Hoping to augment and energize their ranks for the long fight ahead, activists in dozens of cities plan to march in support of abortion rights on Sunday, the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark court decision that was overturned by the Supreme Court in June, eliminating the constitutional right to abortion.
The events, which are expected to draw thousands of people from Honolulu to Hartford, make up the latest iteration of the Women’s March, the protest series launched in 2017 in the wake of the election of Donald J. Trump. The actions closely follow Friday’s March for Life in Washington, the annual anti-abortion demonstration that was transformed this year into a victory rally celebrating the rollback of Roe.
Organizers of the Women’s March said their emphasis on widespread local actions — 200 in 46 states — reflected the recent loss of federal protection, and the prime importance, now, of state politics.
“The fight at the federal level just has nowhere left to go,” said Rachel O’Leary Carmona, the executive director of Women’s March, the advocacy group that grew out of the first march in 2017. “The theater of the battle has shifted from national protections, which are gutted. All of the fights for the years to come will be at the state level.”
Marches are planned in major cities including Boston, Chicago and Miami, as well as much smaller gatherings in towns and suburbs like Eureka Springs, Ark.; Durango, Colo;, and Johnstown, Penn.
In Texas, which led the way in strict abortion bans even before the fall of Roe, 10 marches are planned, including in Austin, Dallas and San Antonio. In Florida, which currently bans abortion after 15 weeks, more than a dozen events are scheduled. Vice President Kamala Harris is scheduled to speak at an event hosted by Planned Parenthood in Tallahassee.
More than half of the local events are led by fledgling activists with little or no prior experience and present “a vital opportunity for them to enter into the movement and deepen their relationship to politics,” said Tamika Middleton, the managing director of Women’s March. “We want to make the barrier to activism very low for them to cross.”
More on Abortion Issues in America
- At a Crossroad: On the 50th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade ruling, anti-abortion activists who fought to have the decision overturned are split over what they should focus on next.
- Leaked Draft Opinion: The Supreme Court announced that an internal investigation had failed to identify who leaked a draft of the opinion that overturned Roe.
- March for Life: Anti-abortion activists convened on the National Mall on Jan. 20 for the annual rally to protest Roe v. Wade. This year, for the first time, they were there to celebrate its demise.
- A Politically Treacherous Test: As some activists push for tougher abortion restrictions, Republicans fear turning off swing voters who don’t support strict limits like a national ban.
The organization plans to build on that beginning, she said, as it has after past actions, engaging newly minted activists in ongoing conversations and offering training and mentoring to develop their skills and establish lasting networks.
“It’s so important to build infrastructure in the states now for the election in two years,” Ms. Middleton said. “We need that long-term strategy and offensive posture.”
For those newer to the movement, like Sam Jandl of Boston, who stepped up to help organize Sunday’s event on Boston Common, the connection to others around the country has provided a morale boost as well as practical advice, like which trash bags to buy to protect posters from rain.
“For me, it helps to understand how large a community of people you’re in, people who understand the issue and are willing to put a coat on and commit to coming out,” Ms. Jandl said.
The first Women’s March, which was held in January 2017, the day after Mr. Trump’s inauguration, drew millions of people to the streets of Washington and other cities around the country and the world to protest misogyny and stand up for reproductive and civil rights. The global event saw massive participation again in January 2018, but attendance declined in 2019 after allegations of anti-Semitism among some of its leadership.
The pandemic further limited the ability of the Women’s March to hold events and draw crowds. But since the shock of the Roe decision, organizers said, an infusion of new energy has propelled it forward, with strong showings at events held last May, after the court’s decision leaked and became public, and again in October, to rally support in the run-up to November’s midterm elections.
Organizers narrowed the focus of this year’s January march from a broad slate of feminist causes to the fight for abortion access, branding it “Bigger than Roe” and writing on their website that they are “taking our fight to every state house and every state legislator in this country.”
The marquee event will be held in Madison, Wis., bringing attention to an April special election in the state that could change the composition of the Wisconsin Supreme Court and help determine access to abortion.
Jennifer Knox, a leader at the Working Families Party, who plans to speak during the Madison event, said she believes that people will be motivated in the way that they were after the death of George Floyd and Black Lives Matter inspired a social justice movement.
“Where we are right now, with abortion access being taken away, this feels like a similar moment as in 2020, an inflection point where people are energized,” Ms. Knox said.
Not all women’s rights groups planned to march on Sunday. In Los Angeles, Emiliana Guereca, the founder of Women’s March Foundation, an independent nonprofit, said it will would instead host a screening of “The Janes” followed by a panel discussion.
The HBO documentary spotlights the women activists who banded together to form Jane, a clandestine group that provided safe abortions in the years before Roe v. Wade.
Ms. Guereca said that while previous marches drew strong attendance, they did not prevent the loss of reproductive rights, as evidenced last summer when Roe was overturned. After that decision, the group decided to focus squarely on mobilizing voters.
“We need to march to the state legislators’ offices, not on the weekend,” Ms. Guereca said, “and bring them into the fold and talk to them about what they’re doing to protect reproductive rights.”
Still, Dorothy Wills, a retired college professor who helped plan a rally scheduled for Sunday in Claremont, a city about 30 miles east of Los Angeles, said that while marches may not produce measurable change, they help to build and sustain the movement.
“We need to have more people on the streets,” she said. “I don’t think we should abandon any of our tactics that are tried and true.”
Ymoni Shavuo, 27, a New York-based teacher who founded Black Feminists Matter in 2020 and helped organize Sunday’s march from Washington Square Park to Wall Street, said she hoped the rally would have a “rejuvenating” effect for abortion rights activists who were facing a long road ahead.
“It’s a systemic issue,” Ms. Shavuo said. “It’s a human rights issue, it’s a race issue.”
She added: “Until we achieve true equity, I think these are issues to continue to talk about and continue to fight about.”
Téa Kvetenadze and Vik Jolly contributed reporting.