Hundreds from the Charlottesville area marched down the Downtown Mall on Saturday morning as part of rallies and protest marches held nationwide in support of abortion access and reproductive freedom.
A Supreme Court decision draft leaked to and published by Politico earlier this month would overturn Roe v. Wade, the historic court decision that legalized the medical procedure.
Many community members and officials are worried about what the court’s decision would mean for abortion services and other rights in Virginia. Currently, state law protects a person’s ability to have an abortion. The local event was organized and supported by individuals as well as Albemarle County Democrats, Blue Ridge Abortion Fund, Charlottesville Democrats, Indivisible Charlottesville and the reproductive rights action committee of the Unitarian Universalists of Charlottesville, and featured a variety of speakers from some of those organizations as well as
Local attorney André Hakes, one of the organizers of the event in Charlottesville, said she was “doomscrolling,” referring to the tendency to continue to surf or scroll through bad news online, and complaining with friends.
“We were looking on the internet, and there was a national call for local events, and one of us pushed the button,” she said. “We thought when we pushed that button, we might have 20 people with poster boards standing in front of the Federal Courthouse. Not so much.”
More than 380 “Bans off our Bodies” rallies were set across the country, organizers told the Associated Press. Nationally, organizers included the Women’s March, Planned Parenthood Action Fund, UltraViolet, MoveOn, the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Abortion Rights Action League.
Hundreds in Charlottesville marched from the Federal Building and U.S. District Court to the Free Speech Wall with pro-abortion signs and chanting “My body, my choice,” and “Hey hey, ho ho, SCOTUS take your hands off Roe.”
Attendee Lisa Maruca said she was limping on a recovering broken ankle but she felt it was still so important to be there.
“It’s just so incredibly frustrating that what should just be simple health care becomes this political flashpoint,” she said. “To me, it’s like saying whether you can have your appendix taken out, if that was a legal issue. It just doesn’t make sense.”
A small group of mostly young children stood along the mall with signs that read “A person is a person no matter how small” and “Love thy preborn neighbor.”
One man, who declined to give his name to The Daily Progress, stood with a sign that read “Preborn babies are made in God’s image and precious in his sight,” and told marchers that “murdering babies is wrong” and that “it’s so sad to take your child to a death march like this” when people walked past him with their children.
Doris Gelbman, an attorney and one of the organizers, stepped between the man and the crowd and told people to “just keep moving.”
Larycia Hawkins, an assistant professor of politics and religious studies at the University of Virginia who spoke to the crowd, said conservatives have taken the fight against access to reproductive rights and abortion to all levels of government.
“They’ve been relentless, indefatigable, but we’ve had a kind of long-term laziness,” she said. “Marches with pussy hats, no offense, will not save us. Upper middle class white women assembling downtown, or in DC flipping off Trump and Clarence Thomas as you pass by won’t do it.”
Hawkins said the movement has been very white and women-led, and people need to listen to the critiques from Black, brown and indigenous people who historically have less access and have maternal mortality rates that have been higher and increasing more rapidly.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the maternal mortality rate for 2020 was 23.8 deaths per 100,000 live births, compared with a rate of 20.1 in 2019.
In 2020, the maternal mortality rate for non-Hispanic Black women was 55.3 deaths per 100,000 live births, nearly three times the rate for non-Hispanic white women at 19.1 deaths.
“Rates for non-Hispanic Black women were significantly higher than rates for non-Hispanic White and Hispanic women,” the CDC said in its report, released in February. “The increases from 2019 to 2020 for non-Hispanic Black and Hispanic women were significant. The observed increase from 2019 to 2020 for non-Hispanic White women was not significant.”
“It’s not just about choices, because a lot of Black and brown and indigenous women don’t have a choice, that’s the reality,” Hawkins said. “That choice is not an option for some people and we have to … make that so because abortion is an economic issue. It’s an issue about differential access for people of different colors.”
Irène Mathieu, a pediatrician, said there are many reasons, including medical reasons such as an ectopic pregnancy, a person may need an abortion and “none of them are our business.”
“It is between that person and their doctor and any loved ones they choose to involve whether and when they will undergo an abortion,” she said. “…Please remember that this is a medically-necessary, life-saving aspect of healthcare that we cannot give up without losing more lives.”