By Nancy Rosenstock
October 8, 2021—“Bans Off Our Bodies,” and “Our Bodies, Our Lives,” echoed through the streets of the United States on October 2 as thousands upon thousands rallied and marched in defense of a woman’s right to choose abortion and against all restrictions on this right.
From large cities to small towns, from east to west, north to south, more than 100,000 demonstrators in 650 different places joined in. This surpasses the number of cities where people marched in August 1970 in the Women’s Strike for Equality. On that day, 50,000 marched in New York City along with 90 other actions. In 1992, more than half a million demonstrated in Washington, D.C., in the March for Women’s Lives, and nearly one million turned out at the nation’s capital for a similar march in 2004. October 2, 2021, was the largest single outpouring nationwide for a woman’s right to choose since 2004.
Especially noteworthy was the scope and size of demonstrations in Texas where thousands marched and rallied in Austin, Brownsville, Dallas, Houston, and elsewhere.
Millions were enraged after the state of Texas enacted a law on September 1 banning abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, when most women are not even aware they are pregnant. In addition, the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear oral arguments on December 1 on a Mississippi 15-week abortion ban that the state attorney general says explicitly is aimed at overturning the court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that established a federal right to choose abortion. Other states have begun to introduce similar abortion bans.
What stands out in all of these rallies is the young women who participated, women who know no other world than the one in which they can obtain a safe and legal abortion. Despite decades of chipping away at the historic Roe v. Wade decision, these women will not easily give up control over their own bodies.
Also noteworthy was the absence or small size of right-wing opponents of a woman’s right to choose abortion.
On October 4, two days after the nationwide marches, the Biden administration reversed a policy that denied federal funds to organizations that provide abortion referrals. This denial of funds under Title X had especially targeted Planned Parenthood. On October 6, a federal judge in Austin, Texas, temporarily halted enforcement of the state’s new abortion ban in response to a lawsuit by the Justice Department challenging the constitutionality of the Texas law. But two days later, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled to temporarily allow the Texan abortion law — the strictest in the nation — to again be enforced.
We have now put the Supreme Court, the government, and its twin parties on notice: WE WILL NOT GO BACK! We will defend Roe v. Wade! We will fight to ensure that access to safe, legal abortion is available to all. We will stay in the streets for as long as it takes!
As an October 4 message to protest participants from Women’s March, the organization that initiated the call for the October 2 actions, put it, “this Rally for Abortion Justice was Day One. It marked the first day of a fight that we’re waging, in all 50 states, to make abortion legal, accessible, and free for everyone in America—especially the Black and Brown communities hit hardest by restrictions.”
World-Outlook readers, who participated in the October 2 protests, sent the 10 eyewitness reports that follow.
By Linda Loew
Chanting, “Bans off our bodies,” “2-4-6-8! Abortion rights in every state,” and “We will not go back,” around 7,000 supporters of a woman’s right to choose took to the streets of Chicago on October 2 in the “Defend Abortion Access” march and rally.
Starting from Daley Plaza and marching through downtown, protesters were multi-generational but overwhelmingly young. A number of those who have advocated women’s reproductive rights for decades lamented having to still defend these fundamental rights. A new generation, however, has joined the struggle, demanding self-determination of its destiny and realizing there can be no liberation without control over our bodies.
A coalition of more than 20 groups organized the protest here. They included Access Living, Chicago Abortion Fund, Chicago for Abortion Rights, Chicago NOW, Chicago Women Take Action, Equality Illinois, Gay Liberation Network, ICAN!, Illinois NOW, Illinois Choice Action Team, Indivisible Chicago; Men4Choice, Midwest Access Project, National Council of Jewish Women Chicago North Shore, National Council of Jewish Women South Cook, Neighbors Who Vote / IL VOTE, North & NW Suburban Chicago NOW; Planned Parenthood of Illinois, Reproductive Transparency Now, SEIU Healthcare, She Votes Illinois, The Clinic Vest Project, Women Employed, Women’s March Chicago, and Women’s March Illinois.
Jacqui Algee, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU-HCII) director of external relations, emceed the rally along with Sekile Nzinga of Nzinga Collective. Speakers included Michelle Garcia, an organizer of Access Living, a Latinx community group; Dr. Amy Whitaker, Chief Medical Officer for Planned Parenthood of Illinois; Qudsiyyah Sharyif, Chicago Abortion Fund program manager; Jamia Jenkins, Behavioral Health Clinician, Planned Parenthood of Illinois; and Taylor Lane, Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health (ICAH) youth activist and leader.
