Abortion rights advocates march across U.S. to protest restrictive laws

Women's rights advocates will join 660 marches planned around the United States on Saturday to protest against recent efforts to restrict abortion access, including a new Texas law that bans abortions after about six weeks.

Solidarity marches held in Canada

Mo Johnson speaks on a megaphone as other women's rights advocates participate in the Rally for Abortion Justice in Austin on Saturday. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

The latest:

  • Hundreds of demonstrations held Saturday across the United States and Canada under the banner "Rally for Abortion Justice."
  • Several U.S. states have passed restrictive abortion laws, including Texas which rewards citizens with $10,000 if they sue someone who helps a person obtain an illegal abortion.
  • Protesters in Washington, D.C., are heading to the U.S. Supreme Court, where justices are expected to soon vote on state abortion laws and could ultimately overturn abortion rights across the country.

Women's rights advocates gathered at the Texas capitol on Saturday to protest against the United States' most restrictive abortion law, launching a series of 660 marches around the United States in support of reproductive freedom.

A crowd of more than 1,000 protesters assembled in sweltering heat in front of the Austin building where lawmakers earlier this year passed a measure that bans abortions after about six weeks, which Gov. Greg Abbott later signed.

Amy Rigall and grandson Jordan participate in a rally in Austin on Saturday as part of the nationwide Women's March. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)
Women's rights advocates take part in the rally in Austin, Texas, on Saturday. The state recently introduced a near-total ban on abortion procedures and access to abortion-inducing medications. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

"Abort Abbott" appeared on several of the demonstrators' signs and T-shirts, while others sported the Texas state slogan, "Come and Take It" next to a drawing of a uterus.

"Our vision for Texas is still rugged and resilient," Ann Howard, a commissioner of Travis County, which includes Austin, told the crowd. "But it's also open and inclusive and compassionate. Our Texas safeguards individual freedoms."

Supreme Court to consider Mississippi case

In Washington, D.C., protesters marched to the U.S. Supreme Court two days before the court reconvenes for a session in which the justices will consider a Mississippi case that could enable them to overturn abortion rights established in the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade case.

Appointments of justices by former president Donald Trump have strengthened conservative control of the high court.

Thousands of women filled a square near the White House for a rally before the march. Many waved signs that said "Mind your own uterus," "I love someone who had an abortion" and "Abortion is a personal choice, not a legal debate," among other messages. 

Demonstrators rally during the Women's March "Rally for Abortion Justice" at Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C. on Saturday. (Jose Luis Magana/The Associated Press)

Some wore T-shirts reading simply "1973," a reference to the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, which made abortion legal for generations of American women.

Elaine Baijal, a 19-year-old student at American University, took cellphone photos with her friends and their signs as the event started. She said her mother told her of coming to a march for legal abortion with her own mother in the 1970s.

"It's sad that we still have to fight for our right 40 years later. But it's a tradition I want to continue," Baijal said of the march.

Court denied attempt to block Texas ban

In a 5-4 decision on Sept. 1, Supreme Court justices denied a request from abortion and women's health providers to block enforcement of the near-total ban in Texas, the strictest such law in the country.

"This is kind of a break-glass moment for folks all across the country," said Rachel O'Leary Carmona, executive director of Women's March, the main organizer of Saturday's demonstrations.

"Many of us grew up with the idea that abortion would be legal and accessible for all of us, and seeing that at very real risk has been a moment of awakening," she said.

The march is part of "a fight to secure, safeguard, and strengthen our constitutional right to an abortion … And it's a fight against the Supreme Court justices, state lawmakers, and senators who aren't on our side — or aren't acting with the urgency this moment demands."

Second-biggest demonstration after Trump's inauguration

Carmona said the number of marches scheduled for Saturday is second only to the group's first protest, which mobilized millions of people around the world to rally against Trump the day after his inauguration in 2017.

Saturday's marches will take place from coast to coast, including in cities across Texas, a flashpoint in the nation's battle over abortion rights. A number of events are also being held in Canada to show solidarity with women in the U.S., including in Winnipeg, Halifax and St. John's.

