Abortion Rights – 4 Decades of Women Marching

Womens March 2021

Step on women’s rights and they start marching. If you stomp on justice they will take to the streets.

They march against misogynist presidents and protest economic inequality. And over and over again they have marched countless miles for reproductive rights, and it hasn’t stopped.

I’ve tracked more than a few miles myself.

I never thought in 2021 I’d be back out demonstrating for a woman’s right to choose her constitutional guarantee for a safe and legal abortion. Yet this past Saturday I joined with thousands of other women across the country in still another Women’s March to protect reproductive rights and demonstrate against anti-choice leaders whose ultimate goal is outlawing abortion.

Yet again. Three decades of marching was not enough. After thirty-five years of solidarity with other women protesting, the health of Roe v. Wade continues to be in jeopardy.

March 1986

I had naively assumed my first pro-choice march in the spring of 1986 would be my last for this cause. That somehow this earnest demonstration would make a difference and the fate of Roe v. Wade would be secured once and for all.

This was an issue that spoke deeply to me. My own abortion three years earlier was still a fresh memory. It was in fact never far from my thoughts. As I sunk into the soft coach seat of the Amtrak train, it played out in my mind in an endless loop as I rode from NYC to Washington D.C. to participate in the March for Women’s Lives. My abortion had been a difficult choice but one I was grateful to have.

This march organized by NOW was held in reaction to the annual Right to Life protests. That  January it had drawn a crowd of 40,000 demonstrators who marched to the Capitol. The religious right had the ear of the Reagan White House, and like so many I feared that the anti-abortion demonstrators had convinced the President, Congress, and the media that a majority of Americans opposed abortion.

I knew I needed to be counted.

Washington D.C.

Looking out at the sea of young women my age that had gathered on the grassy Mall between the Washington Monument and the Capitol was inspiring.

More than 80,000 demonstrators had come to Washington D.C. to support Roe v. Wade. At a time before social media the numbers are staggering. The March for Women’s Lives was described at the time as the biggest feminist rally ever.

It was history. We would be making history, maybe closing a chapter on questioning women’s reproductive rights

Marching in solidarity under cloudless skies in unseasonably warm weather, there was a festive air. Elbow to elbow I was enveloped by women from across the country.

We filled the length 15 abreast along Pennsylvania Avenue between the White  House and Capitol for much of the afternoon. Little did I realize that 3-mile route would become all too familiar.

Waving my homemade “Pro-Choice is Pro-Life” sign along with other the marchers who carried banners demanding lawmakers to “Stay Out of My Uterus,” we chanted loudly in unison “Not the church, not the state, women must decide their fate.”

It was these chanting’s and later the roar of the crowd boisterously repeating “Bella, Bella” as former Congresswoman Bella Abzug began speaking at the rally, that became the soundtrack for the day, filling my mind with exhilaration and hope as I rode the train back to N.Y. later that evening.

April 1992

Six years later I was back in D.C. marching past monuments and April’s cherry blossoms for the very same cause

This march came at a time of heightened urgency for the abortion rights movement with a sense that Roe v. Wade was in mortal danger.

In a few weeks, the Supreme Court was set to hear arguments in a Pennsylvania law that sought to limit access to abortion through a variety of regulations including a 24 hour waiting period and a requirement that women seeking abortions notify their husbands. Many saw the case as a vehicle to overturn Roe v. Wade.

As the 1992 presidential election approached abortion was a divisive and emotional political issue.

 

The crowds had grown.  At least half a million advocates streamed down Washington streets for a march and rally to support abortion rights.

Marchers came from all over the nation by plane, train, bus, and car. I was surrounded by mothers and daughters, teachers and doctors, husbands and brothers. Hollywood stars marched side by side with Republicans For Choice and Catholics for Choice.

The Democratic presidential candidates took part in the march taking a break from campaigning. Governor  Bill Clinton’s supporters chanted “Pro-choice, Pro Clinton” along with a flurry of campaign signs, while Jerry Brown’s team handed out literature, which I happily collected.

We thronged the Capitol not only to protest such reproductive restrictions but to also assert the growing political power of women in a year of Presidential and Congressional elections.

We Won’t Go Back

Like many of the marchers, I wore suffragette white, and carried a new handmade sign, “We Won’t Go Back.” Passing the White House, I roared at the top of my lungs in unison “We’re feminists, we’re fierce and we vote!” while others tossed tennis balls on the White House lawn with the message “Are you ready to be a Mother?”

The anti-abortion groups were out in full force holding aloft signs of aborted fetuses along the parade route. Their shouts of “shame” tried to drown us out but they were way outnumbered. Shame on them.

It was called one of the largest protest marches in history.

April 2004 Rally March

In April 2004 a massive collective call was put out to restore and preserve women’s health and reproductive rights. Again

This time a million people converged on Washington to sound the alarm at President George Bush’s administration’s attempts to chip away at women’s reproductive rights both domestically and globally.

I was among them.

There had been an intensifying attack on abortion rights since 2002 when an anti-choice White House and Congress began using legislation, and judicial appointments to roll back the clock on abortion rights.

That time bomb was ticking again.