Lane called for the repeal of the Illinois Parental Notification Act (PNA), in effect since 2013, which requires 48 hours of notice to a parent or legal guardian before an abortion, and other restrictions to abortion access in the state. “PNA attacks the autonomy and agency of young people under 18 years of age,” she said. “There is no justice for young people who do not have safe relationships with their parents or legal guardians… We have to trust young people to reach out to who they want to reach out to and to make their own decisions about their own body. There needs to be a monumental culture shift on the way we support our youth in Illinois in the scope of reproductive justice.”
Michelle Garcia talked about disabled people of color in Texas and elsewhere, for whom getting resources for out-of-state abortions is simply not an option. “The Disability community in Chicago joins all of you,” she said, “for safe, local and legal abortions now, and always. It’s our bodies, we choose!”
The banners and signs protesters held, and the slogans they chanted, expressed outrage at the six-week abortion ban that went into effect in Texas on September 1, after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to block implementation of this draconian law. They also expressed anger at the mounting restrictions on reproductive rights other states are enacting.
“Texas ban renews activism for abortion rights at Chicago rally, with a new generation ‘coming to the fight,’” read the headline of an article in the October 2 Chicago Sun-Times.
“Nancy Rosenstock, a Peterson Park resident who’s been an abortion rights advocate since the 1970s, said she felt empowered by the large turnout,” wrote the reporter, Madeline Kenney.
“‘It’s so exciting because you’ve got a whole new generation of young people who are coming to the fight, who have grown up in a world where abortion was available. They never thought twice about it, except that it was probably hard to get it and it was expensive,’ Rosenstock said.”
Kenney was interviewing members of the green-clad Global Abortion Rights contingent when she spoke to Rosenstock, who captured the sentiment of many of us who started fighting for women’s reproductive rights before the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court ruling that decriminalized abortion. This contingent included members of Chicago for Abortion Rights, Chicago NOW, Chicago Democratic Socialists of America, and others inspired by recent victories of the movement to decriminalize abortion in Argentina, Mexico, and elsewhere.
“This was the largest abortion protest of my life so far,” said 30-year old Lauren Bianchi, who helped launch this contingent. “But now I’m hopeful it won’t be for long.”
Throughout the day, the demand that we must have control over our bodies in order to have control over our lives sounded loud and clear. Many expressed the sentiment that we will have to return to the streets and stay mobilized until we win.
LOS ANGELES, CA
By Mark Friedman
The October 2 march and rally for women’s reproductive rights in downtown Los Angeles, from Pershing Square to City Hall, was one of the largest in the country. About 7,500 people from throughout LA County turned out. The crowd was in its vast majority young and majority female. People of all skin colors took part.
Speakers included politicians, civil rights and women’s rights advocates, representatives of health organizations, and a number of young people.
“I came for my daughter, for my sisters, my aunts, my mother,” Kelly Julian from La Habra told the Los Angeles Times. “I came for all women to support our right to choose what we do with our bodies.”
Individuals this reporter spoke to confirmed that for many this was their first demonstration ever, certainly since the pandemic began. An air of militancy and determination prevailed during the action. Some protesters said there is an urgency to follow up with more protests.
One young woman, Jennifer Garcia, said she thought a “national conference of all supporters for abortion rights is desperately needed in order to plan further actions after a democratic and open discussion. We cannot just wait for midterm elections. We need to act now since the Supreme Court will be taking on an even more important case in December. We know we have the power. We demonstrated it in 1973 and we can demonstrate it again.”
NORTH HOLLYWOOD, CA
By Roseana Berbeo
I participated in one of the smaller Southern California actions, in North Hollywood, which started at 2 p.m., about four hours later than the main action in downtown Los Angeles, in very hot weather.
Demonstrators met up at a busy intersection, Vineland Ave. and Chandler Blvd., near a Metro train station. We marched about half a mile to a park and then back, ending at the same intersection, where people chanted and cheered for about 20 minutes before holding a brief rally. At its peak, at least 500 people participated in the action.
A group of young Latina women from the Women Empowerment Club at Los Angeles Valley College, a local community college, led the march. They carried the main banner reading, “Bans off Our Bodies, March for Abortion Justice.” With megaphones, they led with chants like “Women’s rights are under attack; What do we do? Stand up, fight back!,” “My body, my choice,” and “No justice, no peace.”
The march included people of all ages. Lots of young people, especially young women and families with children, participated. They included a group of young women dressed in matching purple T-shirts with “Mother by Choice” printed on them and pushing strollers with kids.
A few signs were in Spanish, including mine. Almost all placards were homemade. The atmosphere was festive and energetic, with people whooping and cheering every time a driver honked their horns in support.
“I think that showing how upset the country is about what’s happening in Texas is very, very important,” artist and community member Kristen Gish told the student newspaper Valley Star. “There’s not a ton we can do as individuals, but showing up as a group and protesting, it’s a step in the right direction.”
