updated 7/3/2005 1:16:40 AM ET 2005-07-03T05:16:40

Chanting “Not the church, not the state; women must choose their fate,” hundreds of members of the National Organization for Women rallied for abortion rights Saturday as President Bush prepares to select a new U.S. Supreme Court justice.

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NOW shifted the agenda for its three-day annual convention following the announcement Friday that Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor was retiring.

Also Saturday, Kim Gandy, 51, was re-elected to a second four-year term as NOW’s president, defeating challenger Rosemary J. Dempsey, a Connecticut lawyer who has held several leadership roles since joining the organization in 1970.

“The most important thing to me after the resignation of Sandra Day O’Connor is that NOW puts confidence in my team to lead our organization through the fight for our lives and for our future,” Gandy said.

The first woman on the Supreme Court, O’Connor refused in 1989 to join four other justices who were ready to reverse the landmark 1973 decision that said women have a constitutional right to abortion.

In 1992, she helped forge a five-justice majority that reaffirmed the core holding of the 1973 ruling. Then, in 2000, she provided the fifth and decisive vote that struck down a Nebraska law that was aimed at banning a procedure critics call “partial-birth” abortions.

Her retirement gives the court its first vacancy since 1994 and leaves Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as the only woman on the court.

Sending a message to Frist
Activist Eleanor Smeal told the crowd that if Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist has any future presidential ambition, he can’t be known as the lawmaker instrumental in rolling back abortion rights. Frist, R-Tenn., will be expected to guide Bush’s choice to succeed O’Connor through Senate confirmation.

“What we have to do now is raise such a loud voice that Sen. Bill Frist hears it,” said Smeal, former president of the National Organization of Women and current president of the Feminist Majority Foundation. “He has to understand we need a moderate, centrist Supreme Court.”

Frist spokesman Nick Smith said it was “premature to be talking about who the president may or may not nominate.”

He said the senator would do his best to see a thorough and fair confirmation process. Frist has said he will give up his Senate seat when his term ends next year, but he hasn’t answered — or discouraged — speculation that he will run for president in 2008.

Demonstrator Kathy Miller, 58, of Philadelphia, said she wanted to see a moderate justice in the same vein as O’Connor replace her.

“It’s not like we’re asking to go in the extreme other direction,” she said.

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