Marching for abortion rights

March 4, 2011

A roundup of reports from around the country on the outpouring of support for abortion rights on the February 26 Walk for Choice.

IN CITIES around the country, abortion rights supporters took up the call to join Walk for Choice actions on February 26 against legislative attacks on women's right to choose, such as legislation sponsored by Indiana Republican Rep. Mike Pence that would deny funding to Planned Parenthood, the largest provider of women's health services in the country.

For abortion rights supporters, these mobilizations were a welcome opportunity to finally have their voices heard in support of choice. The call to respond was largely organized by a few people via Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr--and spread like wildfire.

As one Boston protester said, "I'm so excited that there's an actual protest for abortion rights nationally. People are pissed off with a slew of legislation attacking abortion providers, redefining rape. People are saying that they aren't going to take it anymore. It's really inspiring to see how many people came out today. If we don't take a stand now, the rollback is going to be unprecedented. This is a beginning for a movement for abortion rights in this country."

In several cities, women's rights protesters got inspiration from protesters who were gathered in solidarity with Wisconsin workers who were occupying their Capitol to combat their governor's attempt to do away with collective bargaining--and joined their protests.

In New York City, several thousand supporters of Planned Parenthood from around the Northeast rallied downtown. Many carried signs that read "Abortion on Demand: No Apologies" and "Abortion is Healthcare. Health Care is a Right."

Many participants had marched over from a rally to support workers in Wisconsin and carried their pro-labor and pro-Wisconsin signs. During that march, they chanted, "What's disgusting? Union busting"--and switched to "What do we want? Choice! When do we want it? Now?" when they met up with other pro-choice supporters.

Organizers with the New York Coalition for Abortion Clinic Defense spread the word about an upcoming 40 Days for Life campaign targeting abortion clinics across the country including Dr. Emily's Women's Health Clinic in the Bronx. Abortion rights supporters will defend Dr. Emily's clinic during this campaign every Saturday morning starting March 12, from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. at 560 Southern Blvd. in the Bronx.

In Boston, about 1,400 women and men gathered, most of them students, and for many, this was their first demonstration. Activists organized several feeder marches from areas throughout downtown Boston and then met together to rally on the Boston Common.

The lively and angry marches included chants of "Ho ho, hey hey, Roe v. Wade is here to stay" and "Money for abortion and sex education, not for war and occupation" as well as "Abortion is health care and health, and health care is a right," "Not the church, not the state, women must decide their fate" and "Free abortion on demand! We can do it, yes we can!"

Signs included simple straightforward demands like "We have a voice, we have a choice" and "Trust Women"--in reference to the pin warn by slain abortion provider Dr. George Tiller, and some humorous ones aimed at the Republicans, such as "Keep your Boehner out of my uterus."

After the rally, they marched up to the State House where a 2,000-strong Wisconsin solidarity rally was finishing up. They were cheered as they took over the steps of the state house. The chant "Women's rights are workers rights! Same struggle same fight!"--linking the struggles--rang out.

As a student from Hampshire College holding a sign that said, "Hand off our bodies and our unions" said, "We need to make connections between own struggle, people need to take control over our bodies and our rights...We have to take to the streets and have our voices heard and not take no for an answer. We want access to health care. We want out rights."

In Austin, Texas, as many as 1,500 people, disgusted with the attacks on women's rights and Planned Parenthood clinics, joined the Austin Walk for Choice at the Texas Capitol building.

The rally split and marched down each side of Congress Avenue, taking up a block on each side. With cries of "Our bodies, our choice!" and "We won't go back," the militant and confident march took to the street. There were many honks and shouts of support from the passing motorists and workers in the shops.

Rally attendees stressed the link between the attacks on the clinics, women's rights and teachers and public-sector workers--and ended the event with a feeder march into the Wisconsin solidarity rally. Some protesters had made double-sided signs with pro-abortion slogans on one side and pro worker slogans on the other.

We marched into the Wisconsin rally, loud and proud, shouting, "When workers' rights are under attack what do we do? Stand up fight back! When women are under attack, what do we do? Stand up fight back!"

In Washington, D.C., more than 1,000 people converged at Dupont Circle on February 26 to support the workers in Wisconsin and to protest the recent defunding of Planned Parenthood.

The D.C. branch of the International Socialist Organization (ISO), the Young Women's Collective and Different Avenues organized and secured a permit to protest the federal attacks on women's health before learning that and SEIU would also be holding a rally in Dupont Circle to support the labor struggle in Wisconsin.

Although the bulk of the crowd, many from local and regional unions, was in attendance for the Wisconsin support rally, there was plenty of overlap between the two causes. Solidarity between the crowds could be recognized with many people holding signs that said, "If You Take our Rights Away You're Gonna get Mubaraked!," Gay, Straight, Black, White, All Unite for Women's Rights," and Abortion without Apology.

In Chicago, some 600 women and men turned out in 25-degree weather, with activists coming together after their separate, smaller roving marches walked through downtown. People chanted with passion, "Gay, straight, Black, white. All Unite for Women's Rights." Passersby were supportive, taking pictures and honking from their cars in solidarity.

About 200 anti-choicers also made their presence known, holding yellow balloons that read "LIFE." Pro-choice protesters held handwritten messages on signs such as the message, "Keep your rosaries off my ovaries."

The Walk for Choice in Chicago was energizing, with protesters traveling from as close as Champaign, Ill., and as far away as Kentucky to attend.

Corrie Wetering, a registered nurse and student midwife/future abortion provider, told the crowd, "In my lifetime, there's only been an attack on abortion rights, and it's time to turn that around."

In Portland, Ore., a series of demonstrations erupted last week in support of Planned Parenthood and a woman's right to access contraception and abortion.

