National tensions around abortion rights have ratcheted up since the leak this month. Abortion rights supporters and antiabortion advocates — sensing the arrival of a historic moment that could reshape American social and political life — have accelerated their efforts, with demonstrations by those on both sides of the issue planned for the weekend.
Organizers behind Saturday’s abortion rights protests have designed the events as a resounding message to leaders that the majority of Americans support upholding Roe. The Senate failed to advance legislation Wednesday that would codify a constitutional right to abortion into federal law, after all 50 Republicans and Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) opposed moving ahead on the bill, called the Women’s Health Protection Act.
Nonetheless, Bridget Todd, a spokesperson for UltraViolet, a gender justice group supporting women and nonbinary individuals, said Saturday’s demonstrations are pushing for the bill’s passage, as well as urging the Biden administration and elected officials in every state to protect abortion access.
“This is an all-hands-on-deck moment,” Todd said. “The writing has been on the wall for so long, and folks with the power to do something really have not done a lot in terms of action.”
Republican-led states have already moved to restrict or ban abortion, and the antiabortion movement has been clear that its goal is to achieve a nationwide ban. At this point, abortion could be illegal or very difficult to obtain in about half of states if Roe fell, affecting a majority of women of childbearing age.
Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, said the group will be counterprotesting the abortion rights demonstrations in several cities Saturday, including in Washington, to represent the antiabortion movement.
“We don’t want Roe to see its 50th birthday, so I think there’s a lot of excitement,” Hawkins said. “Our ultimate goal in the movement is to see abortion to be unthinkable, so no woman ever feels like she has to make that choice and it’s also unavailable.”
Bethany VanKampen Saravia, 39, walked through the crowd of thousands rallying on the National Mall. The sign she carried shared her story.
“I had a baby & I had an abortion,” read the white sign bordered with sparkly gold. VanKampen Saravia wanted her message to shine.
She was 19 when she had her abortion. She told her mother, who previously had shared how her own pre-Roe abortion had been a “frightening situation” that she kept secret from everyone in her life. Years later, VanKampen Saravia’s mother finally felt comfortable opening up and proudly telling others about her health care decision.
“My abortion was a deeply personal decision for me and the thought of the government controlling that made me want to change laws,” said VanKampen Saravia, who is now a senior legal and policy advisor at Ipas, an international reproductive justice organization. “The thought of my daughter having less protection than I did growing up absolutely breaks my heart. And it terrifies me.”
It’s time to take away the stigma, said VanKampen Saravia, of Mount Rainier, Md.
She smiled down at her almost nine month old daughter Vianna Saravia. Another signer rested the baby’s stroller: “My mommy had an abortion. It is just HEALTH CARE.”
On the lawn outside of the Washington monument. Katherine Moffitt, 72, embraced a fellow demonstrator. The two had met only a few minutes before, but immediately bonded over receiving an abortion in the early 1970s, before the Roe decision.
Both came to District because they said they understood what a country without access to legal abortions looked like. Neither wanted to return to it, they said.
In 1973, Moffitt drove from her home state in Rhode Island to Massachusetts to get an abortion. She had just graduated from college at the time, and she wasn’t ready to start a family, she said. Getting an abortion changed her life — she was able to go to graduate school, and start a family when she was ready, she said. She drove in from Princeton, N.J., because she wanted to advocate for her two granddaughters.
“Their future should not be with fewer rights than my life,” Moffitt said, tearing up as she spoke. “They should have at least the same rights as I ever had, if not more.”
The other woman, Melanie, got an abortion in 1971. She drove from Michigan to New York City at the time. A nurse held her hand as she received the procedure. She declined to share her last name due to privacy concerns.
She approached Moffitt because of her sign, which read: “Our granddaughters deserve choice,” and thought, “That’s what it’s all about,” she said.
When she heard Moffitt’s abortion story, she said it was almost like meeting her sister since their backgrounds were so similar.
“I’m just feeling grateful that I’m not alone in my absolute horror of what’s going down in our country for women, and I’m grateful to know that my sisters are out there doing what they can,” Melanie said.
Across the country, in San Antonio, several hundred people gathered downtown on Saturday morning.
Many in the crowd said they had attended abortion rights rallies in recent months to protest a restrictive Texas law, which went into effect in September, that bans almost all abortions after six weeks of pregnancy.
Sisters Evelyn Tamez, 26, and Valeria Tamez, 21, came to the protest together. Their antiabortion parents, they said, had told them not to go.
When the Texas law took effect, Evelyn Tamez said, she and many of her friends spoke out on social media.
“Most people don’t even know they’re pregnant until after six weeks,” she said. “It puts a restriction on women of color especially.”
The sisters are from Laredo, Tex., on the southern border, where they say they know multiple people who have crossed into Mexico to buy abortion pills at pharmacies without consulting with a provider.
“It’s dangerous,” Evelyn Tamez said. If the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, she added, “it’s not going to stop abortions. It’s just going to stop safe abortions.”
By the time the San Antonio crowd started marching, the group had swelled to more than 1,000. As they moved along, many protestors looked back to snap pictures, remarking on the size of the protest.
“I haven’t seen anything like this,” said Natalie Butrico, 22, who lives in San Antonio.
Many of the signs called out Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who signed the Texas law. One woman wore a t-shirt with a Texas map that read “Gilead,” a reference to the patriarchal dystopia from “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
Veronika Granado, 22, said she’d had an abortion herself, and urged people to focus on the rights that have already been severely restricted in Texas.
“We’re talking about how Roe might be overturned with this SCOTUS leak but we’re not talking about what’s happening in Texas right now,” Granado said. “We are already living in a post-Roe reality.”
The court held oral arguments in December in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, on the constitutionality of a 15-week abortion ban in Mississippi — a direct challenge to Roe. The disclosure of the draft opinion in the Mississippi case, first reported by Politico, indicated that at least five members of the court were poised to vote to overturn Roe.
With a 6-to-3 conservative majority on the high court, many people in favor of abortion rights are now fearful that a reversal, with consequences for millions of people, is imminent.
Rachel O’Leary Carmona, executive director of the Women’s March, said Saturday’s D.C. protest is just one of many actions organizers plan to have this summer demanding that the right to an abortion be codified into federal law. A final decision could come any time before the court finishes its work at the end of June or early July.
“We have to see an end to the attacks on our bodies,” Carmona said. “You can expect for women to be completely ungovernable until this government starts to work for us.”
Jessica Cisneros is running against Rep. Henry Cuellar, the only antiabortion democrat in the House. On Saturday she stood at the front of the crowd in San Antonio, holding a sign that read “Vote out anti choice politicians.”
Cisneros, who will face Cuellar in a run-off election next week, has made abortion a top issue in her campaign, especially since the publication of the Supreme Court draft decision.
Aria Floyd, 20, said she came to the rally in part to support Cisneros. She started hearing about the candidate after the Supreme Court leak.
“I heard she supports abortion rights… She is the antithesis of Greg Abbott,” said Floyd, referring to the Texas governor.
While Floyd initially felt helpless after learning that the Supreme Court was poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, she said, she quickly turned her attention to the ballot box.“I’m going to be voting,” she said.