Across The Country, Protesters Rally To Stop States' Abortion Bans

May 21, 2019
Originally published on May 21, 2019 5:18 pm

Abortion-rights advocates are holding rallies across the country Tuesday, protesting a wave of laws passed by states in recent weeks to severely restrict access to abortions.

Organizers include the ACLU, Planned Parenthood Action Fund, and NARAL Pro-Choice America. More than 400 events were planned for a national day of action outside statehouses and courts, united under the #StopTheBans moniker.

A rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court drew a number of Democrats vying for the 2020 presidential nomination, including South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.

"This is the beginning of President Trump's war on women," Gillibrand told the crowd. "If he wants this war, he will have this war, and he will lose."

In Atlanta, protesters held signs reading "Our bodies, our choice" and "You, yes you: Run for office." Georgia Public Broadcasting's Stephen Fowler reports that activists focused on two messages: Abortion is still legal in the state, and reproductive rights and maternal health care will be major issues in 2020.

Georgia's new law is set to take effect Jan. 1. Before that happens, the ACLU and other groups plan to challenge it. But blocking tighter abortion restrictions isn't the end goal, Andrea Young, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, told GPB.

"Our goal is that we are working not only to prevent this bill from going into effect, but also using this energy to actually expand women's access to reproductive health care," Young said. "That means Medicaid expansion. It means making sure women have access to reproductive health care at every stage of their life and that it's affordable and accessible for all."

Ilyse Hogue, the president of NARAL, told NPR's Sarah McCammon that her group has been hearing from activists around the country since these laws started being enacted β€” just as they heard from activists last year during the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

"We are seeing the same level of energy, possibly more, because some people didn't believe even with Justice Kavanaugh on the bench that Roe was threatened," Hogue said before the protests. "But these laws show that it absolutely is, that there is a goal coming out of these states with a national anti-choice movement to criminalize abortion and punish women."

Abortion-rights advocacy groups say Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide, is under the greatest threat in a generation after President Trump appointed two conservative justices to the high court.

"We are going to send a national message that no matter where you live, there is a strong force that is fighting against you if you are going to oppress women," Hogue said. "It's a way for people to come together, have a show of solidarity, and plan next steps that will take us into 2020 and beyond."

Anti-abortion-rights groups indicated their opposition to the protests. National Right to Life tweeted that protesters "do not care" about fetuses.

"Yes, Banning Abortion Reduces Abortion Rates," tweeted the Pro-Life Action League. "#StoptheBans? No. Keep them coming."

Alabama passed a law last week that bans nearly all abortions, with no exceptions for rape or incest. And last week Missouri's Legislature passed a bill banning abortions at eight weeks. It awaits the governor's signature. Four states β€” Georgia, Mississippi, Kentucky and Ohio β€” recently passed laws banning abortion after heartbeat activity can be detected. That occurs around six weeks, before many women know they are pregnant.

These laws tend to punish doctors who perform the procedures rather than women who seek them. The one in Alabama includes a penalty for doctors who perform an abortion of up to 99 years in prison.

NPR's Sarah McCammon contributed to this report.

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