On February 21, a demonstration called by Planned Parenthood of the Columbia-Willamette drew over 600 supporters to their central Portland clinic. Although Planned Parenthood heavily emphasized the need to lobby U.S. senators and even send "thank you" cards to congressional representatives, the assembled crowd was clearly in the mood for a more visible action.

After listening to a few speeches, supporters marched around the block carrying signs and chanting "Women's health under attack, what do we do? Stand up fight back!" The demonstration brought out an incredibly diverse crowd, ranging from groups of high school students to demonstrators who could remember when abortion was illegal.

Many signs were homemade, ranging from simply "I rely on Planned Parenthood" to the more humorous "Keep your Boehner Off My Planned Parenthood." Pro-choice demonstrators remained in front of the clinic for two hours, and there was a constant din of horns, cheers and chants.

On February 24, well over 100 pro-choice demonstrators came to the clinic expecting to confront the anti-choice bigots who normally picket the clinic at that time. On a typical Friday, anti-choice fanatics harass patients of the clinic with disturbing, doctored photos and accusations of "genocide."

This day, however, the anti-choice demonstrators were mysteriously absent, and the pro-choice crowds celebrated on all four corners of the intersection. One activist brought a giant, golden feminist symbol to hoist above the crowd, and a contingent from the local LGBT community center demonstrated in solidarity, with signs that said "The Q Center Stands With Planned Parenthood."

To top off the week, dozens of pro-choice demonstrators marched on downtown Portland Saturday afternoon. In Portland's Pioneer Square, they mixed with a concurrent demonstration in solidarity with the democratic revolution in Libya. As marchers in solidarity with Libya chanted, "The people want Qaddifi out," pro-choice demonstrators joined in and exchanged high-fives with other activists.

Three pro-choice demonstrations in one week may be unprecedented in Portland; and we don't plan on stopping anytime soon.

In Seattle, some 500 marched from Capitol Hill to downtown as part of the national Walk for Choice. The rally was organized in a few days time by five young women using Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr.

The federal cuts that Congress is proposing would cost Washington state $4.5 million in Title X funding. After the march, an impromptu speak-out took place in which over 30 people, most of them new to activism, gave moving testimony about their own experiences with Planned Parenthood and why the right to abortion is fundamental to a woman's ability to control her own body and life decisions.

Many signaled the importance of continuing to organize, especially in light of a bill here in Washington which seeks to regulate so-called "crisis pregnancy centers" which lie to and intimidate women about their options. A sign-up sheet circulated to gauge interested in picketing these fake clinics and defending real ones garnered 60 names and a preliminary planning meeting is being held this Sunday.

In Dallas, enthusiasm for the women's rights struggle found its voice on February 26 at the Walk for Choice: Dallas. A crowd approaching 400, with a wide range of ages ethnicities, came together to send a resolute message to those waging war on the poor, and waging war on women: We have a voice and we have a choice!

Beginning in Chicago, Walk for Choice quickly spread across the country, to Britain, and even to Pakistan; Texas bought five cities on board.

The rally speakers, who included representatives from the Texas Equal Access Fund, Planned Parenthood North Texas, the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance, and the International Socialist Organization, focused mainly on economic issues, specifically abortion accessibility for working-class and poor women and students.

At first, only a single march was planned for the event--however, the momentum of the crowd fueled a second, and after the rally and open mic, a third was spontaneously begun after a protest line formed to shut down the opposition.

Anti-abortion forces did turn out, but they were numbered in the teens and when confronted had to back down, and eventually totally demoralized, fade away.

In Los Angeles, Walk for Choice brought out more than 200 fired-up young women and men to Pershing Square downtown--organized online. For many of those protesting, angered over the attack on abortion rights and women's health care in Congress, this was their first demonstration.

With the Wisconsin union solidarity rally nearby at City Hall, the group decided to march there in solidarity and for visibility. Carrying homemade signs from "Reproductive Rights are Human Rights" to "Stand with Planned Parenthood" and "Keep Boehner out of my uterus," protesters chanted "Our bodies, our lives, our right to decide," "2-4-6-8, you can't make us procreate" as drivers honked their horns in support.

Chanting "Pro-choice, Pro-union" as they marched into the square where the Wisconsin rally was held, the Walk for Choice was greeted enthusiastically with cheers and applause. Katherine, an organizer of the walk, was invited to speak from the podium. The cross-solidarity was inspiring.

After the Wisconsin solidarity rally was over, the Walk for Choicers marched back to Pershing Square and vowed to continue to organize and fight to keep abortion and women's health care accessible for all women.

In Rochester, N.Y., more than 100 people rallied an event organized by two members of the new Socialist Club at State University of New York-Brockport, with the help of other Brockport students, the National Organization for Women and Planned Parenthood.

The rally brought together multiple organizations as well as representatives from several of the areas colleges, all in high spirits.

In Western Massachusetts, Hampshire College students from the International Socialist Organization and Civil Liberties and Public Policy program organized two buses to the rally in New York City, bringing close to 90 people from Western Massachusetts.

"The rally was a life-changing experience for me," said UMass Amherst student Este Fuller. "I learned what it's really like to have to fight to keep my rights because they will be taken away if you don't hold on to them with all of the passion in your heart."

Out of the organizing, activists are planning a protest for International Women's Day at the Crisis Pregnancy Center in Amherst.

Judea Beatrice, Karen Domínguez Burke, Madeline Burrows, Matthew Denney, Amanda Duzak, Jovanni Flores, Cindy Kaffen, Melissa Kelsey, Brit Schulte, Stephanie Schwartz and Leela Yellesetty contributed to this article.

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