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Abortion rights groups to rally, declaring ‘Bans Off Our Bodies’

Peyton Newsome, 27, of Woodbridge, Va., joins abortion rights advocates in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on May 3. (Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post)
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Thousands of protesters are expected to march at rallies in Washington and cities across the country Saturday in a nationwide campaign to demand safe and legal access to abortion.

The Bans Off Our Bodies events, organized by several groups including the Women’s March and Planned Parenthood, are a direct response to the leaked draft of an opinion by the Supreme Court signaling it is positioned to overturn Roe. v. Wade, the 49-year-old decision that said the Constitution guarantees a person’s right to have an abortion.

Kelley Robinson, the executive director of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, one of the organizers behind Saturday’s demonstrations, said that ever since the leaked draft, her organization has been hearing an “outcry” from people across the country.

“Folks are feeling anger. Folks are feeling rage. Folks are feeling scared about what this means for them and for their state,” Robinson said, referring to a reversal of Roe and the possibility of abortion bans. “We’ve been building a movement for years because we’ve always knew that this was our opposition’s plan. They’re just saying the quiet part out loud now.”

A 49-year crusade: Inside the movement to overturn Roe v. Wade

Protesters will gather in Washington and at more than 380 events across the country, including in New York City, Austin, Chicago and Los Angeles, organizers said, to send a resounding message to leaders that the majority of Americans support upholding Roe. Leaders are encouraging supporters to share their own stories about having an abortion, support clinics and abortion funds, direct those in need to health centers that provide abortion, and to speak with friends and family about reproductive rights.

In D.C., supporters will first meet at noon for a rally at the northeast side of the Washington Monument before marching at 2 p.m. to the Supreme Court. Organizers are expecting more than 15,000 people, according to a permit issued by the National Park Service.

In the hours after the leaked draft opinion, first reported by Politico, hundreds of people gathered in front of the Supreme Court expressing shock and dismay that the court might overturn a nearly half-century precedent — and the stream of protests have continued.

In this region, people have continued to protest in front of the Supreme Court, which is now blocked by a security fence, and outside the homes of conservative justices, including Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., who wrote the draft, Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh and Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) called the police after an abortion rights message was written in sidewalk chalk in front of her house in Bangor, Maine.

The Senate failed to advance legislation this week that would write 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.

The Senate voted 49 to 51 to block the Women’s Health Protection Act on May 11. The bill would have codified the right to have an abortion into federal law. (Video: The Washington Post)

Still, Bridget Todd, a spokesperson for UltraViolet, a gender justice group supporting women and nonbinary people, said those protesting on Saturday will be demanding its 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.”

With a 6-to-3 conservative majority on the high court, many people in favor of abortion rights are fearful a Roe reversal is imminent and are worried about the consequences for millions of people. After all, the antiabortion movement has been clear that its goal is to achieve a nationwide ban on abortions.

Republican-led states have already moved to restrict or ban abortion. So far, in about half of states, abortion could be illegal or very difficult to obtain, affecting a majority of women of childbearing age, upon a Roe reversal.

Antiabortion activists brave cold, pandemic fears to rally for what they hope is the end of Roe v. Wade

Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, said she is encouraged by the “trigger laws” in states that would ban abortion upon a Roe reversal. The group will be counterprotesting the abortion rights demonstrations in several different cities on 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.”

The Women’s March first nationwide demonstration, after Trump’s 2016 election, drew millions of protesters to D.C. and marches like it across the country and is widely considered the largest single day of activism in the country’s history. For those who attended, about one-third named reproductive rights as a reason they came out to protest, according to research by Dana R. Fisher, a University of Maryland sociology professor who studies protests and social movements.

Over the years, Fisher said, left-leaning protests, including large demonstrations about climate change and systemic racism, have turned out fewer people who say they are specifically motivated by reproductive rights.

Draft opinion jolts abortion clinics, lawmakers to prepare for end of Roe

Fisher said she will be looking closely at the crowd size — which organizers estimated on a permit to be 17,000 people — to see whether abortion rights groups are able to mobilize people to meet this moment.

“I really think people still don’t think it’s happening,” Fisher said, referring to people’s disbelief about a possible Roe reversal. “If you can’t turn out lots of people in the streets for one day, the question is can you turn them out to vote to make the kind of systemic change that’s needed to guarantee reproductive rights for women in America.”

As the Supreme Court’s decision looms, Rachel O’Leary Carmona, executive director of the Women’s March, said this 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.”