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Thousands heading to pro-choice rally in D.C. 

At 5 a.m. Sunday, thousands of sleepy North Carolinians will board chartered buses heading up to Washington, D.C., for what is being promoted as the largest pro-choice march in history. National organizers expect 60,000 people from North Carolina to march among what they hope will be a crowd of one million on the National Mall.

"North Carolina is a turnout state," says Natalie Fixmer, an indefatigably upbeat 24-year-old organizer for Planned Parenthood of Central North Carolina. She's been issuing bus tickets from PP's office in Chapel Hill; for those who can't afford to go, there are scholarships, usually in the form of tickets bought and donated by those who can't attend. Planned Parenthood's two affiliates in the state have chartered 14 buses altogether. Partner organization NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina (which works on the political advocacy and policy end of the issue) has booked three buses in the Triangle, five total in the state, and organizers say they have raised more than $2,000 in scholarships. "We expect a lot of people will be driving and carpooling," Fixmer says.

"One thing we're really excited about is that there are a lot of inter-generational women going to this march," she says. "A lot of families are on our buses. I think the youngest marcher on our bus is a 5-week-old baby, and I know we have some amazing women activists in their 80s."

Fixmer has also been busy working with college students on the Voices on Campus campaign. She and other area pro-choice organizers went on a "March Against Madness" van tour of eight state college campuses last month, from Wilmington to Boone, to drum up awareness of the big event.

On the rain-soaked campus of UNC-Chapel Hill, Kate Michelman, the longtime president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, spoke to a small but enthusiastic crowd of student organizers about the importance of making a strong presence in Washington. "This is your moment," she said. "We need to march because we need to awaken the sleeping giant."

That "sleeping giant" is what the pro-choice movement believes is the silent majority of Americans who support Roe v. Wade. Organizers are counting on a record turnout, not just of hard-core activists but of regular moms, dads and students; they hope politicians will take note of the numbers and internalize political pressure to oppose the Bush administration's persistent moves toward undermining legal abortion. Abstinence-only education, recently signed laws that ban late-term abortions and define a fertilized egg as a person under the law, pressure on the Food and Drug Administration to take emergency contraception (also known as the morning after pill) and the abortion pill off the market--all of these policies go against the values of most Americans, pro-choice groups say.

After the march, NARAL and other local groups plan to hold town hall meetings and other public events to keep the issue on people's minds and educate people on the local stakes--the fight for comprehensive sex education in Wake County schools, for instance. Ninety percent of the state's 117 school districts offer abstinence-only education while only 12 of them offer medical information about how to prevent HIV, STDs and pregnancy.

The forecast for Washington, D.C., on Sunday: High, 61 degrees, low 51, 30 percent chance of showers. Step-off is 10 a.m. on the Mall at 14th St (near the Washington Monument) with a rally from 1-6 pm. Buses will return to the Triangle area at about 11 p.m.

For more event info, include a full list of pre-march festivities planned for Friday and Saturday, see www.saveroe.org . For more information about local groups and tickets, contact Planned Parenthood of Central North Carolina at 929-5402 or www.plannedparenthood.org/ppcnc.

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