Alex Wong / Getty Images
Lawyers for abortion rights are protesting in cities in the United States on Saturday, where their movement feels deeply uneasy about what comes after Texas has passed the country’s most restrictive abortion laws and with the Conservative Supreme Court possibly to decide the future of Roe v. Wade in its next period starting Monday.
Jess Hale is one of those advocates. They came to Washington, DC, from Texas this week with other young activists to push for federal abortion protections, and they expressed frustration that activists’ fears of abortion restrictions had not been taken seriously in recent times.
“We have said since the beginning that it matters, because now we see the facts,” Hale said. “So it’s like we’ve been trying to get people to pay attention to us, listen to us, get involved and help us fight back.”
HK Gray is an advocate – and former client – of Jane’s Due Process, which helps teenage girls in Texas navigate the abortion process. In addition to advocacy on Capitol Hill, she and her friends are also marching in Saturday’s Rally for Abortion Justice, which culminates in the Supreme Court.
“I think just like the large amount of people who come, really make a statement in themselves,” she said. “And it’s a protest. I know everyone’s saying, ‘Oh, they’re not working,’ but they’re getting the message across. Also, I brought my daughter to one, and I think it’s a really nice experience to, if you have small children, to bring them there and make them a part of it. “
The Women’s March, which hosted annual protests during Donald Trump’s presidency, also helps host Saturday’s rallies.
“This is a coalition that gathers under the hashtag ‘Rally for Abortion Justice’, and the Women’s March plays a special role inside it,” said CEO Rachel Carmona. “Obviously we have, as you know, that Taken movies would say ‘a specific set of skills’ and we could stand up to a march of this size in four weeks. “
That makes women’s March an arm of a much larger strategy for abortion rights lawyers as they figure out how to respond to Texas’ SB 8, a law banning abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy, even if it is not entirely clear to abortion advocates what their best next step is.
“We really thought we would get relief from the Supreme Court as this was so blatantly unconstitutional,” said Marva Sadler, director of clinical services at Whole Woman’s Health in McAllen, Texas. “But what do we do then, and exactly what happens next? I do not know any of us know yet.”
For workers at abortion clinics, she said a basic next step is to inform patients about their options when they realize they cannot have abortions in their home country.
“Most of the patients they leave there without having a formulated plan for what is going to happen,” she said. “But we try to make sure they have the resources, so when they can breathe, they have everything they need to make that choice.”
Texas abortion rights lawyers have mobilized to inform patients about their options as well as to provide funds to help people pay for the procedures. There are legal challenges to the law, and the city of Austin has agreed to “examine and pursue appropriate legal steps in support of current efforts to challenge” SB 8. In the medium and long term, the law may also give Democrats energy in upcoming elections, including the middle volumes in 2022.
But all that work can make stepping back and thinking about the bigger political picture hard. To Aimee Arrambide, CEO of the Texas abortion rights organization Avow, Texas law makes it clear that some on the left became complacent and even shy about fighting for abortion rights.
“I think we have allowed abortion stigma to permeate all progressive actions. People call it ‘women’s health care’, ‘reproductive health care’. People will not use the word ‘abortion,'” she said. “Abortion tends to be the rights that are negotiated away when progressives are fighting over problem areas.”
Carmona, from Women’s March, agrees that progressives have not fought hard enough for abortion rights. However, she stresses that opponents of abortion rights are the main force that she and other abortion rights groups are fighting against.
“We also need to acknowledge these attacks for what they are,” she said. “This must be understood in the broader context of attacks on democracy and not just as a niche woman issue.”
In terms of policies, advocates for abortion rights are being violated by pushing for new laws like the Women’s Health Protection Act that passed the U.S. House last week. Such protections, however, are unlikely to pass in a densely divided Senate.
Meanwhile, advocates of abortion rights also recognize that defending against other measures against abortion rights nationwide is a top priority. And in the end, those laws could spread much more, depending on how the Supreme Court in its next term rules a Mississippi law banning abortion after 15 weeks.
The trial period starts on Monday. It is no coincidence that the Supreme Court is here, where Saturday’s march in DC ends, and this is where anti-abortion rights activists hold their own prayer meeting on Saturday.