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Area abortion opponents believe political winds at their back for this year's national march

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Jan. 20, 2010 - Hundreds of opponents of abortion boarded buses this morning on St. Louis' riverfront, as they have every year at this time, to travel to Washington to participate in the annual March of Life marking the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing most abortions.

But this morning's mood was markedly more upbeat than a year ago, when marchers were despondent over the inauguration of President Barack Obama, who supports abortion rights. "He is the most pro-abortion president in the history of our country,'' said Ellie Dillon, eastern Missouri president of Missouri Right to Life, the state's largest anti-abortion group.

But Dillon and other local anti-abortion leaders are heartened by what they see as evidence that the public is swinging their way, putting Obama and Democratic congressional leaders on the defensive.

Dillon said that the focus of this year's national march is on the Democrats' effort to revamp the nation's health-care system.

Right to Life and many of its anti-abortion allies believe that some versions of the legislation, including the Senate-approved health-care bill, allow public funding of abortion. Democratic congressional leaders disagree.

"Abortion is not health care,'' Dillon said in a brief send-off speech to participants taking part in the bus caravan to Washington.

She said that this year's entourage of Missourians, about 1,000 from all over the state, is larger than last year's and is more energized.

Dillon added that she believed Tuesday's Republican victory in the Massachusetts U.S. Senate contest "sends a clear message that the majority of Americans do not want this health-care package."

That's welcome news to abortion opponents, she said.

During their visit to the nation's capital, abortion opponents routinely meet with like-minded members of Congress from Missouri. Dillon announced to the group that this year's schedule also will include U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.

McCaskill is a Catholic but does support abortion rights and Amendment 2, the state legislation that passed in 2006 -- on the same ballot that elected McCaskill -- and protects all forms of embryonic stem-cell research allowed under federal law. Right to Life and allied groups had opposed Amendment 2 and McCaskill's election.

Dillon told caravan participants to make sure that in their meeting with the senator, they "express their views on abortion and the health-care bill."

(UPDATE: The meeting will be a McCaskill aide, and not the senator. A spokeswoman said she was flying out of Washington early Friday to be in St. Louis in time for the swearing in of Richard Callahan -- who had been a Cole County judge -- as the next U.S. attorney for eastern Missouri.

Meanwhile, the St. Louis Freedom of Choice Council, a coalition of various area abortion-rights groups, plans a celebratory reception Friday night at the Wine Press, 4436 Olive Street.

The coalition and its allies are monitoring various pieces of proposed anti-abortion legislation circulating in the Missouri Capitol.  They include a bill, proposed by state Rep. Belinda Harris, D-Hillsboro, that would require abortion providers to report to the state the reasons given by their patients for seeking an abortion and what type of birth control the abortion patients were using when they became pregnant. Abortion-rights supporters say the measure is an invasion of privacy and shames women.

Meanwhile, state Sen. Scott Rupp, R-St. Charles, has filed a bill that would bar any health insurance exchanges established in Missouri from offering any sort of coverage for elective abortions. Also barred would be optional riders, paid for with private money, that could provide coverage for abortions.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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