The first Women’s March of the Biden administration was heading straight for the steps of the supreme court on Saturday, part of nationwide protests that drew thousands to Washington DC and other cities to demand continued access to abortion in a year when conservative lawmakers and judges have put it in jeopardy.
Many thousands of women filled a square near the White House for a rally before the march. They waved signs that said “Mind your own uterus,” “I love someone who had an abortion” and “Abortion is a personal choice, not a legal debate,” among other messages. Some wore T-shirts reading simply “1973”, a reference to the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, which made abortion legal for generations of American women.
Elaine Baijal, a 19-year-old student at American University, took cellphone photos with her friends and their signs as the event started. She said her mother told her of coming to a march for legal abortion with her own mother in the 1970s.
“It’s sad that we still have to fight for our right 40 years later. But it’s a tradition I want to continue,” Baijal said of the march.
Organizers say the Washington march would be among hundreds of abortion-themed protests around the country on Saturday. The demonstrations come days before the start of a new term for the supreme court that will decide the future of abortion rights in the United States, after appointments of justices by Donald Trump strengthened conservative control of the court.
The march is part of “a fight to secure, safeguard, and strengthen our constitutional right to an abortion”, Rachel O’Leary Carmona, executive director of the Women‘s March, said in a statement. “And it’s a fight against the supreme court justices, state lawmakers and senators who aren’t on our side – or aren’t acting with the urgency this moment demands.”
The march comes a day after the Biden administration urged a federal judge to block the nation’s most restrictive abortion law, which has banned most abortions in Texas since early September. It’s one of a series of cases that will give the nation’s divided high court occasion to uphold or overrule Roe v Wade.
The Texas law was a focus of the speakers.
“We’re going to keep giving it to Texas,” Marsha Jones of the Afiya Center for Black women’s healthcare in Dallas, pledged to the Washington crowd. “You can no longer tell us what to do with our bodies!”
Alexis McGill Johnson, the president of Planned Parenthood nationally, told of women forced to drive many hours across state lines – sometimes multiple state lines – to end pregnancies in the weeks since the Texas law went into effect.
“The moment is dark … but that is why we are here,” Johnson told the crowd packed into Freedom Square and surrounding streets. With the upcoming supreme court term, “No matter where you are, this fight is at your doorstep right now.”
Speaking at an unrelated event in Maine, the Republican senator Susan Collins called the Texas law “extreme, inhumane and unconstitutional” and said she was working to make Roe v Wade the “law of the land”.
She said she was working with two Democrats and another Republican, and they were “vetting” the language of their bill. Collins declined to identify her colleagues, but said the legislation would be introduced soon.
An opponent of women’s access to abortion called this year’s march theme “macabre”.
“What about equal rights for unborn women?” tweeted Jeanne Mancini, president of an anti-abortion group called March for Life.
The Women’s March has become a regular event – although interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic – since millions of women turned out in the United States and around the world the day after the January 2017 inauguration of Trump. Trump endorsed punishing women for getting abortions and made appointment of conservative judges a mission of his presidency.
Without Trump as a central figure for women of varied political beliefs to rally against, and with the pandemic still going strong, organizers talk of hundreds of thousands of participants nationally Saturday, not the millions of 2017.