SAN FRANCISCO, CA
By Aaron Ruby
Around 5,000 people set off from City Hall for a march under clear blue skies and a hot sun in San Francisco in defense of abortion rights, one of three marches in the Bay Area in northern California. Most carried handmade signs with various statements in support of women’s rights, animated by a contingent of women Brazilian drummers down Market, the main street in downtown San Francisco.
Most marchers were young and female, a few signs were in Spanish, and there were few participants of color. A contingent of men from the San Francisco State Basketball team handed out free water to participants. Some said they had heard about the march on TikTok and other social media. Some contingents came from area schools. A number of groups of coworkers took part.
At the conclusion of the march at the Embarcadero, a number of participants commented that it was unfortunate there was no rally with speakers and asked about the next action.
By Francisco Picado
About 5,500 people participated in a spirited rally on the morning of October 2 in front of the State Capitol building. Every generation was here. Some of the protesters have been marching for women’s rights since before Roe v. Wade became law. Young people, however, had the largest presence. Most protesters were women. Demonstrators of every skin color took part in the action. Entire families turned out. This reporter met a number of mothers accompanied by their young daughters.
“My body, my choice” and “Abortion bans have got to go” were among the most popular chants.
A small number of anti-abortion activists and supporters of the recent Texas ban, which energized the pro-choice demonstrators, turned out too. Dozens of pro-abortion protesters, primarily young women, quickly surrounded them and drowned out the “pro-lifers” with loud chants.
“I’m here to protest because they are taking my rights,” Claudia D. told World-Outlook. Claudia is a young worker with a degree in data analysis. “They are trying to take away my right to control my own body and the rights of all generations” of women, she said calmly.
“I’m here because I support women’s rights,” said Chris Kettlerhagen. “This is about a woman being able to decide what is good for herself, for her family, and her position in life. This is happening while the Democrats are in control of the government, and it just makes me question the whole establishment. I’m thinking we need to change the whole power structure.”
After the rally ended, thousands of people stayed on the grounds in front of the Capitol building chanting while dozens of cars and busses honked and passers-by waved and clapped in approval. After a while, a contingent of young women with a bullhorn led about 3,000 people on a march through the busy 16th Street mall. “Hey, hey, ho, ho! Patriarchy has got to go” and “2, 4, 6, 8! Separate the church and state,” they chanted loudly. “We want women’s rights.” Many patrons of restaurants along the mall and others standing along the route joined the chants and clapped enthusiastically expressing support.
March organizers reported similar but smaller actions in other cities and towns in Colorado, including Aspen, Boulder, Breckenridge, Castle Rock, Colorado Springs, Cortez, Durango, Fort Collins, Grand Junction, and Montrose.
By Duane Stilwell
As crowds gathered in front of the Arizona State Capitol in Phoenix to defend women’s right to choose abortion on October 2, a group of women playing Japanese drums welcomed them. Most of the demonstrators were young women from all walks of life.
By 10 a.m., it was clear that the march would be large and spirited as groups of people gathered to paint signs and filled the lawn in front of the speaker’s platform. The excitement was palpable in the discussions I overheard. Most understand that this may be just the beginning of a long struggle to defend the right to choose. Similar actions took place in 10 cities and towns throughout Arizona.
Many hand-written signs expressed palpable anger against Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, one of 12 governors who signed an amicus brief asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade in the Mississippi case “Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.” Ducey has also signed a bill that bans abortions if a fetus has a survivable genetic issue like Down Syndrome. A federal judge recently blocked this new law, which also grants “personhood and civil rights to unborn children.”
Native American women made up an important contingent. The pandemic severely affected Native Americans, especially at the start of the outbreak, but then they fought to restrict travel in and out of tribal lands to get the spread of Covid-19 under control. They have also faced the recent closure of clinics that serve their community and have historically been an important part of the struggle to defend reproductive rights, given the mass sterilization campaigns of the 1970s that resulted in the forced sterilization of thousands of Native American women across the country. Their contingent led the march around the State Capitol.
Suzanne Killebrew attended the event with her daughter and nieces. “I thought it was important for them to be here,” she told the Arizona Republic. “Our health care is under attack and I think it’s important that they see all these women coming together strong for one cause and that’s for reproductive rights.”
The event ended with chants such as, “They say no choice, we say pro-choice,” and “When abortion rights are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back.” Estimates of the crowd ranged between 3,000 and 5,000 people.
NEW YORK CITY
By Barbara Mutnick
According to the hosts of the largest march for abortion rights in New York City on October 2, about 4,500 people turned out for the rally at Foley Square in lower Manhattan. The number includes those from Brooklyn, who decided to consolidate their action by marching over the Brooklyn Bridge, joining those gathered at Foley Square.
