then grabbed the clerk by the neck and demanded oral sex before running out of the store.
Tuesday's ruling means Crane must have another commitment hearing process in which the state must show not only that he will be likely to repeat sexual violence, but that he has some inability to control that behavior.
-- Do you support laws that allow a convicted sexual offender to be committed to a mental institution after serving his prison sentence? Why or why not?
On the same day that Robert Altman won a Golden Globe for best director Sunday, the Times of London ran a story -- based on an interview with Altman -- featuring some choice, sure-to-be controversial quotes.
The 76-year-old director of "Gosford Park" criticized the war on terrorism and really teed off on President Bush. "This present government in America I just find disgusting," said Altman. "The idea that George Bush could run a baseball team successfully -- he can't even speak! I just find him an embarrassment."
The director of "M*A*S*H," "Nashville" and "The Player" said the U.S. Supreme Court decision that confirmed Bush's election as president showed the court to be a "totally political animal" and took away "the last shred of naivete" he had left.
"When I see an American flag flying, it's a joke," said Altman.
At the same time, Altman thinks the entertainment industry may bear some of the responsibility for the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. "We gave them the ideas -- it was a movie," he said. "We should be ashamed of ourselves."
Altman -- who flew B-24 bombers in the South Pacific during World War II -- finds fault with the bombing campaign against targets in Afghanistan. "I don't think there was a moral choice then," he argued. "But this thing we're involved in now -- these people don't even have a country, and maybe that's the problem."
Altman has frequently said that filming "Gosford Park" in England was the best experience of his life. He told the Times he would be happy to live the rest of his life in London. "There's nothing in America that I would miss at all," said Altman.
-- What's your reaction to Altman's remarks?
(Thanks to UPI Hollywood Reporter Pat Nason)