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Hundreds march to White House, risking arrest to protest Roe’s reversal

Abortion rights activists march from Franklin Park in Washington, D.C., July 9, 2022, to the White House. (Astrid Riecken/For The Washington Post)
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Hundreds of people protested for abortion rights Saturday by marching to the White House and planting themselves in front of the building for about an hour, defying D.C. law and risking arrest.

The demonstration was organized by the Women’s March, a movement that drew millions to the streets in the nation’s capital and across the country the day after Donald Trump was inaugurated as president in 2017. The group has called for a “Summer of Rage” in response to the Supreme Court’s overturning last month of Roe v. Wade, the landmark ruling that had enshrined abortion as a constitutional right for more than 50 years.

On July 9, abortion rights activists gathered in Washington D.C., to speak out against the recent Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade. (Video: Reuters)

The Women’s March is also urging President Biden to declare a national emergency that would allow the federal government to dedicate additional funds for abortion procedures. Other actions requested by the group include new federal guidance increasing access to abortion pills and the leasing of federal land to abortion providers.

On Saturday, hundreds of people gathered at Franklin Square at 10 a.m. for a short rally before marching slowly along streets shut down by police to Lafayette Square, the park that sits just outside the White House. Protesters wore green and carried homemade posters with slogans such as, “Keep your rosaries off my ovaries,” “Ruth [Bader Ginsburg] Sent Us” and “It’s SO BAD even the INTROVERTS are here.”

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Close to 1 p.m., amid a light rain, several dozen of the marchers walked up to the tall black fence that lines the mansion’s front yard and sat as close as they could to the White House. Among them was Jessica Gibson-Spencer, 46, who carefully tied a green bandanna reading “BANS OFF OUR BODIES” to one of the poles of the White House fence.

“You gotta listen, Joe,” she called, shaking a fist in the direction of the White House, where no movement was visible apart from a few Secret Service personnel in the driveway. “I voted for you.”

Although Gibson-Spencer and the other marchers remained seated for about an hour before dispersing, no arrests were made, according to spokespeople for the U.S. Park Police and the Secret Service.

The organizers had predicted beforehand, in guidance given to participants, that Park Police would arrest demonstrators “for not being in continuous motion on the sidewalk.”

“The goal of this action is not mass numbers of participants, but a smaller number of people taking coordinated action together in order to elevate a demand to a specific target,” the guidance stated. “The action will be centered around folks who are risking arrest.”

The march capped a week of activism in which activists protested outside Senate office buildings and hung a large poster reading “BIDEN PROTECT ABORTION” from a crane in Washington.

Many of those who marched in D.C. on Saturday had expected to be locked in jail, including Jessica Cavalier, 42. She drove eight hours from Charlotte on Friday with her husband and mother-in-law — and packed $50 in cash in case she was required to post bail.

Cavalier said she never attended a protest before this weekend, but the fall of Roe made her feel like she had to do something — anything — rather than just sit at home, sad. “I am absolutely passionate about a woman’s right to choose,” she said.

As the demonstrators chanted slogans and squatted on the sidewalk, D.C. life went on around them. Drenched joggers slogged along park paths, veering to avoid puddles and protesters, and tourists lined up by the White House fence for pictures.

As one family of visitors approached the fence, three small children turned to their father and asked why all the grown-ups were sitting and shouting.

“Sometimes the president or other people pass rules and laws that people don’t like,” he said. “And in America we have something called free speech. You’re allowed to get together with people and share what you think. And that’s really cool.”

Wide-eyed, the kids nodded.