WASHINGTON, D.C. — A crowd of about 200 people, including abortion rights activists and 2020 presidential candidates, gathered at the Supreme Court on Tuesday to protest state legislatures across the country passing new abortion restrictions at a rapid pace. In 2019, eight states have passed laws restricting abortion access.
In the last two weeks alone, Alabama passed an outright abortion ban, Georgia passed a six-week abortion ban, and Missouri passed an eight-week abortion ban. The Alabama and Missouri bans only include exceptions if the health of the pregnant person is at risk.
The lawmakers pushing many of these bans — which have not yet gone into effect — are doing so in the hopes that they will eventually come before the U.S. Supreme Court, where a conservative majority would use it as an opportunity to overturn Roe v. Wade. Advocates are worried about the likelihood of this happening.
Tuesday’s protest was part of more than 500 #StoptheBans demonstrations planned across all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and Canada. The Women’s March, NARAL Pro Choice America, Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and Sister Song are a number of the organizations that coordinated these protests. The #StoptheBans website states, “Across the country, we are seeing a new wave of extreme bans on abortion, stripping away reproductive freedom and representing an all-out assault on abortion access. This is Trump’s anti-choice movement… and it’s terrifying, particularly for women of color and low-income women who are most affected by these bans.”
Presidential candidates also attended the protest, including Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg.
Barbara Hanft, a 69 year-old woman who traveled from North Carolina to attend the protest outside the Supreme Court, said she doesn’t want to see a return to the days before Roe v. Wade, which she said is likely given the new conservative majority on the Supreme Court.
“I lived through it and I knew what it was like when someone needed an abortion before it was legal — the horrors that women had to live through. And I never thought I’d see that again,” she said. “I think women need to be able to make a choice about whether or not they bring a child into the world and take care of a child. And it’s not just being pregnant or not. At the end of the pregnancy, you have a whole life to take care of and I think you need to have a choice.”
Janon, another protester who did not wish to provide a last name, said that on a scale of one to 10, with 10 being the highest likelihood of Roe v. Wade being overturned, she would choose eight. Janon said she is also concerned about all forms of reproductive health being targeted, not just abortion.
“I’m shocked, but given the way things are it has become more daily news to see our rights eroded. I’m just thinking about women who don’t have access to safe family planning and abortion is part of that and it should be available,” Janon said. “And men too should be involved in their sexual health. These clinics and these opportunities — they use them too. It would absolutely inhibit this kind of health care. [Conservatives] know they are doing that. It’s not just abortion and it’s really scary.”
Nora Fenn Gilman and Jasper Swartz, students who attend Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Maryland, came to the protest to defend reproductive rights. They said abortion access is a frequent topic of discussion at their school right now.
“My whole life I’ve been pro-choice, but I haven’t been watching the issue closely until I saw abortion was being banned,” Fenn Gilman said. “That’s when I really realized this is a huge problem.”
Jazz Jackson said she came to this protest because her family has always protested in support of human rights issues.
“My family has a generation of fighters who have been protesting their entire life and so it’s my turn to make sure my voice is heard,” she said.
Jackson said many people close to her have had abortions.
“I have had family members and close friends of mine who have had abortions and it was their choice and made their life for the better,” Jackson said.
Candace Bond-Theriault, senior policy counsel for reproductive rights, health, and justice at the National LGBTQ Task Force, said people need to remember that the fight for reproductive health access is as much a fight for queer and trans people as it is for cis and straight people.
“There’s a lot of work that needs to be done around language and I understand the importance of lifting up abortion access as a women’s issue and as a woman’s right because traditionally that is where the movement was, but we’re moving into a different place where we need to be more expansive and include more people,” Bond-Theriault said. “That doesn’t mean you get rid of using the word ‘women.’ Use the word women as much as you want, but make sure you’re being inclusive of all people who get abortions.”
She added, “All of the reproductive care issues and reproductive health concerns that cis folks have or heterosexual folks have, trans and queer folks have. We have more of an access barrier to those. Trans folks have an even harder access barrier. As queer folks we are more likely to be poor and to be people of color. We’re immigrants. We’re undocumented. We’re all these things, so compounding this with queerness means accessing general health care is even harder.”
Connie Stimper and Liz Enagonio said they attended the protest because they are worried about the United States becoming a theocracy and about approaching a future similar to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, a dystopian novel where women are raped by powerful men to conceive their babies.
Concerns about interference from the religious right into people’s reproductive choices were echoed throughout the protest. During the protest, people shouted, “This is a Supreme Court, not a fucking church!”
“This is a democracy. We can’t be ruled by a group of people who want to impose their religion or religious spiritual views on the rest of us. We’re a plural society and every woman has the right to decide. It’s a human right. I read The Handmaid’s Tale. I’m really frightened that we’re becoming Gilead,” Stimper said, referring to the dystopian nation in the book.
“It’s our choice as women to do what we need to do, what is best for ourselves, for any child we choose or don’t choose to bring into this world. I have strong views on separation of church and state as well. This is not a theocracy. I don’t want it to be a theocracy,” Enagonio said. “I’m of that age where I was a teenager before Roe v Wade. I saw the devastation of some of my classmates who disappeared for a year while they were pregnant and at what consequence to the man or boy who got her pregnant? None, and yet she loses a year of school.”
Stimper said she is concerned for her daughter’s reproductive rights.
“I think it’s a shame that a right we have had for over 40 years is being taken away bit by bit, so I’m here to protest that this can’t happen again in our country,” she said.