Marches took place the same day in numerous other locations throughout the city, such as the Bronx, midtown Manhattan, and Staten Island. Those turnouts substantially boosted the numbers of New Yorkers who protested the latest attacks on abortion rights.
A broad list of groups, including Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), were among the sponsors.
The biggest component of the action were young women carrying inventive indignant slogans on their homemade signs. Black, Latina, and other women of color took part, as well as a good number of men.
At a spirited rally with a diverse list of speakers and performers, one speaker, Donna Lieberman of the ACLU, said: “We’re here to stand up against those in Texas who have put a bounty on women’s freedom and unleashed their vigilantes to take away our most fundamental rights.”
Protesters then proceeded north and marched to Washington Square Park where they called out spirited chants such as “Mister, mister, keep your laws (and sometimes ‘hands’) off my sister!”
By Argiris Malapanis
About 1,500 people rallied in front of the New York State Capitol here to defend “Abortion Justice,” as the lead “banner”—a huge sign each letter of which was held by a woman on the speakers’ platform—read.
The crowd, overwhelmingly women, spanned many generations, including advocates of women’s reproductive rights for decades—the majority in this action, as well as students and other youth. Many participants sported pink T-shirts.
“Bans off my body,” was the most popular sign demonstrators held; it was also emblazoned on many T-shirts. “Hell No, Roe Can’t Go,” read another handmade placard, referring to the Supreme Court decision that decriminalized abortion. Other signs read, “This Mom Is For Choice,” and “We Won’t Go Back” or “Never Again.” The last two displayed a coat hanger, the well-known symbol of the terrible perils women faced from back-alley, illegal abortions before Roe became the law of the land.
State and local Democratic Party politicians addressed the crowd, including Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan and New York Governor Kathy Hochul. The lieutenant governor until August, Hochul recently replaced her former boss Andrew Cuomo, who resigned after the NY Attorney General released a report accusing him of widespread sexual harassment of state employees.
Other speakers included Felicia Kuhn of the Coalition of Labor Union Women; Planned Parenthood representatives Kristen Dart and Chelly Hegan; YWCA official Starletta Smith; Yamila Ruiz, communications director of One Fair Wage; and Jasmin Ahmed, a student at Hartwick College.
Ruiz, a 22-year-old former waitress, elicited the most enthusiastic response from the crowd when she said, “Abortion is health care,” and called on state officials to enact free medical care for all—something the Democratic Party establishment has refused to do in New York— expanding reproductive and other rights for women. She also got loud applause when she called for immediately raising the state hourly minimum wage to $15, pointing to the unlivable wages “nearly 15 million workers in the hospitality industry across the country get, the majority of us women.”
“I am 20 years old. I am a woman and I never know what’s going to happen to me and if no one stands up for me, I need to stand up for myself,” said Caitlin Cronin, a student at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY. Her remarks reflected the optimism and determination of the younger generations of protesters to stand up for women’s rights.
By Geoff Mirelowitz
Seattle’s downtown Westlake Plaza was filled with determined demonstrators on October 2, intent on defending a woman’s right to choose abortion. The mixed crowd of 500-1,000 was overwhelmingly women, spanning many generations. It included many young women whose anger, directed at the recent Texas law making abortion virtually illegal in that state, was palpable. Sign after sign that displayed great creativity, as well as the enthusiastic response to the rally speakers, reflected both the anger and determination to defend women’s reproductive rights.
The unifying theme of virtually all of the speakers was their personal experience exercising their right to abortion, and the impact that has had on their lives. Many referred to the stronger laws in Washington State that protect abortion rights. But one sign captured an obviously widespread sentiment, “If you don’t fight for all women you fight for no women.”
A large sign in the crowd read, “Don’t give up!” There was no indication that anyone who joined the rally was thinking of doing so.
By Marty Boyers
About 1,000 people participated in a spirited march in downtown Pittsburgh on October 2. Speakers at the initial rally included LMAS, a student at the Creative and Performing Arts high school; Sandy Paige, a nursing student; Brenda Tate, a housing activist; Chardae Jones, the mayor of nearby Braddock; Ed Gainey, the Democratic candidate for Pittsburgh mayor; Mike Doyle, the U.S. representative from the 18th district; Becky Foster of Planned Parenthood; and clinic escort Laura Horowitz.
Similar demonstrations took place in nearby Washington, Pennsylvania, and Greensburg.
Although no doubt there were union members in the march, none of the speakers represented any union.
“Abortion has been the law of the land for almost half a century—but Republicans across the country and the Trump Supreme Court are eagerly throwing away precedent to police and politicize our bodies instead,” said Women’s March executive director Rachel O’Leary Carmona, according to WPXI.com news. “We can’t let that happen. So we’re calling on everyone who cares about reproductive freedom to start acting with the urgency this moment demands.”
Categories: Women's Rights