Hundreds of people gathered on the Manitoba legislative grounds in Winnipeg.

Demonstrators held signs that said, "Abortion is essential health care," and "Keep your nose out of my uterus." Others wore costumes from The Handmaid's Tale, referencing the fictional book and TV show set in a totalitarian regime where women are treated as property.

"Everyone with a uterus should be able to access the reproductive health they need — not what we think they need," said speaker Blandine Tona, the program director of the Women's Health Clinic.

Blandine Tona, the program director of the Women's Health Clinic spoke at the Rally for Reproductive Justice in Winnipeg on Saturday. She says it's important that everyone with a uterus have access to necessary health services like abortions. (Zoe Le Gallic Massie/SRC)
Hundreds of people gathered on Manitoba's legislative grounds on Saturday to take part in the Rally for Reproductive Justice. Participants were there to stand in solidarity with Texans affected by legislation that bans most abortions. (Rosalie Loiselle/SRC)

Texas has outlawed abortion after six weeks

Texas's so-called "heartbeat" law, which went into effect on Sept. 1, bans abortion after cardiac activity is detected in the embryo, usually around six weeks. That is before most women know they are pregnant and earlier than 85 to 90 per cent of all abortions are carried out, experts say.
Texas also lets ordinary citizens enforce the ban, rewarding them at least $10,000 if they successfully sue anyone who helped provide an illegal abortion.

WATCH | Texas 'heartbeat' law could force U.S. Supreme Court to revisit Roe v. Wade: 

Texas passes law banning abortions after six weeks

8 months ago
Duration 4:02
Texas has passed one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the U.S., banning abortion after about six weeks of pregnancy. Abortion providers say many women don't even know they're pregnant at that time. 4:02

Abortion rights advocates and the U.S. Justice Department have challenged the law in state and federal courts, arguing that it violates Roe v. Wade.
A federal judge in Austin on Friday heard the Justice Department's request to block the law temporarily while its constitutionality is challenged.

In New York, Gov. Kathy Hochul spoke at rallies in Seneca Falls and then Albany. "I'm sick and tired of having to fight over abortion rights," she said. "It's settled law in the nation and you are not taking that right away from us — not now, not ever."

At an unrelated event in Maine, Republican Sen. Susan Collins called the Texas law "extreme, inhumane and unconstitutional" and said she's working to make Roe v. Wade the "law of the land."

She said she's working with two Democrats and another Republican, and they're "vetting" the language of their bill. Collins declined to identify her colleagues, but said the legislation will be introduced soon.

'The fight is at your doorstep'

The Texas law was a focus of the speakers in Washington.

"We're going to keep giving it to Texas," Marsha Jones of the Afiya Center for Black women's health care in Dallas, pledged to the crowd. "You can no longer tell us what to do with our bodies!"

Alexis McGill Johnson, the president of Planned Parenthood nationally, told of women forced to drive many hours across state lines — sometimes multiple state lines — to end pregnancies in the weeks since the Texas law went into effect.

"The moment is dark … but that is why we are here," Johnson told the crowd packed into Freedom Square and surrounding streets. With the upcoming Supreme Court term, "No matter where you are, this fight is at your doorstep right now."

Demonstrators take part in a Women's March in Houston on Saturday. More than 600 events are taking place under the banner Rally for Abortion Justice across the United States ahead of a new session of the Supreme Court that's expected to rule on restrictive state abortion laws. (Go Nakamura/Reuters)

An opponent of women's access to abortion called this year's march theme "macabre." 

"What about equal rights for unborn women?" tweeted Jeanne Mancini, president of an anti-abortion group called March for Life.

A supporter of reproductive choice takes part in the nationwide Women's March "Rally for Abortion Justice" in Columbus, Ohio, Saturday. (Megan Jelinger/Reuters)

With files from The Associated Press, CBC News and CBC's Rachel Bergen