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Bush calls for protection of 'children waiting to be born'

Democrats assail efforts to restrict abortion

By Sean Loughlin
CNN Washington Bureau

President Bush:
President Bush: "Partial-birth abortion is an abhorrent procedure that offends human dignity."

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In a phone call broadcast to anti-abortion protesters gathered on the National Mall, President Bush vowed Wednesday "to protect the lives of innocent children waiting to be born" and said his administration would promote "compassionate alternatives" to abortion.

Speaking from St. Louis, Missouri -- where he touted his package of proposed tax breaks -- Bush called on Congress to pass a bill banning a late-term abortion procedure that critics call a partial-birth abortion.

"Partial-birth abortion is an abhorrent procedure that offends human dignity," Bush said, according to a transcript of his remarks released by the White House. He cited a commitment to "building a culture of life in America."

The procedure Bush criticized is rare. According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a non-profit group that does sexual and reproductive health research and supports abortion rights, 2,200 intact dilation-and-extraction abortions were performed in 2000 -- less than 0.2 percent of the 1.3 million abortions performed that year.

Bush comments came on the 30th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion. Thousands of demonstrators on each side of the abortion debate converged, despite frigid temperatures, in the nation's capital to make their point.

Competing rallies, press conferences and prayer services were held throughout the area. Anti-abortion advocates called on Congress to outlaw the procedure, while abortion rights activists denounced efforts to overturn Roe v. Wade.

"The Bush administration is already whittling away at the spirit of Roe," Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Maryland, said at a Capitol Hill news conference. "There's a war against contraception, there's a war against birth control, there's a war against women."

Bush also addressed the prospect of human cloning, recently in the news because of unsubstantiated claims by the private company Clonaid -- which is associated with a fringe religious group -- that it had cloned human babies.

"I also urge the Congress to ban all human cloning, " the president said. "We must not create life to destroy life. Human beings are not research material to be used in cruel and reckless experiments."

Democratic candidates present united front

Tuesday night, the six declared Democratic presidential candidates appeared together for the first time at a dinner in support of abortion rights. All six criticized the Bush administration and Republican-led efforts to enact abortion restrictions.

Protesters on both sides of the abortion debate converged in Washington.
Protesters on both sides of the abortion debate converged in Washington.

"If I get to share a stage with this president and debate him, one of the first things I'll tell him is: `There's a defining issue between us. I trust women to make their own decisions. You don't. And that's the difference,' " Sen. John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, said at the dinner.

The president made his position clear in his comments to abortion foes, but he stopped short of explicitly calling for Roe v. Wade to be overturned. He said his administration will promote adoption and extend "state health-care coverage for unborn children."

Said Bush: "In our time, respect for the right to life calls us to defend the sick and the dying, persons with disabilities and birth defects, and all who are weak and vulnerable. And this self-evident truth calls us to value and to protect the lives of innocent children waiting to be born."

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