Over 1 million abortion-rights supporters flooded the national capital

Over 1 million abortion-rights supporters flooded the National Mall in Washington today to show their support for abortion rights, loudly identifying President Bush as the leading enemy of reproductive freedom.

Women joined the protest from across the nation and from nearly 60 countries, asserting that damage from Bush's policies is spreading beyond U.S. shores through measures such as the ban on federal money for groups that promote or perform abortions abroad.

The rally on the National Mall stretched from the base of the U.S. Capitol about a mile back to the Washington Monument. Authorities no longer give formal crowd estimates, but various police sources informally estimated the throng at between 500,000 and 800,000 strong. Organizers claimed a turnout of 1.15 million.

March organizers said their goal was to spotlight the importance of a wide range of reproductive health issues for women in the United States and abroad: sex education, access to birth control and prenatal care, and social policies that provide child care and job training to women with children.

By late afternoon, U.S. Park Police had made 17 arrests: one person on a disorderly conduct charge for throwing paint-filled eggs at marchers and 16 members of the Christian Defense Coalition on charges of demonstrating without a permit in an area reserved for rally participants.

Foreign activists said they were attending not only to show solidarity with their US counterparts but to highlight the impact of American policies on women abroad, especially in developing countries. They cited a decision by President George W Bush in 2001 to enforce what is known as the global gag rule. This prohibits non-governmental groups that perform abortions or offer counselling on abortion from receiving US government funding. "Since the global gag rule is affecting family planning worldwide, this is also our cause," Catherina Hinz of the German Foundation for World Population told AP.

The US authorities insist that the amount of funding for foreign family planning services remains the same and that the level of service provided has not changed at all.

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