Hundreds of abortion rights supporters gathered in Foley Square on Tuesday night to protest the wave of restrictive abortion laws recently passed across the country in states like Ohio, Georgia, Alabama, and Missouri.
The event was one of several #StopTheBans rallies that took place around the country, organized by abortion providers and civil rights groups including the ACLU, Planned Parenthood Action Fund and NARAL Pro-Choice America. Participants waved signs and chanted slogans: “My body, my right, won’t give up without a fight.”
The laws have yet to go into effect and will likely be challenged in court, but drafters of the legislation have said that the bills are intended to challenge the 1973 United States Supreme Court decision, Roe v. Wade.
Despite living in a state that just expanded access to abortion, many of the activists that gathered in lower Manhattan said the issue feels immediate and urgent.
“They need to know that we’re not far away,” said 37-year-old Melissa De Jesus, referring to the people in the affected states. “We’re with them, and we’re behind them, and we’ll fight for them, even if their representatives aren’t.”
New York lawmakers passed the Reproductive Health Act in January, expanding access to late-term abortions (after 24 weeks) in the case that the woman’s health is at risk or the fetus is not viable. The bill had previously failed to pass the state legislature when Republicans controlled the senate.
The protest in lower Manhattan brought together people of all ages, including two 65-year-old women who met each other that evening.
“We have a lot in common,” said Amy Sultan, standing next to Karen Shapiro. “You know, protesting our whole lives.”
Both Sultan and Shapiro said they were extremely disturbed by the laws passed in other states, many of which ban abortions as early as six weeks into pregnancy. They said the political effort to curtail abortion access seemed even more hostile than the era before Roe.
“The blessing of all of this, if there is a blessing, is that the mask is completely ripped off,” said Sultan. “This is really where we are. And we all have to stand up and [protest] all the time.”
Other attendees said they came to the protest with future generations in mind. Ryan Casupana and Christina Morris stood in the crowd with their 11-month-old son, Ethan.
“The things that we do today impact his life much later on, and his generation,” said Casupana.
Morris added that she was scared to think about how children might not eventually be able to make their own choices about reproduction.
“I find that terrifying,” she said, rocking her son while holding a protest sign.
For some participants, the series of antagonistic state laws has an inevitable association with future elections, particularly the 2020 presidential race.
“I think we've been on the defensive for too long, and now we have to strike back,” said Katie Miller, a Jersey City resident who works at an abortion clinic in New York City. “And I think 2020 — it’s gonna be the year for that.”