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Tuesday, September 27, 2022

‘We will not go back’: Thousands rally for abortion rights across the US | US news

Thousands of people were taking part in protests across the US on Saturday to decry the supreme court’s expected reversal of the landmark 1973 law that made abortion legal in America.

Demonstrators were gathering at more than 380 protest events being held from Maine to Hawaii, in cities including Washington DC, New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, to demand that the right to an abortion is not stripped away by the court, which is dominated by rightwing justices.

Holding signs that include slogans such as “Reproductive justice for all” and “We will not go back”, and chanting “My body, my choice”, the protesters have been spurred by the leak of a supreme court draft opinion on 2 May which showed that five of the rightwing justices on the nine-member court had voted to overturn Roe v Wade, the historic case that provided federal protection for abortion rights and proved a beacon in international efforts to improve the rights of women.

In the US capital, protesters were gathering at the Washington Monument before marching to the supreme court, which is now surrounded by a security fence. “If it’s a fight they want, it’s a fight they’ll get,” said Rachel Carmona, executive director of the Women’s March, one of the groups, along with Planned Parenthood, UltraViolet and MoveOn that organized Saturday’s demonstrations, which they have called “Bans Off Our Bodies”.

If the court were to end protections for abortion following the challenge brought by Mississippi, at least 26 US states, mostly in the south and midwest, would be certain or likely to outlaw abortion, forcing women to travel hundreds of miles to the nearest clinic, self-manage abortions with medication and heighten the risk of prosecution, abuse and violence for women and doctors.

Even though a clear majority of Americans support in principle women’s right to have an abortion, the topic has long been a politically toxic one, with Republicans persistently pushing for the protections to be weakened or scrapped entirely.

Oklahoma and Texas, both Republican-led states, have established bans on abortion after six weeks, while lawmakers in Louisiana recently mulled a bill that would charge women with murder should they end their pregnancy.

Abortion rights protester at the rally in Washington DC
An abortion rights protester at the rally in Washington DC. Photograph: Leah Millis/Reuters

Protest organizers stressed that abortion remains legal until the final supreme court decision. “Planned Parenthood health centers remain open, abortion is currently still legal, and we will continue to fight like hell to protect the right to access safe, legal abortion,” said Alexis McGill Johnson, chief executive of of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

People who have turned up at the protests spoke of their alarm over the prospect of losing a right that women have relied upon for the past 50 years. “How can they take away what I feel is a human right from us?” said Julie Kinsella, a teacher who took part in the New York protest. Kinsella said she felt “anger” and “outrage” when she heard the news of the draft opinion.

“It just made me think: what direction is the US moving toward with that decision?” she said. “We have made so much progress up until this point. I would just hate to see us backtrack and fight for what we already have right now.”

Teisha Kimmons, who traveled 80 miles to attend the Chicago rally, said she feared for women in states that are ready to ban abortion. She said she might not be alive today if she had not had a legal abortion when she was 15.

“I was already starting to self-harm and I would have rather died than have a baby,” said Kimmons, a massage therapist from Rockford, Illinois.

The prospect of looming bans on abortion in dozens of US states has provoked international, as well as domestic alarm. On Saturday, Dr Tlaleng Mofokeng, the United Nations special rapporteur on the right to health, told the Guardian that the US should not drop federal protections for abortion.

“It sends chills down my spine to think that the court is being brought on to play – as a very powerful player – to decide on an issue of human rights that has jurisprudence, and has a basis in legal findings, that will actually lead to restriction of rights,” said Mofokeng.

The primary concern of Clarence Thomas, however, appears to be the leak itself. Thomas, a conservative supreme justice, said the release of the draft opinion to Politico was “tremendously bad”.

The judge, whose wife Virginia repeatedly urged Donald Trump’s chief of staff to take steps to overturn the 2020 election won by Joe Biden, told a conference in Dallas: “I wonder how long we’re going to have these institutions at the rate we’re undermining them. And then I wonder when they’re gone or destabilized, what we’re going to have as a country.”

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