WASHINGTON – Advocates for reproductive rights are planning to rally Saturday in the nation’s capital, a gathering that is expected to put the spotlight on the new anti-abortion law in Texas and a key abortion case that will come before the Supreme Court in December.
“The goal of this march is to increasingly consolidate our base for the work to come,” Women’s March Executive Director Rachel O’Leary Carmona told Capital News Service. “The theme of the day is rally for abortion justice.”
The debate over reproductive rights has been revived by legal challenges to the nearly 50-year-old Supreme Court precedent set by Roe v. Wade, in which the court ruled the right to an abortion is protected under the Constitution.
Saturday’s rally will not be a traditional Women’s March, but rather it is a coalition effort, with more than 660 “sister marches planned the same day around the country, Carmona said.
“Everything that’s happening locally is going to be critically important,” she said.
Isabel Blalock, the field director of Abortion Access Campaign at NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland, said the organization has been active in planning the Annapolis rally.
“I’m looking forward to seeing what the legislators in the Maryland General Assembly are going to say,” Blalock said. “We are hopeful that there’s going to be some really exciting pro-choice and proactive legislation introduced this year in Annapolis.”
Saturday’s Washington program will begin with a faith gathering, followed by a rally at Freedom Plaza and a march to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Carmona said there will not be any members of Congress on the stage; however, speakers will include abortion providers and women who will tell their stories about abortions. Busy Philipps, an actress, and Schuyler Bailar, a transgender collegiate swimmer, are scheduled celebrity guest speakers.
Roxanna Murray, a 58-year-old abortion rights activist, is traveling from Indiana to Washington with members of Women United For Progress Allen County.
“And we’re just really excited and looking forward to doing this because we are all determined that women deserve to have equal rights,” she said. “Women should be equal in every way. And that means that we should have total sovereignty over our own bodies.”
There all of kinds of reasons why women might need abortions, Murray said, adding that she doesn’t think its ever an easy decision. Regulating that decision and shaming people for it without having any idea why they made it needs to stop, she said.
Bridget McQuate, a freelance writer and a communications specialist at a hospital in West Philadelphia, said in an email to CNS that she recalled when women were considered second-class citizens.
It has gotten a lot better, but only “because brave women have come forward to call it out, to name names, and to demand justice and equality,” she said.
McQuate, who attended the massive 2017 Women’s March the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration as president, said her 16-year-old daughter is coming with her to the Saturday Washington march because she wants her to know she has to stand up and fight for her rights.
Saturday’s gathering will be two days after an emotional House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing Thursday on the state of abortion rights in the country.
“Nearly one in four women in the United States will have an abortion in their lifetime,” Committee Chairwoman, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, D-New York, said in her opening statement. “But with a hostile Supreme Court, extremist state governments are no longer chipping away at our constitutional rights—they are bulldozing right through them. We must take bold action to protect and expand abortion care rights and access.”
Early in the hearing, several congresswomen detailed their own experiences with abortion as they testified in defense of protecting a person’s right to choose.
“For me, terminating my pregnancy was not an easy choice, but it was my choice,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Washington, told the hearing. “And that is what must be preserved, for every pregnant person.”
According to Carmona, Rep. Cori Bush, D-Missouri, and Jayapal, have been sent invitations to attend the event on Saturday.
Other hearing witnesses discussed the medical, legal and social implications of legislation like the new law in Texas that prohibits abortions six weeks after conception. The law also establishes the right of a private citizen to sue those who may have helped someone obtain an abortion in the state.
During one contentious exchange fueled by legislators, two obstetricians clashed. Dr. Ghazaleh Moayedi, a witness called by pro-choice Democrats, called part of the testimony of Dr. Ingrid Skop, a witness called by anti-abortion Republicans, misinformation after Skop claimed the country keeps poor records on deaths related to abortion.
Following Skop’s comments, Moayedi responded to a question from Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Virginia, about the reporting of deaths and complications related to abortions, saying, “I’d like to first remind all OBGYNs that the American Board of OBGYNs has recently warned that spreading medical misinformation can result in loss of board certification.”
Asked for clarification by Connolly as to whether she’d just heard misinformation, Moayedi responded, “I did just hear misinformation.”
Skop later responded when prompted by Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Arizona: “There is data available to support everything that I have said today,” adding that she believes the politicization of abortion has affected the medical field.
In response to the Texas law, the House narrowly passed the Women’s Health Protection Act last week, attempting to codify the right to abortion services under federal law. The bill is now in the hands of the Senate.
“It’s really hard because there are some folks – for example, Senators (Joe) Manchin (D-West Virginia) and (Bob) Casey (D-Pennsylvania) – who have said they are not in favor of abortion access,” Carmona said. “It’s really challenging when anybody inside of Congress will vote in ways that are not supported by the people.”
Separately, the Supreme Court is scheduled on Dec. 1 to hear oral arguments in a case involving a Mississippi law that would ban abortions in the state after the first 15 weeks of pregnancy. That case is Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.
In terms of counter-protesters, Carmona said there are some groups that consistently show up and, “we respect their First Amendment rights to be out in the streets.”
Students For Life of America, a social welfare pro-life organization, will hold counter-demonstrations in 24 cities nationwide on Saturday, including in Washington.
“Telling pro-life women that they aren’t welcome at the Women’s March excludes about half of us from a conversation on what women need to thrive,” SFLA’s Kristan Hawkins said in a statement.
Another anti-abortion group, Priests for Life, is scheduled to hold a prayer rally in front of the Supreme Court on Saturday afternoon. The same group has scheduled prayers, a religious service and a vigil at the court on Sunday.
“In my three decades of full-time national pro-life work, I have always been confident that the pro-life side was winning,” Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, said in a statement. “But now I am more convinced than ever that the days of legal abortion in America are numbered.”
According to Carmona, this weekend’s reproductive rights demonstration is not meant to “solve everything.”
“The opportunity to get more people involved and to be a part of the process of shaping values and shaping public policy is an honor and I am really looking forward to that,” she said.
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