Note: The Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt case has been identified as the most important abortion rights case in decades with the outcome having immediate, national implications. Spanning the course of three days, this blog documents the first-hand experience of waiting at the Supreme Court for that decision to be announced.
Monday June 20
On the next to last Monday in June, I went to my first SCOTUS protest for the Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt case. I have protested before, but never in front of the Supreme Court. This case was the biggest abortion case at the Supreme Court in 20 years. Texas’s TRAP laws, specifically H. B. 2, regulate both abortion clinics and abortion providers. This was supposedly to make abortions safer for women, but really, they’re aimed at making it as hard as possible to get an abortion.
When the big day arrived, I pulled on my feminist shirt and skipped off to court. My supervisors passed out signs and the rally began. We get in formation, holding up our signs proudly. Then an anti-abortion person steps directly in front of me and holds her sign so she’s blocking mine. This leads to a period of passive-aggressive shuffling and sign-waving with us ultimately parting ways.
We were told not to engage, so I settle for saying “Have a good day” to the anti’s I encounter. Faced with their hostility, this is surprisingly empowering. It’s hard to maintain civility when someone gets in your face and says she’s “pro-women” for wanting to restrict access to healthcare. I can’t imagine the mental gymnastics she took to get to that conclusion.
Then there’s the chanting. A reproductive health leader yells: “What do we want?” To which we respond: “Justice!” She asks again: “When do we want it?” And we scream in proud unison: “Now!”
The anti’s yell “Pro-women, pro-life!” We take up yelling “Pro-women, pro-choice!” My supervisor, Chelsea, walks along the line of protesters with a megaphone, while two anti-abortion protesters shout into their megaphones and try to get in Chelsea’s way. This continues until 10 A.M. when we’re told that the decision has not been given, but may come down at the end of the week.
Making my voice heard at the highest court in the land was a privilege I’ll always treasure, but the experience was toxic. I’ve counter-protested Neo-Nazis and the KKK, but protesting against the anti-abortion crowd at the Supreme Court was my worst experience demonstrating.
Thursday June 23
The second time we head back to SCOTUS, it’s pouring down rain. But I’ve got my Doc Martens on and my bandana tied around my head. I’m listening to Lemonade; I’m so ready.
The second time we headed back to SCOTUS, it’s pouring down rain. But I’ve got my Doc Martens on and my bandana tied around my head. I’m listening to Lemonade; I’m so ready.
I show up and find my fellow interns huddled under umbrellas and plastic ponchos. At this point, only abortion advocates are here, which is fine by me. We stand in a circle, holding our signs in solidarity with the 1 in 3 women who have an abortion in America. We know that we are also here for the millions of people across the country who have a stake in this fight, but can’t be here.
As the weather clears up, the anti-abortion protesters shove into our crowd. The tone immediately changes. Once they breach our group, they realize that we drastically outnumber them. They shove past us again and start linking arms in a human chain thereby blocking us from the rest of the sidewalk.
The rest of the protest is similar to the first. People block my sign; protesters attempt to shout over one another. I later become wrapped up in a giant anti-abortion banner because I stand my ground when the anti’s use it to push us back. Once we receive news that the decision won’t be given that morning, we begin chanting “I believe that we will win!” A woman next to me snaps, “A win for you is a loss for women,” and I stare at her in disbelief. H. B. 2 is a law that shut down dozens of clinics providing vital health services to women, along with abortions—and abortions will happen whether or not you believe in them. The closing of clinics forces people to resort to dangerous methods of ending their pregnancies. The only way women can lose is if they don’t have access to healthcare, like the kind provided by Whole Women’s Health Clinic.
Monday June 23
Third time’s the charm, because the third time we showed up at the Court: WE WON! In a 5-3 vote, SCOTUS struck down restrictions placed on Texas abortion clinics by H. B. 2. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg put it, “It is beyond all rational belief that H. B. 2 could genuinely protect the health of women.” This ruling is a victory for reproductive justice.
We arrived at SCOTUS at 7:30 A. M. and saw pro-choice activists were gathered on the left side of the Court. However, the anti-abortion protesters were poised perfectly in front of the hoard of news cameras on the right. We tried to walk through the anti’s to carve out some space for ourselves, but they linked arms and wouldn’t budge. No amount of verbal or physical pressure from our group would make them move. A police officer told them that they couldn’t block the sidewalk, but they didn’t move a muscle. The officer left it at that, so we promptly set up in front of them. Like with H. B. 2, anti-abortion activists seem preoccupied with cutting off access to anything and everything.
Unlike other mornings, today the pro-choice community showed up in full force. Young women carried witty, homemade signs with references to Leslie Knope and Notorious RBG, while others wore velvet, purple cowboy hats with a drawn-on uterus. I held a section of quilt that was well over 100 feet long. Each stitch represented the 5.4 million women potentially affected by the ruling. The sheer number of diverse, passionate people was spectacular. To know we were all united for reproductive justice was exhilarating. This is what democracy looks like, and it’s incredible when you get to be part of it.
I’ve now had the incredible privilege of having been present when the ruling of a major Supreme Court case was announced. As we counted the minutes down until verdicts were announced, we were a purple and pink spectacle. Feet aching, we were drenched in sweat from the muggy Washington heat. Our arms were throbbing from holding up signs for hours, and the chants had left our throats raw. None of that mattered in the chaotic celebration of shouting and hugging that erupted minutes after 10 A.M.. Details weren’t public yet—we only knew that SCOTUSblog had tweeted that Texas’s abortion laws were invalidated. Information started trickling in, as new sites quickly provide updated commentary. The news was better than we could have imagined.
In the wake of this SCOTUS victory, there is still so much more work to be done. Clinics are threatened with violence every single day. Anti-choice groups masquerade as health providers and deliberately mislead patients to keep them from opting for an abortion. TRAP laws prevent people who need abortions from getting the medical care they need. We have to remember that, even in the midst of celebrating. It will be a long, hard fight for reproductive justice. Days like this don’t happen too often. But when they do, they propel us onward, and reinvigorate us to fight the good fight.