National tensions around abortion rights have ratcheted up since the leak earlier this month. Both abortion rights supporters and antiabortion advocates — sensing the arrival of a historic moment that will reshape American social and political life — have accelerated their efforts, with protests and counterprotests planned for the weekend.
Organizers behind Saturday’s 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.
Still, Bridget Todd, a spokesperson for UltraViolet, a gender justice group supporting women and nonbinary individuals, said Saturday’s protests still pushed 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. So far, 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 different 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.”
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, enacted 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.”
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.”
A D.C. police traffic advisory warned that motorists may find restricted parking and street closures because of the demonstrations on Saturday. It encouraged drivers to avoid the downtown area and recommended taking public transportation. Updated traffic information can be found here.
Caroline Kitchener contributed to this report.