By Linda Loew
CHICAGO, December 5, 2021—Hundreds of people protested in Washington, D.C.; Jackson, Mississippi; and here in Chicago on December 1 to defend a woman’s right to choose abortion. The actions, modest in size, took place as the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.
This case involves a 2018 Mississippi law banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. In addition to upholding the ban, the state of Mississippi has asked the court to use the case to overturn Roe v. Wade, the historic 1973 Supreme Court decision that decriminalized abortion.
The content and tenor of the questions and arguments by most of the justices during the December 1 hearing indicated the Supreme Court will likely uphold the Mississippi ban when it announces its decision, which is expected in the first half of next year. As most of the media has reported, the question is how far the court’s conservative majority will go into restricting a woman’s right to choose—up to overturning Roe and allowing states to issue their own restrictions or ban abortion entirely. An earlier indication of what is to come was the court’s September 1 refusal to block an even more draconian law, which bans abortions in Texas at six weeks of pregnancy, while legal challenges against it unfold.
In Washington, D.C., hundreds protested outside the Supreme Court at the “Abortion is Essential” rally, according to video footage of the event. The Center for Reproductive Justice had called the action. At the same time, the group’s lawyers were inside the court arguing the case for the Jackson Women’s Health Organization and against the Mississippi ban.
Protesters held their ground against attempts by anti-abortion demonstrators to drown them out.
Renee Bracey Sherman of We Testify opened the rally declaring, “Everybody has the right to decide when and how to grow their own family on their own terms.” Storytelling by women who have had abortions was a central feature of the program.
‘Abortion Freedom Fighters’ rally in Jackson, Mississippi
In Jackson, Mississippi, over 100 people participated in the “Abortion Freedom Fighters” rally at Smith Park, near the Governor’s mansion, according to Mississippi Today. Some traveled from as far as Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas. The action was live streamed on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Rally organizers Michelle Colon, Tyler Harden, and Valencia Robinson spoke first, and then opened the floor to other community organizers and out-of-state guests, many of whom gave personal testimony. Harden, the Mississippi director for Planned Parenthood, linked the battle for abortion access in that state to the history of white supremacy and subjugation of Black people.
Nearly every speaker—including representatives of Mississippi in Action, Mississippi Abortion Access Coalition, Planned Parenthood, and SHERo (Sisters Helping Every woman Rise and Organize Mississippi)—said that regardless of what the Supreme Court decides their organizations will continue to make reproductive health care available to anyone who needs it.
At the same time, a few miles from Smith Park, 30-40 anti-abortion protesters held a rally outside Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Mississippi’s sole abortion provider, according to Mississippi Today.
‘Defend Roe’ rally in Chicago
The “Rally for Abortion Rights: Defend Roe” in Chicago’s Federal Plaza had 18 cosponsors and drew around 125 people on the evening of December 1. Earlier that day, about 40 protesters had turned out for an “Overturn Roe” action.
A diverse list of speakers addressed the “Defend Roe” rally. They included representatives of Planned Parenthood of Illinois, the Chicago Abortion Fund, the Chicago Teachers Union, Illinois Single Payer Coalition, the Clinic Vest Project, National Nurses United, the Chicago Democratic Socialists of America, and the Gay Liberation Network.
Several media outlets covered the protest, including the Chicago Sun Times.
“This is not a time to be complacent and this is not a time to be quiet. We cannot stand around and hope that the court protects us while abortion hangs by a thread,” said the first speaker, Jennifer Welch, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Illinois. “We are fighting back with everything that we have and preparing to care for more patients than ever before.”
Illinois has long been considered a safe haven for those seeking abortions from nearby and now distant states. More than 20 states have “trigger laws,” bans that would go into effect if the Supreme Court overturns Roe. Demands for help from abortion funds around the nation have skyrocketed since the draconian Texas abortion ban went into effect two months ago.
“Regardless of what the courts decide, it is OUR RESPONSIBILITY to take care of one another,” said a text message that Megan Jeyifo of the Chicago Abortion Fund sent from the steps of the Supreme Court in D.C. to the organizers of the Chicago rally. “We must be loud! We must show people who the majority actually is! The time for silence is over. Abortion stigma is harmful. Say the word abortion…”
Elizabeth Lalasz, a registered nurse at Stroger Hospital and a steward with the National Nurses United union, inspired the Chicago crowd. She shared her experience witnessing what she described as “the unnecessary and exponential suffering of people who do not have access to regular health care, especially in the U.S., the richest country in the world where health care should be a human right.”
Lalasz went on to explain why we must continue in this fight. “Given what we are up against, we have to give our full attention to defend and maintain Roe,” she said. Quoting author, activist, and educator Mariame Kaba, she added, “Let this radicalize you rather than lead you to despair.”
Categories: Women's Rights
Really good to see the quotes from Elizabeth Lalasz with the National Nurses United (NNU) union. We need mobilizations by large numbers of people. I believe the National Nurses United and many of it’s state affiliates like the California Nurses Association (CNA) are providing some leadership in moving us in that direction. The NNU has learned some hard fought lessons over many years of organizing against wealthy health care corporations. The NNU knows grass roots organizing, community outreach, picket lines, rallies and marches are essential.
I have volunteered with the CNA effort to pass a single payer, improved Medicare for all bill in California. In the broader movement here the CNA consistently argues for reaching out and building a people based mass movement that understands that only large mobilizations will force big social changes. The CNA has a long term perspective to reach potential activists one by one, involve them, train them, and build an independent force. This contrasts with the more established groups strategies of lobbying and getting endorsements.
I encourage taking a look at your local NNU affiliate and seeing if by helping them you can help set an example for the way forward.