It was nice to see the D.C. Rally for Abortion Justice fill up Freedom Plaza in D.C. and overflow into the streets. We’re presently in a Democratic administration, which is Liberal Outrage Off-Season, and at such times you usually can’t get as big a crowd as, for example, the New York antiwar demo at the 2004 Republican Convention or the first Women’s March in 2017. But they had a few thousand in D.C. on Saturday and, apparently, good showings around the nation.
The Heartbeat Law in Texas is the obvious spur, and much was made of the big protest crowds in San Antonio and Houston. But anyone who’s paying attention can see that Texas is just the most visible victory in a years-long national abortion-ban campaign. That campaign has been taking place mostly out of public view, which is to say in states to which the prestige media rarely pays attention unless there’s a big natural disaster or a football championship — states where the laws are almost as bad as Texas’ and where obviously targeted restrictions have driven practically every abortion provider out of business.
In fact eight other states besides Texas have passed laws that also ban abortion at six weeks, but they’ve been enjoined from enforcing them by court orders — which can be overturned as soon as the conservative wing of the Supreme Court works up the nerve to do so. Texas’ innovation has been to remove responsibility for enforcing their law from the state and give it to bounty hunters, thus making it theoretically impossible for abortion rights advocates to sue the state to stop it.
This is widely considered to be a bizarre legal charade that would be laughed out of any sane court, much like the Trump team’s attempts to reverse the 2020 election; but SCOTUS’ failure to enjoin Texas when it had a chance on September 1 is extremely ominous and some observers have even called it the end of Roe v. Wade and of a presumed Constitutional right to abortion. Test cases will show whether that’s so.
It’s been pointed out (by me, as well as others) that except for the most religious outlets, the conservative press has been trying to keep all this on the downlow — arguing, for example, that SCOTUS’ refusal to provide injunctive relief is not literally an endorsement of the ban (just as one might say Texas’ law isn’t literally an endorsement of the ban, either, even though the six-week window functionally makes it one and it is obviously intended to do do). Even Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito did his bit in a recent speech to downplay that ruling, complaining that the media was just trying to make him and his colleagues look bad. I find that ominous, too.
It’s not that they’re ashamed of what they’re doing. They just want to keep most Americans, who absolutely do not support their cause, from paying attention to what’s happening until it’s too late. And in an age of constant conservative envelope-pushing, where the latest revelations of Trump’s involvement in a conspiracy to overthrow the duly elected government barely makes the papers, it’s an at least feasible strategy.
Saturday was part of a counterattack. An interesting feature of the event was that old Clintonian safe-legal-and-rare frame was completely abandoned; abortion was defined as healthcare and, since healthcare is presumed a right, so too is abortion. This neatly kills two birds with one stone, in both cases on grounds with popular support. And it was refreshing to see liberals assert that they had not only public opinion on their side, by also right (hence, “abortion justice”), rather than stammer and temporize as if they were trying to get away with something.
Speakers were not only unapologetic about abortion rights but aggressive, even pugnacious. And they were all from Texas. Rev. Erika Forbes promptly announced that “I have had not one but two abortions, and I’m damn glad I did” — something I’m not sure I’ve heard an ordained minister say before — and added, “I greet you coming from the state of Texas where I have been fighting and will continue to fight for abortion justice, because SB8 is illegal, point blank, period!”
Anna L., a young Asian-American woman and “abortion story-teller,” was damn mad that a pharmacist had refused to give her Plan B when and because she was 17, and that, when she turned out to be pregnant, she had to get her parents’ permission for an abortion — not feasible, she said, because they live out of the country — and then was obliged to get permission from a judge instead. She wants all those laws repealed, and she didn’t stop to pick nits about where the cut-off would be, or how it might be means-tested or any of that.
I can imagine some watery Alan Colmes type ceding every step of this ground to the opposition: Yes, well, minors’ rights are not absolute blah blah. Not Anna L. “Do you know what I wanted to say to the judge?” she cried. “I am not a baby-making machine and I should be able to decide if and when I become pregnant!”
Marsha Jones, executive director of the Afiya Center (“the only reproductive justice organization in North Texas founded and directed by Black women”), said that her people knew years ago that “it is absolutely impossible to get full bodily autonomy organizing around a single issue. That just wasn’t going to get us there, especially if you were looking at how these things were going to impact the most marginalized folk, and for the better half that was gonna be folk that didn’t identify as white, right?” The people in Texas who “rip folks’ reproductive choices out of their hands,” she said, were “the same folk who continue to let the police kill black folk and then give them more resources so they can be incentivized to kill more black folk — these are the same people.”
There were references to “white men elected through gerrymandered maps,” calls to “transform and reform democracy,” and affirmations that “abortion care is normal, abortion care is necessary, [and] abortion care is an act of love.” In my observation the women — and the crowd was overwhelmingly female — were totally with it, whatever might divide them elsewhere. I was especially happy to see kids in the crowd, most of them serious and quiet, not really in sync with the grown-up rhythms but patient and attentive. One girl of about 14, I think, had a sign that read “My clothes are not my consent”; each letter was filled with glitter.