A coalition of women’s groups plans to take to the streets in 660 communities nationwide on Saturday to rally for the right to an abortion, two days before the Supreme Court reconvenes in a session widely expected to overturn it.
“It’s a break-glass moment for us,” said Rachel O’Leary Carmona, executive director of the Women’s March, which is leading the mobilization with numerous reproductive rights organizations.
Nearly five years ago, the Women’s March staged the nation’s largest one-day rally to protest the inauguration of then-president Donald Trump, with participants warning that his administration was the beginning of the end of abortion rights.
Now, activists see the nightmare they marched against back then coming true. Trump’s three appointees cemented a conservative Supreme Court majority, which has agreed, in the session that opens Monday, to take up a Mississippi case that limits abortion after 15 weeks. The case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, is viewed as a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that made abortion legal until fetal viability. Already, the court let stand a Texas law that bars abortion well before viability, after about six weeks of pregnancy.
Though abortion rights are secure in Massachusetts — enshrined in state law late last year in anticipation of a national reversal — activists plan a Boston Rally to Defend Abortion Saturday at noon at Franklin Park Playstead.
“It’s a moment for us to make a statement about values,” said Rebecca Hart Holder, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts, which is sponsoring the event along with the ACLU of Massachusetts and Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund of Massachusetts.
Area activists plan to demonstrate their commitment to reproductive freedom and express their anger about what’s happening in other states.
“People are scared right now, rightfully,” said Hart Holder. “I suspect the Supreme Court will not rule in favor of abortion rights in the Dobbs case and abortion rights will be returned to the province of the states.”
In the Dobbs case, the state of Mississippi aims to uphold a state law that bans most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. A ruling could overturn Roe or seriously curtail its protections, legal analysts say.
Though polls consistently show a majority of Americans support abortion rights, opponents have begun succeeding in their long-game strategy to install conservative judges and state legislators who advance antiabortion rulings and laws. Momentum seems to be on the side of the opponents, who have been staging an annual March for Life since 1974 and who persuaded the president to attend for the first time in 2020. Now, activists are staging regular rallies as well in states like Pennsylvania, Virginia, and even California.
“The national March for Life also seems to grow every year in number and diversity, with the large majority of participants being young people who see this issue as one of the most important human rights issues of our day,” Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life, said in a statement.
Abortion has been legal for nearly 50 years, but laws in certain states have made it increasingly difficult to obtain one, and the Supreme Court could make it even more so, O’Leary Carmona noted.
“Whether it’s legal or not, that’s really the floor,” she said. “It can be legal while simultaneously being inaccessible. When we think about what happens as a result of this — legality is not the frame.”
Many states already have laws on the books that would automatically outlaw abortion if Roe is struck down. Others have demonstrated their intentions to curtail abortion by sharply limiting the time during which it is available — efforts that, until now, have been ruled unconstitutional.
Louisiana has a law that would prohibit abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy if Mississippi’s law is allowed to stand. Eight states — Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina, and Tennessee — have unsuccessfully attempted to bar abortions as soon as fetal heart activity can be detected, or as early as six weeks, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion rights. States are bound to try again, since the Supreme Court allowed the Texas law to stand. That law — which relies on citizens, rather than government, for enforcement — has already inspired copycat legislation in Florida.
(A typical pregnancy lasts 40 weeks. Because it is calculated from the first day of the last menstrual period, six weeks of pregnancy equals two weeks since a missed period for someone with a typical 28-day cycle. While some premature babies survive earlier delivery, 22 to 24 weeks of pregnancy are considered minimal for fetal viability.)
A reversal of Roe would lead to the balkanization of reproductive rights across the country. Blue states — including Illinois, and those lining the Northeast and West Coast — have passed a series of laws to legalize and protect abortion within their borders, in anticipation of Roe’s demise. Meanwhile, a vast swath of states in the South and Midwest are likely to bar as many abortions as possible as soon as a new Supreme Court ruling permits.
Despite the many setbacks for abortion rights in recent years and predictions of losses to come, O’Leary Carmona said she is “fortified” by the actions planned Saturday.
“What we’re trying to do is to build a big-tent movement that can be a political home for us as we move forward,” she said. “We see this as an opportunity to expand and consolidate groups to settle in for this fight in the long term.”