DOWNTOWN — Thousands rallied Downtown Friday to rebuke the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and drastically scale back reproductive rights throughout the country.
Joined by Gov. JB Pritzker and chanting, “my body, my choice” and “bans off our bodies,” protesters joined demonstrations organized by Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights and a coalition of local groups including ACLU of Illinois, the Chicago Abortion Fund and Planned Parenthood Illinois Action.
People carried signs reading:
“Get your rosaries off our ovaries.”
“I will not quietly go back to the 1950s.”
“Abortion is health care.”
“I’m over the sad part and ready to do something”
Following a rally at Federal Plaza, 230 S. Dearborn St., the growing crowd marched, skateboarded, biked and roller skated down Dearborn, Madison Avenue and State Street banging tambourines and plastic drums, and setting off noisemakers as drivers in passing cars honked in support. At one point, the protesters sat in the street at Ida B Wells Drive and Dearborn for a moment of silence.
“I think it’s important that people be out in the streets,” said Cindy Plante of Rogers Park. “This is an untenable situation. We are in a position now to have less rights than our moms in a country that supposedly stands for freedom. For us to be going backwards now when so many others are liberalizing abortion rights, I don’t even quite have the words. We need to make this country ungovernable if this is gonna continue.”
Liz Hammond of Noble Square said she felt “immediately disheartened” at the announcement.
“I saw the news and shut the laptop. … I even stopped working for a bit. I just felt like, ‘I’m done with this; I have to hit streets,'” said Hammond, who roller skated at the front of the crowd. “They’re trying to make it about babies and I think it’s about controlling women’s bodies, and that infuriates me so I found myself here.”
Melissa, a mom from Archer Heights, said she felt “every woman has the right to make the choice that’s right for her family.”
“I have had abortion and I can’t even imagine what my life would have been like had I not,” Melissa said. “I have a daughter; I’m here for her. I’m the youngest of six daughters, so this is a very important moment in our history. We can’t go back to what women’s health was like prior to having this choice. These our are bodies. I know what’s best for me and my health and my family — nobody else.”
Pritzker criticized the court’s decision when it leaked in the spring and has pledged to protect abortion access in Illinois.
Addressing the crowd, the governor yelled: “We will not go back!”
“Let me be clear with a two-word response to this ruling … hell no!” Pritzker said. “Here in the state of Lincoln and the home state of Barack Obama where we were the first to legalize women’s suffrage, we will not go back. Not in Illinois.
“To the right wing politicians celebrating this decision. Get your boot off the necks of women!”
The protest is among numerous demonstrations blasting the decision across the country.
At 77, Coral Norris of Evanston has seen the battle for reproductive rights in the U.S. before and after Roe v. Wade.
“I’ve been fighting for this over 50 years,” Norris said. “I’m glad to see so many young people out here. I was in my 20s when abortion was illegal and I saw what happens to women when they try to get them, and one friend of mine almost died. Women are always gonna get abortions; it’s just important it’s safe.”
About half of states are expected to quickly ban abortions. Experts have said millions of people will soon live in abortion “deserts” where they cannot access care, leading to a surge in patients coming from outside Illinois.
Providers like Planned Parenthood Illinois had already been spread thin in recent years as nearby states clamped down on reproductive health care and more people had to travel to Illinois. Now, Planned Parenthood Illinois could see double to five times as many out-of-state patients coming to Illinois for abortion care, its president has said.
Despite the ruling, local officials have pledged Chicago and Illinois will remain a “haven” where people can access abortions and other forms of reproductive health care. The city has also pledged $500,000 to help people.
Dr. Amy Whitaker, chief medical officer of Planned Parenthood Illinois, told the crowd they expect every state bordering Illinois to ban or restrict abortion.
“Abortion is normal. Abortion is safe, abortion is healthcare and abortion is absolutely essential,” Witticker said. “If you are standing in this crowd wondering what you can do, I will tell you what you can do, VOTE. Illinois must remain a safe haven for abortion care but that is not guaranteed. Do not be complacent, do not think it can’t happen here.”
Katy Groves of Oak Park brought her two children to protest, each with tambourines.
“It’s part of my parenting to take them to protests because there’s so much to fight for right now,” Groves said. “I didn’t think this would happen in my lifetime. My mom had an abortion in ’74. We always knew about it growing up. I’ve been pro-choice my whole life.”
Groves carried a sign, “Abortions for Ohioans,” lamenting the scaled back protections in that state. Hours after the Supreme Court’s ruling was out, a federal judge in Ohio allowed a ban on abortions after six weeks — before most people know they are pregnant — to take effect.
“I can’t believe that were going to be providing abortion assistance for my Ohio relatives and friends in Illinois, but that’s the way it is now,” Groves said.
Alex Esposito of Lakeview said they felt “sad, depressed, but now just angry.”
“I know Chicago is a safe place for abortion, but I just wanted to demonstrate some solidarity with people in more precarious situations across the country, and I also think our local leaders need to help people have access to abortion in other states,” Esposito said. “I’m over the sad part and ready to do something.”
“I think the tendency when we get very bad news like this is to have a feeling of hopelessness and helplessness, said Teresa Becvar of Lincoln Square. “And it really helps to join collective action in those times to see everyone else out there who feels the same way as you. It’s energizing and we have a lot of work to do.”
Plante, referring to Justice Clarence Thomas’ dissent that the court should also review decisions that legalized contraception, same-sex relationships and same-sex marriage, said she feared rights for other marginalized people are in the crosshairs.
“Gay people are next; birth control is next. They’ve said as much,” Plante said.
Pritzker called a special session of the General Assembly on Friday so representatives can take action to further protect reproductive health care. As part of that, lawmakers could consider bills to provide support for people from other states coming to Illinois to receive an abortion, WTTW reported.
“In Illinois, we trust women,” Pritzker said in a statement. “Despite the action of the Supreme Court today overturning Roe v. Wade, the right to safe, accessible reproductive health care is in full force in Illinois — and will remain so.”
Mayor Lori Lightfoot, speaking at a news conference, said Chicago will continue to fight for a person’s right to choose — and she encourages people in need of care to come to the city for safe abortions and then stay permanently.
“While this feels painful, this is not the end of the fight,” Lightfoot said. “It’s a setback, for sure; but we have to be resolved to fight on because lives are hanging in the balance.”
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