WASHINGTON - Republican lawmakers on Wednesday urged President Barack Obama to reconsider his support of legal abortions as anti-abortion activists arrived in Washington for a protest on the anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade ruling.
As many as 200,000 people were expected to join the "March for Life" to the Supreme Court building on Thursday on the 36th anniversary of the 1973 decision legalizing abortion.
Anti-abortion and abortion-rights groups scheduled news conferences for Thursday amid reports that Obama would soon move to reverse former President George W. Bush's prohibition on U.S. aid to international organizations that perform abortions or refer women to abortion clinics.
Nancy Keenan, president of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, said senior members of her group have held discussions with high-level Obama aides in recent weeks.
"The first order of business is to reverse some of the policies of George W. Bush that have harmed women not only in this country, but women around the world," Keenan said in an interview.
Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee, said abortion opponents were girding for a series of abortion-rights actions by Obama, possibly as soon as Thursday.
"We expect the Obama administration to push a sweeping pro-abortion agenda which, if successful, would greatly increase the number of abortions," Johnson said.
Bill Burton, an Obama spokesman, declined to comment.
"We're not making any announcements on that today," Burton said.
Democratic sources close to Obama said the new president likely would take early action on several abortion-related matters, starting with reinstating U.S. funding for international groups that provide abortions.
President Ronald Reagan first banned such funding in the 1980s. President Bill Clinton issued an executive order reversing the ban on his first day in office in January 1993, and Bush restored the prohibition early in his first term eight years later.
On a related issue, House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio sent Obama a letter signed by 80 GOP colleagues asking him to back off his campaign support for the Freedom of Choice Act, a bill that would repeal dozens of restrictions states have placed on abortions.
"Since the beginning of your presidential transition, Americans from all walks of life have been touched by your pledge to govern from the center, and by your vow to be a president for all Americans," Boehner wrote to Obama.
"We are writing to respectfully urge you to build on this foundation by withdrawing your pledge to sign the so-called Freedom of Choice Act, which would in one tragic act overturn virtually all pro-life laws nationwide," the letter said.
As an Illinois legislator and U.S. senator, Obama compiled a strong voting record in support of abortion rights.
"The first thing I'd do as president is sign the Freedom of Choice Act," Obama told a national gathering of Planned Parenthood members in July 2007.
Obama added: "On this fundamental issue, I will not yield."
The Freedom of Choice Act was crafted in the Senate by Sen. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, and in the House of Representatives by Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat.
The measure would prohibit federal, state or local governments from denying or interfering with a woman's right to choose to have an abortion. It would allow women to file retroactive lawsuits claiming harm from past denials.
NARAL head Keenan dismissed Boehner's letter as a publicity stunt.
Despite increases in the number of lawmakers who support abortion rights in the 2006 and 2008 elections, Keenan said, there still aren't enough votes to pass the Freedom of Choice Act.
"Our pro-choice allies on the (Capitol) Hill are still outnumbered by their anti-choice colleagues," Keenan said.
In the House, there are 204 members who oppose abortion and 186 members who favor abortion rights, Keenan said. The remainder have mixed positions or as new members don't have a voting history. About 80 senators split evenly on abortion, with the remaining 20 taking mixed positions, she said.
DEAR MR. PRESIDENT
Among the 80 Republicans who signed House Minority Leader John Boehner's letter to President Obama were:
FLORIDA: Reps. Thomas Rooney, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Gus Bilirakis, Adam Putnam, Cliff Stearns
CALIFORNIA: Reps. Elton Gallegly, Duncan Hunter, John Campbell, Gary Miller
MISSOURI: Reps. Roy Blunt, Todd Akin, Sam Graves, Blaine Leutkemeyer, Jo Ann Emerson
TEXAS: Reps. Pete Sessions, Ron Paul, Michael Burgess, Mac Thornberry, Pete Olson, Louie Gohmert, Jeb Hensarling
NORTH CAROLINA: Reps. Sue Myrick, Virginia Foxx, Walter Jones, Patrick McHenry
SOUTH CAROLINA: Reps. Bob Inglis, Joe Wilson, Henry Brown
WASHINGTON: Rep. Cathy McMorris Rogers
KENTUCKY: Reps. Geoff Davis, Brett Guthrie
KANSAS: Reps. Todd Tiahrt, Jerry Moran
GEORGIA: Reps. Tom Price, Paul Broun, Phil Gingrey
ILLINOIS: Reps. Donald Manzullo, Timothy Johnson, Aaron Schock
MISSISSIPPI: Rep. Gregg Harper
PENNSYLVANIA: Reps. Joe Pitts, Tim Murphy, Glenn Thompson, Todd Platts