Marchers in several North Carolina cities displayed support for abortion rights on Saturday in hopes of drawing attention to recent legal threats to the 1973 landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, Roe vs. Wade.
The Women’s March that drew hundreds to Bicentennial Plaza in Raleigh also brought thousands more to cities and towns around the country, including Charlotte, Washington, D.C., New York, and Chicago.
The demonstrations were held on the heels of a new Texas law that bans abortion after about six weeks of pregnancy, before most people know they are pregnant.
The Supreme Court refused to block the Texas law in a 5-4 vote last month.
Abortion rights will be central to the new Supreme Court term that opens today. The Court will hear arguments in a 2018 Mississippi law that bans abortions after 15 weeks and would overturn Roe vs. Wade abortion protections.
“I’m concerned about the Supreme Court being skewed towards the right, and I’m concerned that Texas’ ban on abortion will spread throughout the country,” said Laura Frailoi, a Durham resident and participant in the Raleigh march. “I want to make sure that I’m part of the message that that’s not okay.”
Former President Donald Trump’s three Supreme Court appointments — Brett Kavanaugh, Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett — have given conservatives a clear majority.
On Saturday, marchers chanted “My body, my choice,” and carried signs supporting abortion rights.
Liz Ross of Raleigh dressed in a red cloak and white bonnet worn by the class of women who were forced to have children, as depicted in the dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale.
Ross said she attended the Women’s March in Washington, D.C., after Trump was elected. “I’ve been an activist for over 50 years and I’m still fighting for the same thing, and I’m tired of it,” she said.
“Give us our rights,” Ross said. “This is our right, to make decision about our body, about our family, about our future. About everything we love.”
Republicans have worked to restrict abortion access while they have controlled the North Carolina legislature. GOP majorities imposed a 72-hour waiting period, mandated counseling and banned abortion coverage in many health insurance plans.
“We cannot let what happened in Texas happen here,” Dr. Matthew Zerden, who works for Planned Parenthood, told the crowd.
Over the years, North Carolina Republicans have appropriated money from the state budget to crisis pregnancy centers, organizations that aim to convince women seeking abortions to continue their pregnancies.
“I think our legislature has gotten more conservative, more controlling, more secretive about what laws they want passed,” Ross said.
Two women spoke about the compassionate care they received when they had their abortions. March participants were encouraged to share their own stories or views on reproductive rights using an electronic form.
“While statistics can communicate information, stories communicate something that speaks to the core of our human experience,” said Dani Hoffpauir of Planned Parenthood. “Sharing stories breaks the silence that allows stigma to build. Stories foster social justice and change.”
Iliana Santillan, executive director of El Pueblo, said she had an abortion in 2003 when she was 19 and living in Washington state. She was a full-time student, as well as working full-time, and was “in the middle of a toxic” relationship, she said.
Washington had no 72-hour waiting period, and Santillan said she felt supported by the medical staff. “The traumatic piece was not the abortion,” she said, “but dealing with other people’s attitudes afterward.”
“I made the right decision,” Santillan said. “I knew so then, and I know so now.”
Santillan got pregnant again, and the crowd cheered when Santillan introduced her daughter, now 17.
“That was my choice,” Santillan said. “My decision.”
Blair Huff, who recently moved to North Carolina, said that even before the new Texas law, that state’s requirements, including a waiting period and a sonogram, made her feel like politicians were interfering in a decision that should have been between just her and her doctor.
“Roe v. Wade already was not enough and now we’ve stepped back even further,” Huff said. “We have to fight for safe and legal access to abortion. And keep lawmakers out of our clinics.”
Dana Alhasan said Congress needs to pass the bill that would counter state restrictions by guaranteeing abortion access and preventing states from imposing requirements that are medically unnecessary.
The measure has passed the U.S. House but is unlikely to pass the Senate, NPR reported.
Democrats must end the abortion debate and legalize abortion in all 50 states,” Alhasan said. “This is the only way to stop the state-by-state tactics aimed to completely gut Roe vs. Wade.”