Opposition Builds Against Anti-Abortion Rallies Planned in Major Cities

Reproductive freedom activists are organizing counter-protests to tell the truth about abortion.

The Trust Women Silver Ribbon Campaign, a movement that brings together groups supporting reproductive freedom, has petitioned San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee to take down these banners, calling their statements hate speech and false.
Photo Credit: Alex Parkin

The lightposts alongside San Francisco’s Market St., its main thoroughfare, usually provide a welcoming touch to the city, adorned with snowflakes in the winter or rainbow flags during Pride. But the current banners are causing alarm—they read: “Abortion Hurts Women,” in advertisement for the anti-abortion Walk for Life rally happening in the city on January 25.

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The Trust Women Silver Ribbon Campaign, a movement that brings together groups supporting reproductive freedom, has petitioned San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee to take down the banners, calling their statements hate speech and false. 

The campaign’s co-director, Ellen Shaffer, told the local ABC News: "The truth is that abortion is one of the safest procedures women can have.… access to safe and legal abortions are critical to women's health."

While the mayor rejected the campaign’s demand, the city’s Board of Supervisors has come out in support of the banners’ removal.

Supervisor David Campos told ABC, "I think that we in government have a responsibility to be on record saying that, you know, in San Francisco we do trust women, we respect their right to decide for themselves and we're going to protect that right.”

Campos has sponsored a resolution to determine whether the banners violate city law. The Department of Public Works said it doesn't consider content when issuing banner permits, it only makes sure they don’t contain profanity or nudity.

But the banners are only part of the larger story on what’s in store next week for both San Francisco and Washington, D.C. On Wednesday, January 22, the March for Life in D.C. may draw hundreds of thousands of people; last year 650,000 people joined the march. In San Francisco on Saturday, January 25, tens of thousands may march down Market St. About 50,000 people attended last year’s event. Big church groups and Christian schools bus many of these marchers into the cities.

“A lot of them are kids who have never heard a counter opinion,” says Sunsara Taylor. Taylor is an initiator of Stop Patriarchy, a national movement against all forms of degradation of women, which, for its second year, is holding counter-protests in both cities. “So we feel it’s of great importance having them be exposed to a scientific-based, reality-based concept of what a fetus actually is, and what implications it has for women’s lives if they don’t have abortion rights.”

Women who have had abortions make up another large chunk of participants. 

Taylor said, “Huge numbers of them carry tremendous amount of shame and guilt that they should not be forced to feel.”

Taylor said counter-protests are vital, even in mostly liberal cities like San Francisco, because many people have not yet truly heard a pro-abortion argument. She said:

There’s a really dangerous, smug sense of ‘Oh we’re too enlightened for that,’ which is one, completely immoral because across this country this right is being snatched away from women, and it’s immoral to abandon women elsewhere just because you’re in a place like San Francisco. And two, it’s completely delusional to think that what’s going on in the rest of the country, if it’s not reversed, won’t come to where you are. And the fact is, even in San Francisco, young people have never heard an argument that is unapologetic about abortion.

Taylor and Stop Patriarchy urge that: “Fetuses are not babies. Abortion is not murder. Women are not incubators.” Taylor said, “Not many have heard a pro-abortion, unapologetic, unencumbered argument. … And no one is going to fight if they don’t understand it’s completely moral and necessary to have abortion.”

Taylor says members of Stop Patriarchy typically carry signs that read, “Abortion on demand and without apology.” So when the group did an Abortion Rights Freedom Ride this summer rallying for abortion rights around the nation, people would read the signs and still ask which side they were on.

Taylor said they realized that when ‘abortion’ is said, people assume whoever said it is against it.

“They’ve heard the word ‘choice,’ but nobody has heard the word ‘abortion’ with people being supportive of it. … It’s indicative of why people need to hear this pro-abortion argument.”

At the counter-protests, Stop Patriarchy supporters will hold signs, chant, pass out literature and engage in dialogue with passersby.

Taylor said that observing participants of these protests really illustrates “the full program of the Christian fascists’ assault on abortion.”

She continued:

People come out whenever they try to pass legal restrictions and say it’s for the health of the mother … and they tone down their message. But when you are there on the street you actually hear people praying to break the curse of independence that has afflicted women. You hear people praying and being open about how women should submit to their husbands as they do to the lord, which is in the Bible. You hear these things being said, so it’s sort of a sobering and educating experience for those who stand up against this on the pro-choice side.

In order to mobilize people for the counter-protests, Taylor said Stop Patriarchy is getting the word out on college campuses, flyering the public and talking to the media. Taylor said that while many people support access to abortion, they don’t understand the state of emergency the country is in regarding this access.

While Roe v. Wadewill mark its 41st anniversary on January 22, Taylor said now more than ever is the time to stand up for women’s rights to abortion after the “unrelenting assault” in recent years.

In 2013 alone, 22 states enacted 70 provisions that sought to restrict access to abortion services. And there's no sign of letting up this year. Just on Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee passed an anti-abortion bill that would deny tax subsidies to women under the Affordable Care Act if their insurance covers abortion.  

Taylor said:

At a time with record restrictions against women’s right to abortion, it is mandatory that people stand up publicly in protest, demanding abortion on demand without apology, raising the truth that women are human beings, fetuses are not, and that we can’t rely on the courts, the legislatures or the ballot box to defeat this assault on women’s rights. We have to rely on ourselves.

To protest the March for Life, gather in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, noon on January 22.To protest the Walk for Life in San Francisco, gather at the intersection of Powell and Market streets at 1pm on January 25. For more information, to sign up for notifications or email a local chapter, visit the website.

Alyssa Figueroa is an associate editor at AlterNet.