Thousands of anti-abortion activists are expected to come from all over the West Coast this weekend to take part in rallies in Oakland and San Francisco.
The annual Standing Up 4 Life Walk is scheduled to begin at noon Friday at Frank H. Ogawa Plaza in Oakland. On Saturday, organizers say they hope more than 50,000 people will attend the Walk for Life West Coast event in San Francisco, which will begin with a rally from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. at Civic Center Plaza and continue with a march down Market Street to Justin Herman Plaza.
"We have grown every year since we started," said Eva Muntean, of San Francisco, co-founder of Walk for Life West Coast. The group's goal is "to get the message out there that abortion hurts women and that there are resources available for women who are hurting from abortions," she said.
More than 200 parishioners at St. Edward Catholic Church in Newark will be traveling in five buses to San Francisco for the walk. Dori Cantrell, a Fremont resident and St. Edward parishioner, plans to march for the sixth year and will bring her 14-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son.
"It's one of the most inspiring events to go to because you see thousands and thousands of people who are just walking together, praying, singing -- it's completely peaceful," she said. "Even though we get heckled from the sides, nobody responds in a negative way."
The event has drawn counterprotests from abortion-rights advocates since it
"We definitely know about the protesters; we always expect them, and we're always prepared for them," Muntean said. "We always make sure that we tell everyone that we're a peaceful demonstration and not to engage the opposite side."
The Rev. Walter Hoye, founder and president of Union City-based Issues4Life Foundation, said he hopes a few hundred people will attend the Oakland event. Participants plan to march down Broadway, Eighth Street, Martin Luther King Jr. Way and 14th Street before returning to Frank H. Ogawa Plaza.
"I'm trying to encourage the communities of color to get involved in the pro-life movement," Hoye said.
After decades of public support for abortion rights, recent polls have shown a reversal. For example, a CNN poll conducted in September found 37 percent of U.S. adults believe abortion should be legal under any or most circumstances, while 62 percent believe it should be legal in only a few circumstances or not at all.
"I think that knowledge is power and the more people become aware and the better the medical equipment becomes, with 3-D ultrasound and things, it's harder to hide from the truth," Cantrell said. "People just know it's a human being."
Abortion remains a hot-button issue in this year's presidential election, and already has come to the fore in early Republican primaries.
Mitt Romney, when running for the U.S. Senate in 1994, said "abortion should be safe and legal in this country," and when running for Massachusetts governor in 2002 said he would "preserve and protect a woman's right to choose." Now, as front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination, Romney says "the Supreme Court should reverse Roe v. Wade and send back to the states the responsibility for deciding whether they're going to have abortion legal in their state or not." He says he changed his mind about abortion in 2004 as Massachusetts debated embryonic stem cell research.
To Cantrell, that suggests further evidence of a shift in opinions. "I can't speak to Mitt Romney per se, but I can say that there are people in the world, many people, who change their minds," she said.
Other GOP candidates with more consistent records of opposing abortion rights have used this as ammunition against Romney. Newt Gingrich's campaign, for example, is airing an advertisement in South Carolina attacking Romney for governing "abortion rights."
Whoever the Republican nominee is, abortion will be a divider between that man and President Barack Obama, a staunch abortion-rights advocate.
Staff writer Josh Richman contributed to this report.