Anti-abortion activists rallying on Boston Common clashed with counterprotesters Sunday afternoon, resulting in seven arrests.
Chanting and carrying signs opposing new restrictive abortion laws in several states, about 100 counterprotesters booed and jeered at the more than 100 anti-abortion activists as they gathered.
At the Parkman Bandstand, anti-abortion activists played music, including Christian rock and church hymns, to drown out the opposition and held signs asking people to “pray to end abortion.” Some dropped to their knees, eyes closed, to pray.
Tensions flared during the rally, which went on from about 1 to 4 p.m., with police breaking up several skirmishes that broke out between opposing sides. A red ice-slush drink was thrown, hitting at least one man, staining his shirt. Police reacted quickly, bringing several protesters to the ground before detaining them.
C.J. Williams, an anti-abortion organizer, said urine was thrown on one member of her group.
No injuries were reported, according to officials.
At least five uniformed police officers could be seen near the bandstand and in the crowd during the protest. Charges for the seven people arrested include assault and battery as well as disorderly conduct. It was not clear which side those arrested belonged to.
Themed “Love in Action,” organizers of the march said their actions focused on fund-raising against and building opposition to the R.O.E. Act, a bill filed by Democratic state Senator Harriette L. Chandler, 81, of Worcester that would expand abortion access in the state, including allowing for later abortions in cases of fatal fetal anomalies. It would also remove age and parental or judicial consent requirements for abortions.
Abortion-rights activists planned a rally at the same location at noon, according to a Facebook event posted by Boston Feminists for Liberation, to demonstrate against “the disastrous anti-abortion legislation recently passed in Georgia, Alabama and Missouri.” The event said “[a]nti-choice extremists will be marching on Boston Common to celebrate.”
Myrna Maloney Flynn, the vice president of Mass. Citizens for Life, insisted that Sunday’s action was not to celebrate the new laws in those states, but rather to “convey our fears about this bill to those who might not traditionally share our pro-life stance.”
Both Flynn and Williams said they invited abortion-rights activists, including official representatives from Planned Parenthood and NARAL, to come together with the anti-abortion group in an “open dialogue.”
It is unclear if any official representatives from those groups were on the Common Sunday, but Mass. Citizens for Life organizers said they welcomed abortion-rights activists onto the bandstand during the rally. Flynn said she hoped the two groups could find common ground.
“The dialogue wasn’t as constructive as it really could have been,” Flynn said in a statement released Sunday afternoon. “We were hoping to understand their reasoning — it got lost in anti-racism, anti-police language.”
Despite the group’s best efforts, anti-abortion speakers were hard to hear over the boos and chanting from the counterprotesters, who at one point chanted, “pro-life, that’s a lie, you don’t care if women die,” as well as “not the church, not the state, we decide our fate.”
A counterprotester who asked to be identified as Anna M., 29, said she moved to Boston from London five years ago. She said Sunday’s protest was her first and she did it because she’s feeling scared.
“They really seem to be actually succeeding in forcing people to give birth to babies that they don’t want,” she said. “That’s terrifying to me.”
Carrying a bullhorn and leading many of the counterprotest’s chants, another activist who declined to give her name said she was on the Common because “this is another move to reduce rights.”
“This is something that will disproportionately affect women of color, low-income women of every background, the trans community. It’s another attack from the right-wing” she said.
Speaking from the bandstand, Flynn listed examples of what she called “love in action.” An older couple who adopted a little girl, the story of a single father, an anecdote about a couple who chose not to have an abortion.
“Love in action requires us to go out of our way,” she said, urging people to follow that mantra because of “something that lies just beneath the surface, unseen, yet with unimaginable potential.”
Guided out of the bandstand by police officers, the anti-abortion activists ended their rally with a march around the Common meant to symbolize the group’s intentions to “include every human being in Massachusetts in the protection from violence that they deserve.”
Counterprotesters dispersed but as Mass. Citizens for Life walked down Tremont Street, across the road, passersby chanted “my body, my choice.”