Women’s March Holds Nationwide Rallies on 50th Anniversary of Roe

With signs reading “Abortion is health care” and chants about fighting back, activists in dozens of cities across the country rallied in support of abortion rights on Sunday, the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision that was overturned by the Supreme Court. eliminating the constitutional right to abortion.

The events, which were expected to draw thousands from Honolulu to Hartford, are the latest iteration of the Women’s March, the series of protests that began in 2017 following the election of President Donald J. Trump. They closely followed the March for Life on Washington, the annual anti-abortion rally that turned Friday into a victory rally celebrating Roe’s rollback.

In Texas, which led the way in strict abortion bans even before Roe fell, protesters rallied in downtown Dallas at the John F. Kennedy Memorial Plaza. In Boston, people demonstrated for abortion rights in the oldest public park in the country, Boston Common. In Florida, which bans abortion after 15 weeks, more than a dozen events were scheduled.

Vice President Kamala Harris spoke at an event hosted by Planned Parenthood in Tallahassee, Fla. In her speech, Ms. Harris denounced “extremist” Republicans and “so-called leaders” in Florida for abortion restrictions and rules that they force health care providers to “risk going to jail just for doing their job.”

She said President Biden had signed a memorandum directing agencies across government to assess how the federal government could remove legal barriers to providers who prescribe abortion drugs.

“Let’s not get tired or discouraged,” said Ms. Harris. “Because we are on the right side of history.”

The marches, seen as a way to engage newer activists and energize their ranks for a long fight ahead, also drew veterans like Diana Wiener, 82, who turned up at the New York City event with the handmade sign that has led protests for five years. The sign says “Never again.”

Ms. Wiener said she had an illegal abortion in the Bronx in 1959, more than a decade before Roe v. Wade, an experience that fuels her fury at the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn it and her concern that too few young women are engaged. in the fight for women’s rights.

“They have no idea what happened before, we didn’t actually have birth control,” he said. The court decision “will not stop abortions, it will only kill women,” he added.

In Madison, Wisconsin, the main event of the day, thousands of women decked out in heavy coats and pink hats marched down State Street, the crowd quickly doubling and then tripling in size despite the 80-degree chill. Among the protesters was Kim Schultz, 63, a first-time participant in the Women’s March, who said she felt compelled to be there after the loss of Roe’s protections.

“It’s amazing,” he said. “It’s too much to take a step back. She was stunned and infuriated that we could go back in time like this.”

National organizers of the Women’s March said their emphasis on widespread local actions — some 200 were scheduled in 46 states — reflected the recent loss of federal protection and the now paramount importance of state politics.

“The fight at the federal level simply has nowhere to go,” said Rachel O’Leary Carmona, executive director of the Women’s March, the advocacy group that grew out of the first march. “The theater of battle has passed from the national protections, which are destroyed. All the fights for the next few years will be at the state level.”

Anti-abortion activists showed up at more than one event. In Dallas, a middle-aged man wearing red-spattered white clothing, apparently intended to resemble blood, played gospel music from a microphone. In Madison, a lone counter-protester held a banner with images of what appeared to be fetal tissue. Protesters rushed to cover their banner with a Black Lives Matter banner.

Michelle Anderson, 52, who joined the Dallas march, said Black women always had to fight harder for the right to control their own bodies, even before Roe was repealed. “White women won’t do what they should do, they’re too afraid to vote against their privileges, so we’ll continue to live through this until they do,” she said.

Many local events were led by fledgling activists with little or no previous experience, offering “a vital opportunity for them to break into the movement and deepen their relationship with politics,” said Tamika Middleton, managing director of the Women’s March. “We want the activism barrier to be very low for them to cross.”

The organization plans to build on that beginning, he said, as it has done after past actions, engaging newly-formed activists in ongoing conversations and offering training and mentoring to build their skills and build lasting networks.

“It’s very important to build infrastructure in the states now for elections in two years’ time,” Ms Middleton said.

The first Women’s March, which took place on January 21, 2017, the day after Trump’s inauguration, drew millions of people to the streets of Washington and other cities across the country and around the world to protest against misogyny and defend reproductive health. and civil rights. The global event was again well attended in January 2018, but attendance dropped in 2019 after accusations of anti-Semitism among some of its leaders.

The coronavirus pandemic further limited the Women’s March’s ability to hold events and draw crowds. But since the shock of Roe’s decision, organizers said, an infusion of new energy has propelled her forward, with strong showings at events held in May after the court’s decision was leaked and made public, and again in October, to rally support in the run-up to the midterm elections.

Organizers narrowed the focus of Sunday’s march from a broad list of feminist causes to the fight for abortion access. They focused special attention on the event in Madison, in anticipation of an April special election in the state that could change the makeup of the Wisconsin Supreme Court and help determine future abortion access.

Kicking off the speeches in Madison, Ms. Middleton, managing director of the Women’s March, dispelled the idea that the activists were in grief.

“The other side thinks we should be in mourning today,” Ms Middleton said, drawing boos from the crowd. “They don’t know us. Today we remind you that our fight was never just for Roe, our fight is for total reproductive freedom.”

Not all women’s rights groups planned to march. In Los Angeles, Emiliana Guereca, founder of the Women’s March Foundation, an independent nonprofit organization, said she was instead organizing a screening of the documentary “The Janes” followed by a panel discussion.

The HBO documentary highlights the women activists who came together to form Jane’s, an underground group that provided safe abortions in the years before Roe v. Wade.

“We need to go to the offices of state legislators, not on the weekend,” Ms. Guereca said, “and bring them into the fold and talk to them about what they’re doing to protect reproductive rights.”

In downtown Atlanta, at an event organized by the NAACP and other groups to mark Roe’s anniversary but not affiliated with the Women’s March, a crowd of dozens held up signs reading “Regulate Guns, Not Women” and “Repeal Georgia’s Abortion Ban.” The state prohibits abortion after six weeks, before many women realize they are pregnant. Turnout on Sunday was surprisingly less than at a march held over the summer, immediately after the Roe rollback, when thousands marched in the city.

Peyton Hayes, an organizer with the Party for Socialism and Liberation, said the smaller crowd didn’t mean no one had given up. Going forward, he said, activists must pressure the Republican-controlled state legislature to end the abortion ban.

In New York City, where protesters meandered down Broadway, chanting and dodging pedestrians, Bruna Monia, 35, recalled crying when she first heard that Roe had been overturned. Ms Monia welcomed her first daughter, Alice, 18 months ago, and said she was fighting for her daughter’s rights and her own.

“She should have the right to choose what she does with her body,” he said.

Kvetenadze tea, sean keenanDeah Berry Mitchell and jolly vik contributed reporting.