WASHINGTON – Protesters are gathering in sustain of reproductive rights Saturday at hundreds of Women’s March protests planned across all 50 states and Washington, D.C. The marches come a month since a Texas law banning abortions after six weeks of pregnancy took effect.
In Washington’s Rally for Abortion Justice, a crowd of protesters gathered Saturday morning around a banner proclaiming “Bans off our bodies!” as Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” blasted from speakers.
A baby in a stroller nibbled at a sign saying “I can’t believe I’m a baby and I have to protest already,” and volunteers passed out masks with “I march for abortion access” on them.
Teresa Hamlin from Chesapeake, Virginia, said she finds it “unbelievable that we have to be back out here.”
“I did this in the ’70s and ’60s and now we’re back out again,” Hamlin said. “It breaks my heart, but they’ve kicked the hornet’s nest, and we’re not going back”
In Texas, Democrat Mike Collier, who is running for lieutenant governor, joined protesters, tweeting “men need to shut up, sit down, and listen.”
In addition to the Texas law, the possibility of other states passing similar legislation and a Mississippi challenge to the landmark Roe v. Wade decision have produced an “unheard of attack” on reproductive freedoms, said Women’s March executive director Rachel O’Leary Carmona.
“For a long time, groups of us were ringing the alarm bell around abortion access and many of us were told we were hysterical and Roe v. Wade will never be overturned,” Carmona said. “But now it’s clear that our fears were both rational and proportional.”
The Supreme Court in September declined to block Texas’ abortion law – a move the Women’s March said “effectively took the next step towards overturning Roe v. Wade,” according to its website. The marches were planned ahead of the Supreme Court reconvening Oct. 4.
More than 400 protesters gathered in Savannah, Georgia, for Saturday’s Women’s March. Melissa Nadia Viviana, co-organizer of the local march, said the message she wanted to communicate is that women need to have control of their bodies and their future.
“It’s the only way we can spread equality throughout this country, so there’s no going back to having other people make decisions for our uterus in the 21st century,” Viviana said. “We cannot progress at the same level as men if we don’t have control of our reproductive freedom.”
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In Indianapolis, hundreds protested the Texas law and worried about a ripple effect felt closer to home. Some dressed as handmaids from “The Handmaid’s Tale,” and 27-year-old Van Wijk dressed as the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Indiana has passed laws restricting abortion access over the last few years. The laws have been both upheld and overturned by various courts, but the state Legislature has not definitively outlined any next steps.
Republicans in the state, including House Speaker Todd Huston, say they are “closely watching” the Texas ban and they will “continue to examine ways to further protect life at all stages.”
“I think right now, compared to recent years, this is a very frightening moment,” Karen Celestino-Horseman, one of the Indianapolis rally organizers, told the Indianapolis Star, part of the USA TODAY Network.
The marches have drawn opposition for years from conservatives who say the Women’s March doesn’t represent the views of all women. Among the critics of this year’s march was Jeanne Mancini, president of an anti-abortion group called March for Life.
Smaller groups of counterprotesters showed up at some of the displays. In D.C., about 100 anti-abortion protesters met the marchers near the Supreme Court. Blasting Christian rock, they yelled “abortion is murder,” prompting the marchers to respond: “abortion is health care.”
In Ocala, Florida, anti-abortion protesters stood opposite an intersection from the pro-abortion rights group. Police were on scene to intervene between the opposing demonstrators, who sometimes crossed the road and engaged in disagreements.
Carmona called the abortion rights marches a “coalition effort” with the Women’s March partnering with more than 90 other organizations, including Planned Parenthood, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice and the Working Families Party.
The inaugural Women’s March in 2017 started to protest against the election of then-President Donald Trump. Last fall, a march protested now-Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court.
“This is a moment to consolidate our movements and to demonstrate to policymakers and to the Supreme Court that we will not go quietly, that this is going to be a fight,” Carmona said.
Contributing: Austin Miller, The Ocala Star-Banner; Laura Nwogu, Savannah Morning News; Rashika Jaipuriar, Indianapolis Star
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