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Pro-life activists counter 'sister march'

New Hampshire Union Leader

January 23. 2017 8:19PM
Peter Collins of Merrimack, right, walks by a pro-life group during the NH Women's Day of Action and Unity held at the State House in Concord on Saturday. (Thomas Roy/Union Leader)

Anti-abortion groups were not invited to the Women’s March on Washington on Saturday, but a small number of pro-life activists had their own front-row seat at the “sister march” that day at the State House in Concord.

It was “like walking into the lion’s den,” said Beth Scaer of Nashua, who participated in the New Hampshire Right to Life counter rally on the sidewalk in front of the State House.

Still, local pro-life supporters, including Scaer, reported encounters with peaceful and accommodating attendees of the “Women’s Day of Action & Unity,” a crowd that numbered in the thousands in Concord.

The Washington main event further highlights the controversial, continuing debate on abortion. Conservatives knocked that rally for excluding their side.

“I think it’s disingenuous to call it a women’s rally,” said Shannon McGinley, a board member of the conservative group Cornerstone Action. “It was really a march for abortion.”

Organizers of the Women’s March on Washington pointed out that they had a pro-choice policy from the start.

Abortion rights and social values will remain in the headlines this week, following the 44th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe vs. Wade decision legalizing abortion this past Sunday. On Friday, the annual March for Life takes place at the Washington Monument. Speakers for that rally include Kellyanne Conway, senior adviser to President Donald Trump, and Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York.

Phyllis Woods, a former GOP national committeewoman from Dover, held up a sign that read, “Pray to end abortion,” at the Right to Life rally in Concord.

Other activists carried signs critical of public funding for Planned Parenthood. Woods said their group numbered about a dozen.

The larger State House rally was sponsored by more than two dozen groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union of NH and Planned Parenthood of NH Action Fund.

Woods said she had cordial interactions with those attending the bigger event. She recounted that Jennifer Frizzell, vice president for public policy of Planned Parenthood NH Action Fund, greeted her as she walked by. It’s a familiar scene for both leaders, who have been on opposite sides of the debate for years.

“Women are not victims. We have had equal rights for a long time,” said Woods, a former state representative.

Three members of the all-Democrat, all-female New Hampshire congressional delegation spoke at the Concord rally. U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan urged those in attendance to fight “to protect a woman’s right to make her own health care decisions.”

Terie Norelli, a former New Hampshire House Speaker and a past leader of the Reproductive Rights legislative caucus, sounded a similar note in an interview. The Concord rally was about more than access to abortion rights, she said.

“The broader message was equality, dignity and justice,” she said.

There are areas of agreement on hotbed issues, such as the importance of family planning, Norelli added.

The subject is front and center with the GOP in majority control in Washington, as well as in Concord. Bills before the state Legislature this year include one to produce abortion statistics and a fetal homicide bill that would provide that “fetus” be included in the definition for “another” for murder, manslaughter and negligent homicide.

On Monday, 2nd District U.S. Rep. Ann McLane Kuster was among the members of the New Hampshire delegation to criticize Trump for reinstating the Mexico City Policy to prohibit international, non-governmental organizations that receive U.S. funding from performing or promoting abortions.

“I’m very disappointed that as one of his first actions as President, Donald Trump will be harming poor women and families in countries that can least afford it,” Kuster said in a statement.

McGinley, at Cornerstone, said she is cautiously optimistic that the new administration will take a strong stand against abortion. “I do think that there will be a flash point on it,” she said.

The New Hampshire Republican State Committee’s party platform has a pro-life plank, which includes support for parental consent for minors seeking abortions, opposition to public resources to fund or promote abortion, and support for a “pre-born child’s fundamental right to life and personhood under the Fourteenth Amendment.”

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