Thousands of abortion rights activists rallied and marched through the streets of downtown Boston Saturday to protest the leaked Supreme Court draft decision that would overturn the constitutional right to abortion established nearly 50 years ago in the landmark case, Roe v. Wade.
The demonstrations on Boston Common and in Copley Square coincided with nationwide demonstrations supporting abortion rights, including a protest in Washington, D.C., where thousands listened to speeches at the Washington Monument and then marched to the Supreme Court.
In speeches and chants of the slogan, “Bans Off Our Bodies,” demonstrators on Boston Common expressed fury over the prospect of the Supreme Court overturning Roe.
The rally was sponsored by the Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund of Massachusetts, Reproductive Equity Now, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts. Two years ago, those groups collaborated on efforts to codify abortion rights in Massachusetts law in anticipation of Roe being overturned. On Friday, the organizations announced plans to push state leaders for expanded reproductive services to accommodate patients in Massachusetts and beyond.
“I am so angry. I cannot contain my rage at this moment,” Rebecca Hart Holder, executive director of Reproductive Equity Now, told the crowd at the Common.
If Roe falls, about half of US states are expected to ban abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion-rights think tank.
Massachusetts is among 16 states where abortion rights are expected to remain intact regardless of how the Supreme Court rules.
Senator Edward J. Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts, said the draft opinion represents the views of the “illegitimate, far-right majority on the Supreme Court.”
He condemned the Republican Party as hypocritical, saying they’ve pushed to criminalize abortion while declining to ban assault weapons, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and protect elections.
“Abortion rights are non-negotiable,” Markey said.
He then turned to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who said in an interview last week that a federal abortion ban would be possible if Republicans take control of the Senate after the mid-term elections. McConnell later walked back his remarks.
On Wednesday, Senate Democrats failed to advance legislation that would write a constitutional right to abortion into federal law.
Markey called on federal lawmakers to enact that legislation, abolish the filibuster, and expand the number of justices on the Supreme Court.
“It is absolutely imperative that you turn your rage into action,” he said.
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, a Democrat who is running for governor, said if the Supreme Court’s draft opinion represents its final majority ruling, it would mark the first time the justices strip citizens of a constitutional right. She said she would never enforce an abortion ban in Massachusetts and if Roe falls, she vowed that the state would protect abortion rights and help out-of-state patients who travel here for abortion services.
“A lot of people are counting on us, Massachusetts,” Healey said. “Let’s make sure we get out there and get after it and deliver.”
Dr. Jennifer Childs-Roshak, president and chief executive of the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts said she was thrilled to see how many people turned out for the Boston Common event, but “a little pissed off that we have to be here once again.”
Ndidiamaka Amutah-Onukagha, a professor at Tufts University School of Medicine, led the crowd in chanting of “Bans off our bodies!” She is the founder and director of MOTHER Lab, which stands for Maternal Outcomes for Translational Health Equity Research.
Amutah-Onukagha spotted a sign in the crowd that read “Stand With Black Women” and asked the demonstrator carrying it to hold it up higher.
“When you have an attack on abortion access, that is an attack on Black women’s autonomy,” she said.
Markeya Williams, of Jamaica Plain, held a drawing of a coat hanger to symbolize unsafe methods people have used to induce abortions.
“Warning,” the sign read. “This Is Not A Surgical Instrument. Keep Abortion Safe + Legal.”
“We’re living in a dangerous moment,” Williams said.
Another demonstrator, Oyenike Balogun-Mwangi of Weymouth, said it’s “appalling” that the government appears poised to legislate what women can do with their bodies in 2022.
The prospect of overturning Roe, she said, is “very, very scary.”
At 2 p.m., hundreds of people gathered in Copley Square for a rally organized by the New England chapter of Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights.
The demonstrators chanted, “Rise up! Rise up! Rise up for abortion rights!” and “My body! My choice!”
Ryan Hendricks, 39, of Somerville, one of the rally organizers, said now “is a precious window of time” for people to rally before the opinion is finalized.
“This is the moment to act up for abortion rights and oppose this whole program, which includes ‘Don’t say gay,’ the attacks on trans children, all of this,” she said.
“We’re talking about millions of people in the streets to the point where the government is actually too nervous to go ahead with this ruling because they feel that the country might become ungovernable if they do,” she said.
Demonstrators carried signs and chanted as they marched from Copley to Commonwealth Avenue, then through the Public Garden and onto Boston Common, where they finished with a brief rally near Parkman Bandstand. Some signs said “Keep your laws off my body” and “Forced motherhood = forced enslavement.”
In 2020, the state passed the ROE Act over Republican Governor Charlie Baker’s veto, codifying and expanding the right to abortion in Massachusetts.
Under state law, abortion is legal through 24 weeks of pregnancy, as well as after that threshold in cases with a fatal fetal anomaly or to preserve the health of a pregnant person. The ROE Act also allowed 16- and 17-year-olds to seek abortions without parental consent.
On Friday, Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund of Massachusetts, Reproductive Equity Now, and the ACLU of Massachusetts announced new efforts under the name, “Beyond Roe Coalition.”
The advocacy groups said they want to position Massachusetts as a leader in providing affordable reproductive care of all kinds. One recommendation calls for passage of legislation requiring “full-spectrum pregnancy care” — insurance coverage for abortion but also for prenatal and postpartum care with no out-of-pocket costs.
The measure, advocates said, takes into account that steep deductibles and copayments make reproductive care unaffordable for many patients, particularly people of color.
The coalition also is calling for legislation to require no-cost insurance coverage for all forms of emergency contraception — medication that can prevent a pregnancy if used quickly. Emergency contraception is now available over the counter but at a much higher cost than the prescription versions that are covered by insurance and take longer to dispense.
The bill, now before the House Ways and Means Committee, would make all forms readily available with no out-of-pocket costs.
A second proposal would require that abortion pills be dispensed at the state’s public universities, some of which are hours away from abortion clinics on public transit. Now the most common form of abortion in Massachusetts, medication abortion is a two-step protocol of prescriptions that can be used to end a pregnancy up until 10 weeks.
Advocates also are drafting a measure to protect Massachusetts residents and abortion providers from prosecution under a law like Texas’s SB8, according to Hart Holder. The Texas law deputizes private citizens to sue anyone who helps provide an abortion after about six weeks of pregnancy.