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‘We’re not going to have this’: Nationwide protests of extreme abortion bans draw thousands

"We're going to stand up and fight back."

Scenes from the #StopTheBans rally at the Massachusetts state house on May 21, 2019. (Credit: Screenshot, Facebook,  Steve Kerrigan)
Scenes from the #StopTheBans rally at the Massachusetts state house on May 21, 2019. (Credit: Screenshot, Facebook, Steve Kerrigan)

In rallies across the country Tuesday, thousands of people took to the streets to protest the slate of extreme abortion bans that were recently passed or signed into law in states like Georgia, Alabama, and Missouri.

“Today is really a call to action for people across the country,” said Staci Fox, CEO and president of Planned Parenthood Southeast, which co-organized Tuesday’s Stop the Bans protests along with 50 other organizations, including NARAL Pro-Choice America, the ACLU, Surge Reproductive Justice, EMILY’s List, and the National Women’s Health Network. “We’re looking to build support… against these egregious abortion bans.”

More than 500 rallies are set to take place in all 50 states, as well as Puerto Rico and Canada, with many mobilizing outside state capitols and courthouses to signal their opposition to lawmakers and judges who seek to limit reproductive freedom.

“We’re focused on holding these politicians accountable… and making sure constituents of those politicians hear from us,” Fox told ThinkProgress, adding that Planned Parenthood is organizing to oust the lawmakers who voted in favor of the bans.

“When we said we were coming for their seats, it wasn’t just a clever hashtag,” she said.

Laura Simmons, Georgia state director of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said her organization is also playing the long game by focusing on electing reproductive rights champions to office.

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“We know that if we would have had more women, pro-choice women in office, this wouldn’t have happened,” she said. “We’re going to stand up and fight back.”

Ahead of the protests, Fox, who is based in Georgia, said the rally in Atlanta was expected to draw at least 1,000 people.

Earlier this month, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) signed a near-total abortion ban into law, outlawing the procedure at the time when a physician can first detect fetal cardiac activity, or as early as six weeks from the last menstrual period — before many women and gender minorities even know they’re pregnant. 

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In 2019 alone, nearly 30 abortion bans were introduced, passed, or signed in states across the country, according to NARAL. The strictest came from Alabama last Wednesday, when Gov. Kay Ivey (R) signed into law a near-total abortion ban that would make it a felony to terminate a pregnancy at any point and punish providers with up to 99 years in prison. The law does not include exceptions for rape or incest, but only for the health of the pregnant person.

Days later, in Missouri, the state legislature passed a bill that bans abortion at eight weeks of pregnancy. Like the Alabama ban, the Missouri bill also does not include exceptions for rape or incest. It would also make abortion illegal immediately if Roe v. Wade is overturned. Gov. Mike Parsons (R) is expected to sign the bill into law. 

Both Simmons and Fox pointed to the fact that states in the South already have significant barriers to abortion access that, when coupled with the recent bans, create a devastating situation that hits low-income pregnant people and people of color the hardest.

In Missouri, for example, patients who want to obtain an abortion are subjected to a 72-hour waiting period. Furthermore, the state has only one abortion clinic left, thanks to a law requiring doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. As a result, patients are subjected to additional delays and, in some cases, high travel costs.

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“People with means are going to find a way to get an abortion if they need it,” Simmons said. “Low-income women, people of color are going to see these impacts immediately.”

Georgia and Missouri, for instance, rank in the top 10 states with the worst maternal mortality rates in the country. Black women are disproportionately affected, as they are up to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related issues than white women, according to the National Partnership for Women and Families. In Georgia, many rural counties are experiencing a maternal health care shortage. Half of the state’s 159 counties do not have a practicing obstetrician, forcing many patients to travel long distances to see a doctor.

Despite these alarming realities, Fox said, lawmakers chose to focus on further restricting reproductive rights, leaving countless women and gender minorities — many of whom showed up to protest Tuesday — without much-needed health care.

Georgia-resident Kayleigh Crossan holds her sign before the protest on Tuesday. (Credit: Kayleigh Crossan, Facebook)
Georgia-resident Kayleigh Crossan holds her sign before the protest on Tuesday. (Credit: Kayleigh Crossan, Facebook)

“As soon as the ban was passed in Georgia, it struck me emotionally and I started donating my money anywhere I could and signing up for volunteer work,” Kayleigh Crossan, who attended the rally at Georgia’s state capitol building in Atlanta, told ThinkProgress.

“It really affects those that don’t have the resources to get a safe abortion or to travel to another state to get one,” Crossan added, when asked about why she decided to join the protest. “We’re not going to have this.”

The recent bans are especially troubling given the current more conservative makeup of the Supreme Court, which seems poised to overturn the landmark 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade that established the constitutional right to end a pregnancy. While Alabama’s and Georgia’s laws are not yet in effect, anti-choice lawmakers have admitted that they hope the bans will sway the Supreme Court to overturn Roe, as activists launch lawsuits in opposition.

“I am personally nervous knowing the makeup of the Supreme Court, but I have to be hopeful,” Simmons said.

Fox said protesting, donating, and calling lawmakers, while important, is not enough to change the conversation around abortion access.

“We are at this place because of the shame and stigma around abortion and around women’s bodies… and that’s just exacerbated in the South,” said Fox. “If there are women out there who feel comfortable, they should tell their stories… so we can start to normalize. Because abortion is health care.”

This post has been updated with additional tweets from protests across the country.