Thousands gather for nationwide 'Bans Off Our Bodies' rallies for abortion rights
WASHINGTON – Abortion rights advocates gathered in the nation's capital and by state capitols Saturday for a challenging task: persuading the Supreme Court not to reverse the 50-year precedent set by Roe v. Wade.
After listening to speeches from activists, elected officials and faith leaders in the nation's capital, thousands of demonstrators embarked on an hourlong march to the Supreme Court under cloudy skies and occasional drizzle, joining several hundred other demonstrators there.
Many attendees wore ponchos and carried umbrellas and shouted chants such as “Hands off our bodies” and “We will fight back" to the beat of bucket drums. Some said they doubted the conservative Supreme Court would change course and vote to uphold Roe v. Wade, but they wanted their voices heard.
“We can put some pressure on them,” said Sandra Harrington, 61, a retired public education administrator from Warrenton, Virginia. “I, unfortunately, do think it’s a done deal, and I’m terribly sad about that.”
More than 380 "Bans Off Our Bodies" demonstrations for abortion rights were planned for Saturday. Sponsors of the daylong event included Women's March, Planned Parenthood Action Fund, UltraViolet, MoveOn, the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Abortion Rights Action League.
Planned Parenthood began organizing the nationwide "day of action" months before a draft Supreme Court opinion that would overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision leaked, sparking celebrations from anti-abortion demonstrators and protests outside the Supreme Court, which is surrounded by a security fence, and the justice's homes.
Before Saturday's protests, the Senate failed to pass a bill that would have enshrined a nationwide right to abortion.
More than 1,000 demonstrators gathered at Legislative Plaza in Nashville, Tennessee, Saturday afternoon, and additional rallies were scheduled across the state.
Amy Griffith said she is a Christian but does not believe abortion should be outlawed.
“We are not a theocracy,” she said, echoing the sign she carried.
Her daughter Leah said public support is largely in favor of keeping abortion legal, pointing to polls that found more than half of Americans support it. She said she’s afraid that state bans will make abortion unsafe, especially for people without the resources to access it in other states.
“It’s going to happen, regardless of if it’s legal,” Leah Griffith said, holding a sign featuring a snake in the shape of a uterus that read, “Don’t tread on me.”
Seeta Begui, one of the speakers at Saturday's rally in Viera, Florida, said one formative experience of her childhood occurred when a family member died in Trinidad and Tobago after a "backstreet" abortion.
"We're still fighting for reproductive rights. We cannot allow hate and ignorance and disinformation to win," she said. "We're not going backwards."
Hundreds gathered in Fort Collins' Old Town Square in Colorado for a rally featuring a dozen speakers, including a labor and delivery nurse who worked in a pre-Roe world, advocates for abortion rights and elected officials.
Many people brought homemade signs with drawings of hangers saying, “Never again,” or phrases such as “Shame SCOTUS,” “Accept my existence or expect resistance” and “Women are no one’s property.” Rallies were planned in Colorado Springs and Denver.
Annmarie Izuel Evans, vice president of NoCo National Organization for Women, who helped plan and emceed the event, said it was “horrifying” that demonstrators had to gather.
“Roe v. Wade was signed into law in (1973),” she told the crowd. “We need to unite, we need to mobilize, we need to act and, I will say this throughout the day, we need to vote.”
About 400 people rallied in front of the Rhode Island Supreme Court, including mothers and daughters. Pink was the predominant color of the day, on T-shirts sporting messages including “Bans Off Our Bodies” and signs that said, “Abolish the Supreme Court” and “Abortion is health care.”
Across the street from the rally, Margo Weiss and her 3-year-old daughter, Amelie, painted a giant mural in primary colors that said, "Bans Off Our Bodies."
“This issue is important to me,” Weiss said. “It’s good to show our children what’s possible if you use your voice.”
Deborah O'Brien was one of several hundred protesters who gathered with flags, signs and coat hangers outside the Ohio Statehouse.
"I just can't believe we're back at this again," the 70-year-old said. "I'm really, really upset."
Crowds blocked the streets directly outside the Statehouse and chanted, "Hey, hey, ho, ho, abortion bans have got to go." Anti-abortion advocates, including the group Created Equal, held signs outside the rally as well, with photos of aborted fetuses.
In Austin, demonstrators stood at the steps of the Texas Capitol, banging drums, singing and chanting, “Abortion is a human right,” KVUE reported. Texas passed one of the nation's most restrictive abortion laws, prohibiting the procedure after about six weeks of pregnancy.
In New York, thousands gathered in Brooklyn’s courthouse plaza before marching across the Brooklyn Bridge to lower Manhattan where another rally was planned.
Teisha Kimmons, who traveled 80 miles to attend a rally in Chicago, said she fears for women in states that are ready to ban abortion. She said she might not be alive if she had not had a legal abortion when she was 15.
“I was already starting to self-harm, and I would have rather died than have a baby,” said Kimmons, a massage therapist from Rockford, Illinois.
In Washington, a sole anti-abortion activist stood off to the sidelines with a megaphone, yelling, “They’re not your bodies,” but the marchers shouted louder to drown him out.
“I’m here for my daughter, and my daughter’s daughter,” said Jen Giordano, 51, a salesperson who traveled from Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, on Saturday morning to attend the rally.
Deborah Stoll, 70, a retired clinical psychologist from Takoma Park, Maryland, carried a handmade sign that read, “The hardest decision a woman can make isn’t yours.”
Protesters predicted more rallies, especially after the Supreme Court issues its final ruling on Mississippi's ban on most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy as some state legislatures consider outright bans.
Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., told the Washington crowd congressional Republicans would probably go for a national ban on abortion, ignoring states that allow the practice. Thanking the crowd for its “righteous indignation,” Lee said, “We fought these battles 50 years ago,” but they will have to do so again.
“We all know that this is a crisis moment,” Lee said, recalling how afraid she was to get an abortion at 15 in Mexico.
Contributing: Rachel Wegner and Molly Davis, The Tennessean; Molly Bohannon, Fort Collins Coloradoan; Thomas Hanks, The Columbus Dispatch; Linda Borg, The Providence Journal; The Associated Press
Contact Breaking News Reporter N'dea Yancey-Bragg at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @NdeaYanceyBragg