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More than 1 million people rally in support of reproductive rights as part of March for Women's Lives Sunday in Washington, D.C. Approximately 400 Penn students participated in what is being called one of the largest pro-choice marches in history.[Juli

WASHINGTON -- Approximately 400 Penn students joined hundreds of thousands of people from across the country in Washington, D.C., Sunday in one of the largest pro-choice demonstrations in history.

Organizers of the March for Women's Lives counted more than 1 million marchers and "hoped that it would bring to the attention of the United States that there is a strong sentiment for reproductive justice and reproductive rights," said Nkenge Toure, coordinator for New Voices for Reproductive Justice, a national group that participated in the march and focused on reaching out to women of color.

Participants marched for a range of reproductive rights, including family planning assistance, access to prenatal and postnatal health care, and sex education that is not solely abstinence-based. Marchers also demanded that emergency contraception commonly known as "the morning-after pill" be made available over the counter.

Organizers said that close to one-third of the marchers were under 25 years old.

College sophomore Niva Kramek organized over 300 Penn students who left for D.C. on Sunday morning.

"We spoke to a lot of campus groups, had every kind of event we could think of, from coffee houses to Q&A; forums to high-profile speakers to the [PennDemocrats] Issue of the Month campaign to ACLU's meetings devoted to the march," Kramek, who lost her voice at the march, wrote in an e-mail interview. "[B]asically, everything we could think of to raise awareness we did."

Nursing and Wharton freshman Erica Dhawan organized an additional group of 350 students from across the state, including 150 Penn students, as part of national organization Choice USA's young people's contingent.

Some of these students left on Saturday and met at a convergence site at a hotel in D.C., where they participated in training sessions and workshops related to the cause.

"It was incredible to be part of an amazing youth movement,"Dhawan said. "So many people came together to unite and stand up for such a worthy cause."

The issue was one that resonated with both men and women, as well as people of all ages, races, religious faiths and sexual orientations at the march.

"I came because it's absolutely necessary to keep this right, especially for my age group," College freshman Anna Levett said. "I'm 19, and I don't want to lose this right."

Groups at the march included Republicans for Choice and Catholics for Free Choice, and representatives from Jewish groups and the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

Cynthia Bennett, president of the Tennessee chapter of the National Organization for Women, said that making abortion illegal would be just the first step in the erosion of women's rights.

In addition to the marchers, hundreds of counterprotesters lined the streets carrying signs, including some that read, "Abortion is genocide," and "Women deserve better than abortion." Some held graphic pictures of aborted fetuses while others cited Bible passages to counter the pro-choicers.

"I believe every American is responsible for the holocaust that has been going on in America for the past 30 years," said Nathan Radcliffe, a member of Minutemen United in Ohio.

Engineering junior Nathan Kennedy said that coming from a conservative Presbyterian family, he could see both sides of the issue, but said he does not think that pro-life advocates have good arguments.

For them, "it's really about dogma and control, instead of about fetuses."

In general, the counterprotest was peaceful, but about 12 individuals were arrested for throwing ink-filled balloons at the marchers' signs, Toure said.

Others from the Christian Defense Coalition were arrested because they did not have a permit allowing them to demonstrate.

Before and after the march, speakers and performers addressed the crowd gathered on the National Mall.

Among those featured were Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), activist Gloria Steinem and actresses Cybill Shepherd and Susan Sarandon.

Clinton called on the 50 million women who were eligible voters in the 2000 election but chose to abstain to get to the polls this year and help elect Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the presumptive Democratic nominee for president.

Abortion could play a key role in the upcoming presidential elections. The next president will likely appoint one or two Supreme Court justices, which could be a determining factor in the future of women's rights and the continued legality of the Roe v. Wade decision that protects the right to abortion.

The marchers said they hoped to call to the attention of the current administration the need to retain reproductive rights. In November 2003, President George W. Bush signed into law the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act, which prohibits women from obtaining late-term abortions.

Bush has said that while he does not believe the country is ready to outlaw abortion entirely, he does hope to foster an environment that advocates adoption and abstinence in place of abortion.

Still, many marchers objected to any government regulation.

"Keep the government out of my bedroom,"said Gail Edwardson, who came with the Bucks County Republicans for Choice. "I'm more Republican than the Republican right wing in D.C. right now, because I believe in the right of privacy."

"This is a crucial issue in our country," said Daniel Coplon-Newfield from Boston. Bush's "administration is single-handedly and very methodically [taking away] women's right to choose."

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