United States: More than 200,000 march to defend abortion rights

Abortion rally on October 2. Photo: @PPFA

More than 200,000 people, the majority of them women, marched in more than 600 towns and cities across the United States on October 2, to defend abortion rights.

The largest protests were tens of thousands-strong, marching on the Supreme Court in Washington DC and the Texas state capital of Austin.

Thousands demonstrated in Houston and San Antonio, Texas, as well as in Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Chicago, Atlanta, Denver, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Many actions in smaller cities, towns and villages drew crowds in their tens, hundreds and low thousands. The geographic spread was impressive.

The hastily organised actions were a response to the Supreme Court’s decision on September 1 to uphold a Texas law banning abortions beyond six weeks of pregnancy. The decision effectively outlaws 85% of abortions in the state.

The Texas law violates the Court’s 1973 Roe vs Wade decision and subsequent decisions legalising abortions up to 24 weeks, when it is deemed that the foetus can survive outside the womb.

Since Roe vs Wade, many states with Republican governments have imposed restrictions that make it difficult to obtain an abortion.

The Court upheld the Texas law on bogus arguments about “procedure”. It will now hear another case on a Mississippi law that directly challenges Roe vs Wade, on December 3. The demonstrations also took up this new threat.

‘Bans off our bodies!’

DemocracyNow! reported that the rallying cry of the day was “Bans off our bodies!”

The Austin march culminated at the Austin City Limits Music Festival, where one musician after another spoke out in support. Award-winning singer, Billie Eilish’s brother, Finneas — also her producer — pledged 100% of their proceeds to Texas Planned Parenthood.

Planned Parenthood’s national CEO, Alexis McGill Johnson, told DemocracyNow! that “activists and leaders and everyday people [were] showing up to demonstrate … that Roe should be the law of the land … [and for] access to safe and legal abortion. And yet, in state after state, these horrific restrictions and bans are continuing to further erode our ability to access our constitutional right.

“What this weekend did was really just the beginning, to let the courts know, to let lawmakers know that the people will not stand for our rights being encroached upon in such a way.

“It’s amazing that we have artists like Billie Eilish, like Finneas, like Gracie Abrams, shouting from the stage, along with folks like [Houston, Texas, rapper] Megan Three Stallion — and people, the one in four women, trans men, non-binary folks who have also had abortions, telling their stories and reducing abortion stigma.

“Texas is really the opening salvo. We have an unconstitutional six-week ban, with a bounty hunter provision attached to it … it’s effectively rendered Roe meaningless.”

The “bounty hunter provision” allows a private citizen, within or outside the state, against any person in Texas who helps a pregnant person to get an abortion after six weeks. Known as a "private right of action", if a lawsuit is successful, the person or clinic worker is liable for up to $10,000 (the "bounty") plus legal fees.

According to Johnson, 25 other states are looking closely at the Texas law and whether they can start bringing forward “copycat legislation” as early as next year.

Johnson said clinic hotlines have become “crisis hotlines — people are calling panicked, trying to figure out where to go, trying to get in before six weeks”.

Texas already has a number of restrictions that complicate access to abortion, explained Johnson, including 24-hour mandated waiting periods, mandated anti-abortion counseling, and ultrasounds where women are forced to look at pictures of the foetus.

“85% of our patients in Texas were coming to us after six weeks [of pregnancy], and it means that those who can travel out of state are now having to identify places in Oklahoma, in New Mexico.”

Johnson said it was having a “ripple effect” because, as a result of increased demand, “folks in Oklahoma, New Mexico are having to travel outside of their own states [for abortions], and its having a tremendous impact”.

The situation is disproportionately impacting people of colour and those on lower-incomes.

“What this last year [of the COVID-19 pandemic] has laid bare is that our healthcare crisis is a function of systematic racism.

“We had one patient who traveled a thousand miles to Aurora, Colorado, by herself, because she didn’t know if someone driving with her out of Texas would be cause for them to get in trouble. It would not, but she didn’t know that.

“People are making these calculations where they can, but that impact of having to go out of state is certainly going to fall disproportionately on people of color communities.”

Mississippi

The Mississippi law bans abortions after the first 15 weeks of pregnancy. The state of Mississippi is appealing to the Supreme Court to overturn a lower court ruling that found its law unconstitutional under Roe.

The court will begin hearing arguments on the Mississippi case, Dobbs vs Jackson Women’s Health Organization, in December.

“Jackson Women’s Health is the sole provider of abortion in Mississippi," said Johnson. “This 15-week ban is another clear violation of our constitutional right to an abortion. That the Supreme Court has taken up this case, that it is willing to consider overturning 50 years of precedent, makes it, I think, incredibly momentous.”

Following the Supreme Court’s upholding of the Texas law, polls indicate that the court’s approval rating has dropped to a new low of about 40%. There are six far-right judges out of nine on the court (three appointed by former president Donald Trump, who stated he would only nominate judges opposed to Roe. In response to its approval rating dropping, two of the six have publicly complained that there is a campaign to portray the court’s majority as biased.

If Roe were overturned, that would leave it up to all 50 states to adopt their own laws regarding abortion, creating a patchwork of conflicting laws, with some outlawing abortions altogether, others with severe restrictions and some where most abortions would be legal. If that happens, there will be a massive response, as the October 2 marches indicate.

If the court doesn’t overturn Roe, there will an outcry on the anti-abortion side, a key part of the Republican base, especially among white, Christian evangelicals.