The right to abortion was won through mass pressure from citizens decades ago, and abortion-rights advocates hope similar pressure can protect the constitutional right as the U.S. Supreme Court considers its fate.
Many hundreds of people rallied at City Hall in support of abortion access Saturday, nearly two weeks after the leak of a Supreme Court draft ruling that would overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision and throw out the right to abortion. The Center City rally was one of more than 380 “Bans Off Our Bodies” demonstrations nationwide sponsored by the Women’s March, Planned Parenthood, and other groups. Supporters of abortion rights also planned rallies in West Chester, King of Prussia, Doylestown, and Wilmington.
Speakers in Center City said Saturday morning that mass actions such as rallies and walkouts can help preserve abortion rights and that voting had not prevented decades of states chipping away at Roe v. Wade protections and erecting barriers to abortions.
The crowd rallied to call for the Supreme Court to uphold Roe v. Wade, for Medicare for all that includes reproductive health benefits, and for legislation protecting abortion at the federal level. An effort to enshrine abortion rights in federal law failed in the Senate on Wednesday.
Saturday’s rallies followed a protest that abortion-rights advocates held May 3, the day after the draft opinion leaked, and walkouts Friday by students locally and nationally. The Supreme Court is expected to issue its final decision this summer.
Marty Harrison, a nurse at Temple University Hospital, called for more nationally coordinated days of action.
“Because Justice [Samuel] Alito’s draft decision is not yet final, this is a critical moment and not the time to take our foot off the gas,” she said.
Speakers told the crowd to donate to funds that help people access abortions, speak out in support of abortion rights, fight state legislation that would take away rights and funding for abortion, and recruit more people to the cause.
Polls show that most Americans want to preserve access to abortion — at least in the earlier stages of pregnancy — but the Supreme Court appeared to be poised to let the states have the final say. If the court overturns Roe v. Wade, which has protected abortion rights for nearly 50 years, roughly half of states, mostly in the South and Midwest, are expected to quickly ban abortion. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation into law this year that protects abortion rights in the Garden State.
Pennsylvania bans abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy. If the Supreme Court strikes down abortion rights, state legislators could send a more or less restrictive law to the governor. The leak of the draft opinion has made abortion rights an even more central focus of the race to replace Gov. Tom Wolf, who is in his final term in office, in 2023. As the midterm elections approach, Pennsylvania Democrats are rallying behind abortion rights to turn out voters.
At 10 a.m. Saturday outside City Hall, hundreds and hundreds of abortion-rights supporters spanned the sidewalk and all the lanes of John F. Kennedy Boulevard at its intersection with Broad Street.
Merryl Gladstone, a psychology graduate student at Temple University, told supporters they have to be loud and keep being loud.
“I want to thank you, Philadelphia, for making time on your Saturday and all the days moving forward to ensure that we’ve got legal, accessible abortions,” she said.
Maya Amor, an 18-year-old senior at Franklin Learning Center, organized a student walkout Friday that included students from surrounding schools and addressed the crowd Saturday.
“When I turned 18, I thought I would have the world at my fingertips, being able to do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted,” she said. “But shortly after, I got the rug ripped from underneath me. I found out that as a woman, I didn’t have the rights to my own organs.”
As protesters took to the street to march just after 11:30 a.m., they stretched along an entire side of City Hall.
The group moved down Market Street, chanting, waving signs, and banging empty buckets in the rain on the way to the federal courthouse at Sixth Street. They chanted “Whose streets? Our streets! Whose bodies? Our bodies!” and “We are ready to fight! Abortion is a human right!” Signs declared “protecting abortion requires more than voting” and “we will not go back” to a time before legal and safe abortions.
Some spectators showed their support. A woman at the wheel of a New Jersey Transit bus that was blocked by the marchers stuck a thumbs up out her window. An elderly woman with an elegant updo of gray braids pumped her fist in the air as she sat on a bus stop bench and watched the crowd pass. A driver blocked by the crowd at Seventh and Market Streets honked while raising a fist out the vehicle’s window.
Members of the crowd ranged from babies and toddlers to people who lived for decades before the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. They came from across the city and surrounding suburbs.
Missy Gibson, a middle-aged teacher who lives in Lansdowne, said she is frustrated these types of protests are still necessary.
“We are losing women’s rights, health-care rights, just the rights and agency over our own bodies again,” she said. “It doesn’t matter that it’s raining, if it was snowing. We have to fight. Sadly.”
The Associated Press contributed to this article.