No More

Unlike the 1986 march organized by just one group and focused exclusively on the rights of U.S. women, this March for Women’s Lives was led by several activist groups addressing health and reproductive issues on a global scale. This was an opportunity to express solidarity among women both in the United States and globally to say “No more!” to American policies that hurt women here and abroad

Once again it easily broke attendance records for national reproductive-rights rallies

Under an overcast sky, a sea of faces stretched more than a mile, from one end of the national mall to the other for a late afternoon 4-hour rally after the march. Filled with women, men, children, and even nursing babies wearing the bright pink T-shirts of Planned Parenthood, we listened to a diverse group of lawmakers and feminists including Senator Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Madeline Albright, and Gloria Steinem.

But it was Whoopi Goldberg I remember the most.

Women’s March Rally 2004

Waving a white coat hanger, the comedian kicked off the afternoon rally with a vow to never to return to the days of back-alley abortions that prevailed before the Supreme Court legalized abortion in 1973.

This was the choice,” Goldberg said as she held up the hanger. “This was it. And I’m here to tell you, never again. We are not going backwards child, never again.

A million voices showed up hoping this would be the wake-up call. We would never go back.

October 2, 2021

Photo: Tina Perlmutter “Women’s March” Oct 2021

Today there is Texas. Once more we are outraged at draconian anti-abortion laws and the Supreme Court will be hearing a case that could challenge the current standing of Roe v Wade.

Now at 66 and menopausal, three decades after my first Pro-Choice march, I am still protesting.

At Womens March Oct. 2021

At The Women’s March Oct 2, 2021 Foley Sq, NYC

On a clear, unseasonable warm day eerily reminiscent of that one in 1986, I along with thousands of other women in hundreds of cities rose up and took to the streets this past Saturday to have our voices heard. Instead of protesting in front of the White House and the Capitol, I rallied in front of the courthouses in Foley Square in N.Y.C.

Closer to home it is still a topic close to my heart.

My own abortion decades ago was still ever-present as it was 35 years ago and conversations with friends revealed it was something we all had in common. A right we wanted to make sure this generation can avail themselves to

When you tread on women’s liberties we don’t stand still. Even if we are getting weary of the fight.

 

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9 comments

  1. Thank you, Sally, for representing people like me, physically unable to march right now. It always strikes me that one step to preventing abortion would be universal health care, for mothers and babies. I am tired of hearing “Ask your doctor” about birth control, vaccinations, and medications; in this country, if you don’t have insurance, you don’t have a doctor! Why are the anti-abortion people not campaigning in favor of free health care (including access to birth control) and a living wage? For many women, abortion is a financial decision in favor of feeding the children and fulfilling the responsibilities she alteady has. And only the woman herself can make this difficult decision, not a group of elderly men who enjoy a solid salary and excellent healthcare….

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are absolutely right that this is a health care issue, and in fact the emphasis in many of the later marches emphasized just that factor and of course the availability of contraception. That we are even arguing the idea of available birth control in 2021 is ludicrous. One of the issues protesting at the 2004 march was the Bush administration’s anti-abortion and abstinence-only policies were seen as a step towards an ultimate goal of outlawing abortion and dramatically reducing the availability of contraception. Something as you rightly point out should not be left in the hands of old white men with fantastic envy-worthy healthcare.

      Like

  2. jmartin18rdb

    You are amazing, Sally. And tens of thousands more stand beside you. Never give up. Never give up..

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sally, what has always troubled me is why all folks (even those who call themselves Pro Life) are not in favor of family planning like Planned Parenthood? The state of Colorado did a study a few years ago which revealed family planning efforts reduced the state’s health care bill, reduced the number of abortions, reduced the prevalence of STDs., and reduced the number of unwanted pregnancies. Other studies have shown a correlation with increased poverty and increased family size. And, yet the Pro Life folks react to family planning as if it is the devil incarnate.

    The way the rules are set up today, there are parameters around when a woman can have an abortion. I think the majority of folks are comfortable with those parameters, which still permit a woman to have an abortion. Those parameters may be tighter than some women want and they may be looser than others want. But, to deny a woman a right to her own body altogether seems a bridge too far.

    The other thing I would add is the Pro Life advocates are actually misnamed. They are Pro Birth, as once the kids are born, the party behind them supports issues that says to the newborn, you are on your own. Poor gun governance, attacking the access to subsidized health care, attacking those who are trying to protect the environment from polluters and the planet from climate change, naysaying vaccines for COVID, etc. all say Pro Birth is different than Pro Life.

    Keith

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Your terminology of ProBirth is much more spot-on than Pro Life. By and large so many pro lifer’s compassion abruptly ends immediately after birth for both mother and child and they are left on their own to struggle without any safety net. Pro-lifers are often pro-gun and the two seem to be an oxymoron to me.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. JMartin

    Could not agree more. Social services, access to affordable healthcare & housing, racial equity, the right to vote — all promote and sustain life.

    Like

  6. Thanks Sally. Your last sentence hits home with the depressing number of accidental shootings by a child who finds a hand gun or rifle. If you Google six year old shoots four year old, just count the number of stories of all different children’s ages. We had a week this summer dealing with three shootings by children. Keith

    Like

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