Thousands of reproductive rights supporters marched through the streets of Downtown LA Oct. 2 as part of nationwide protests against a Texas bill that bans abortions after six weeks.
Women’s March Foundation (WMF), a women-led nonprofit, organized the march in LA alongside 90 other women’s and abortion rights group.
WMF is one of the 600 organizations that marched across the nation, from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. The national day of action for women’s rights organizations and activists comes a month after a Texas senate bill, known as SB 8 or “The Heartbeat Act,” went into effect, effectively banning abortions after six weeks with no exception for rape or incest.
The day of action began in Pershing Square and ended in front of City Hall, where local elected officials, celebrities and activists of various organizations spoke out to condemn the bill, showing their anger and readiness to confront and battle anti-abortion legislation.
Most of the protesters were women of all ages, with some men, and together the crowd chanted and held homemade signs with pictures and phrases that said, “Vasectomies. Problem Solved,” “My body, my choice” and “My body is not the government’s business.”
LA City Attorney Mike Feuer attended the march and stood among the droves of protesters in support of the cause. Feuer, who said attending the event in person was more important than releasing a statement, said, “This is one of the most important times ever for standing up for women’s rights. If laws like (SB 8) are allowed to stand and spread across the country, a woman’s right to choose an abortion will forever be denied to thousands and thousands of women.
“Roe v. Wade is the law of the land. It needs to stand. … It’s important for us to make a statement of who we are and what our values are by our physical presence. Today is a moment to express our values at a time that has never been more essential,” he said.
The Supreme Court has yet to rule on the constitutionality of SB 8 and if it interferes with federal law concerning Roe v. Wade, a 1973 federal court case ruling that a woman’s right to an abortion is federally protected.
SB 8 grants authority to private individuals to sue anyone performing an abortion or aiding or abetting in an abortion in any way and will award individuals who are successful in their lawsuit with at least $10,000. This aspect of SB 8 makes the law hard to block. With Texas granting authority to any individual to enforce SB 8 who are not government officials or employees, it’s unclear how to name the proper defendants in lawsuits that would potentially block the Texas law.
On Oct. 6, a federal judge, Robert Pitman, blocked SB 8’s enforcement, but it is temporary, as it has already been challenged by the state of Texas after an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the fifth circuit. The legal battle over SB 8 is likely to move through the federal court system, effectively determining the constitutional legality of the law. Pitman’s anticipated decision is the result of a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Justice Department against the state of Texas. The Justice Department declared the law “unconstitutional under long-standing Supreme Court precedent,” according to a statement released by the Justice Department.
Though SB 8 has been an enforceable law for a little over a month, it has had a major impact on many women in Texas, as documented from multiple news outlets. Speakers at City Hall, like Gloria Allred, an accomplished women’s rights attorney, called attention to the urgent issue of safe and legal abortions being accessible to all women.
“Abortion has to be safe and legal and affordable and available,” Allred said. “That’s why we’re here today. There are going to be, and there already are, other states copying the Texas law. … This fight continues after today.”
Calling on women of all ages and men, Allred said, “You must make your voices heard on the internet. You must support candidates who are running for office who support the right to choose abortion. We are no longer going to let young women, rural women, poor women, women of color be victimized as they are now in Texas.”
Allred was joined by Paxton Smith, a Texas high school valedictorian whose graduation speech went viral after she swapped her approved speech for another about the Texas bill.
“When my state’s six-week abortion (ban) went into effect, the governor of Texas said that this legislation would save lives, but he clearly doesn’t know, or has chosen to ignore, the reality of getting an abortion while it is illegal,” Paxton said about the reality of the Texas law.
“The truth is that before Roe v. Wade, thousands of women died from having to get an abortion done illegally. … We cannot and will not go back to the days when the only way to end an unwanted pregnancy was to risk our lives. We will not go back to the days when we used coat hangers to access our basic human rights.”
The looming worry of illegal and unsafe abortions for women in Texas, as a result of SB 8, was not the only topic of concern for protesters and City Hall speakers on the WMF program. How the Texas law will affect women of low-income status and women of color was also forwardly addressed in many speeches.
Christine Lahti, an Academy Award nominated actress, said that SB 8 “is not about abortions; this is about who gets to have abortions. … This draconian law will not stop abortions; it will just stop safe abortions, and many women will suffer and die because of it.”
Lahti, referencing wealth gaps and privileges of wealthier individuals, said, “Wealthy politicians in Texas won’t have any problem getting abortions for (women in their lives), as well as any other (financially) well-off person who can afford to leave the state (for an abortion). This will just affect poor women and keep them trapped in poverty.”
Kara James, a health care provider with Planned Parenthood, joined Sue Dunlap, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood LA, and Ken Lambrecht, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, and spoke on her experience helping women seeking abortions.
“Every single day health care providers like me are taking phone calls from desperate patients. Patients who already have a hard time paying for food, transportation, child care and housing. Patients who know they can’t take care of a child but are being forced to travel out of state to get an abortion,” James said.
“The devastating effects of this atrocious abortion ban has dire implications for access to health care and the rights of women and other people assigned female at birth.
“But the biggest impact will be overwhelmingly felt by Black and Latinx people. It will be felt by people with low incomes and people in marginalized communities. The abortion ban will exacerbate already existing health care disparities caused by centuries of systematic racism, poverty and discrimination.”
LA County Supervisor Holly Mitchell, District 2, and Board of Supervisors Chair Hilda Solis, District 1, showed solidarity with women’s and reproductive rights protesters during their speeches at City Hall.
The supervisors made a point to tell gatherers that the fight for reproductive justice will continue and the LA Women’s March is not a one-day solution for reproductive rights.
“I’m so proud of you,” Mitchell said, adding, “We don’t get to come here and gather with buttons and amazing signs and think that we’ve done something.”
Mitchell encouraged protesters to practice elevator speeches to educate people in their lives about SB 8 and what’s at stake while emphasizing elections and the need to support legislators “who fundamentally understand what’s important to us.”
Solis, who spoke directly to LA County residents passionately, said, “This is our home. We cannot allow (states pursuing anti-abortion laws) to drive our agenda nationally, in LA and California.
Solis, in response to what to do now that the Texas bill is operational, said, “We fight, we unite and we work together. … We have to set the standard here in Los Angeles County. … Viva la mujer.”