‘Stop the bans’: Abortion rights activists rally across the US

New York City – Thousands of abortion rights activists across the United States took to the streets, town squares and courthouses on Tuesday to protest against a recent wave of anti-abortion laws passed in several states including Alabama, Mississippi, Ohio and Missouri.

#StopTheBans protests were organised by more than 50 organisations, including the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (NARAL) Pro-Choice America and American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

“We are seeing a new wave of extreme bans on abortion, stripping away reproductive freedom and representing an all-out assault on abortion access,” organisers said in a statement.

“This is Trump’s anti-abortion extremism and it’s terrifying, particularly for communities of colour and low-income communities who are most affected by these bans.”

Activists and others gather in major cities across the US, including New York City, Washington, DC, Las Vegas and Philadelphia.

Dozens of protesters chanted and sang songs outside the Middle Collegiate Church in New York City, holding signs that read, “My body, my choice” and “I am in charge of my body”.

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Women listen to speeches as they take part in an abortion rights rally in front of the Middle Collegiate Church in the East Village of New York on May 21, 2019 [Timothy Clary/AFP]

In Washington, DC, hundreds protested outside the Supreme Court building.

“This nation was built on the backs and grown in the wombs of women, and our rights are not up for debate,” Democratic Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley told the crowd.

“We are here to say, enough is enough,” said Amy Klobuchar, a Democratic congresswoman who is running in the 2020 presidential election. “We are not going to allow them to move our country backwards,” she said.

Wave of bans

In the first quarter of 2019, at least 28 state legislatures introduced some version of an abortion ban, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health and research and policy organisation. The Guttmacher Institute said that although that number is essentially the same as last year, “the extreme nature of this year’s bills is unprecedented”. 

Last week, Alabama’s governor signed the strictest abortion law in the US, making abortion illegal in nearly all cases including rape and incest. Doctors who perform an abortion could face up to 99 years in jail.

The earliest the law can go into effect is in November, and rights groups have vowed to challenge it in court.

Several states, including Ohio, Louisiana and Kentucky, have also passed so-called “heartbeat laws” that ban abortion once a fetal heartbeat, which can be as early as six weeks, before many women know they’re pregnant. Rights groups have challenged or plan to challenge the laws in the courts.

“The health and well-being of women is of little concern to the politicians championing these laws, who come from states with some of the highest maternal and infant mortality rates in the country,” said Jennifer Dalven, the ACLU’s reproductive freedom project director.

“The ACLU, on behalf of our millions of members, is proud to join today with our partners to fight these bans in court, on the street, and with our votes on Election Day,” she told Al Jazeera.

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August Mulvihill, of Norwalk, Iowa, holds a sign during a rally to protest recent abortion bans at the Statehouse in Des Moines, Iowa [Charlie Neibergall/AP Photo]

Many anti-abortion rights advocates, expecting the restrictions will be challenged, want the Supreme Court to revisit the 1973 Roe v Wade ruling which legalised abortion. Many feel that with a more conservative court, include two justices nominated by Republican President Donald Trump, they have a chance at having the ruling overturned.

But #StopTheBan organisers describe the laws as an “unconstitutional attempt to gut Roe and punish those who need access to abortion”.

Anti-abortion rights activists across the country criticised Tuesday’s protests, saying they were part of “the extreme pro-abortion agenda”.

“For someone who recognises a precious brother or sister in every unborn child, it’s encouraging to see states passing laws that reflect that reality,” said Eric Scheidler, executive director of the Pro-life Action League.

“At the same time, it’s deeply troubling to see so many thousands take to the streets this week denouncing the very idea that those unborn lives have any value at all,” he told Al Jazeera.

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A protester holds up her arm with ‘My Body My Choice’ written on it during a protest against recently passed abortion ban bills at the Georgia State Capitol building [Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images/AFP] 

But many abortion rights activists vowed to continue to protest in the streets

“The rally ‘ended’ 30 minutes ago, but we’re still here – raising our voices because this is important!” tweeted the Women’s March Minnesota – a state whose legislature is considering restrictions.

“Abortion is healthcare and healthcare is a right,” protesters chanted.

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