Thousands of demonstrators marched in downtown Seattle Friday afternoon as businesses emptied and residents came together to protest Friday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision rolling back 50 years of precedent and restricting abortion rights nationwide.
A crowd estimated at roughly a thousand people gathered in front of the downtown Federal Building at Marion Street and Second Avenue. They were joined by another crowd of demonstrators at least that size which had marched from Westlake Plaza to join them. Most were women, angered over the high court’s ruling that the right to choose to end a pregnancy is not protected by the U.S. Constitution.
Their chants of “Jesus loves you, but not when you hate women” drowned out a sole Christian street evangelist praising the court’s decision to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling that had protected abortion rights since 1973.
A large crowd gathered earlier at Westlake Plaza, where demonstrators carried signs stating “Forced Motherhood = Female Enslavement,” “Protect women, not guns,” “Abort the court” and “Keep your theology off my biology.”
“It’s an atrocity,” said Margo Heights, an organizer with the Seattle chapter of Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights, which sponsored the Westlake gathering. Its members call for “abortion on demand and without apology.”
“It weighs heavily on all of us,” said Heights, who wore white pants stained red between the legs.
Rise Up is a national advocacy network whose organizers have been inspired by abortion-rights activists in Mexico and Columbia, where political activism and civil disobedience led governments in those countries to decriminalize abortion.
“Our main message right now today is that this decision must not stand, it’s illegitimate,” Heights said. “We need legal abortion on demand nationwide, and we need to demand that the federal government codify this right.”
Police late Friday reported two men were arrested at the protests. A 36-year-old man was arrested for obstruction, while a 32-year-old man was arrested for assault. The Seattle Police Department provided no additional details.
Speakers at the Westlake rally emphasized vigilance, even if abortion remains legal and available in Washington state for now, noting that Justice Clarence Thomas, in a concurring opinion, suggested the court should review rulings that have legalized same-sex marriage and access to contraception.
The gathering at the Federal Building was called by the coalition Puget Sound Mobilization for Reproductive Justice.
“I’m here because I’m angry about this decision,” said Gina Petry, one of the organizers. “We knew this day was going to come, but when the reality hits it’s just horrible. It’s important to come here and express our anger, but also to show that we are not going to give up. This is not the end of the road. We are going to keep fighting for reproductive justice.”
Noelle Holbert was there because she didn’t want to be home, scrolling on the phone “while the world is crumbling.”
Holbert, who works at a local Safeway, said she first got involved with activism during the protests for Black Lives Matter after the murder of George Floyd.
“When we first heard about the probability of this Supreme Court decision, I felt furious,” she said. “It feels like my rights are being stripped away, the rights of my mother are being stripped away.”
Holbert said she hopes Friday’s demonstration will push lawmakers to restore abortion by demand through Congress.
Nearby stood Sarah Shapiro and Carrie Campbell, who first rallied for reproductive rights more than three decades ago.
“I could show you a photo of the two of us in Washington, D.C., 20 years ago, protesting about the same damn stuff,” Campbell said. “It’s infuriating.”
They said their biggest hope for Friday’s protest wasn’t that the Supreme Court will change its mind, or even that legislators would feel pressured to act, but to reach out to voters and potential voters.
“The only way to change things to exercise power,” Campbell said. “We want to get out the vote and want to make people more aware of the issues at hand.”
By 5:30 p.m., a large crowd of demonstrators had blocked off Second Avenue between Madison and Marion streets, snarling traffic, and crowds from Westlake moved toward joining the Federal Building protesters.
The gatherings caused significant delays in transit services, according to King County Metro. More than a dozen bus routes were rerouted off of Second Avenue, near Marion Street. The public was advised to use stops north of Madison Street or south of Columbia Street.
Every few minutes the demonstration would stop and chant “Rise up for abortion rights!” Police presence was minimal, with a single Seattle Police SUV tailing the crowd.
Gatherings also were planned in Redmond, Renton, Everett, Westlake Plaza and Yesler Terrace.
While local advocates in favor of abortion access were loud in their outrage over the Supreme Court ruling, Washington state’s anti-abortion advocates cheered the ruling in a rather subdued fashion.
Some issued statements of support, but there was no immediate celebration of the long-sought conservative win, which gives individual states the ability to set its own abortion laws.
At the Westlake rally, one protester at the Federal Building, Brittney Mark, 36, of Des Moines, brought her 3-year-old daughter and said they had come to fight for women’s and girls’ rights. She called the ruling “ridiculous.” Another, Meredith Hogan, 44, said she was filled with rage over the decision.
Marisa, 31, who declined to give her last name, said her mother had an abortion in 1990 after suffering an incomplete miscarriage. She was born the following year.
Marisa said she was sexually assaulted when she was 14 and that her older brother took her to a Planned Parenthood clinic in Tacoma for the procedure. She said she was suicidal at the time and that the abortion was necessary for her mental health.
“It’s utterly tragic and disturbing and insane we still have to fight this,” she said.
Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant, speaking at the Federal Building, criticized the Democratic Party for failing to protect abortion rights and encouraged listeners to lean into “socialist feminism.”
“It is never their priority because their loyalty is always to the very rich” who may still to able to access abortion, she said. Sawant said Seattle should become an abortion “sanctuary city.”
At Yesler Terrace, roughly 250 people loudly affirmed their plans to “aid and abet” abortions regardless of the high court’s decision. Many carried signs in support of abortion providers, especially those in states where new laws will soon outlaw the procedure.
“We don’t care what any court has to say, we will never stop helping each other,” said Amelia Bonow, the founding director of Shout Your Abortion, who addressed the crowd.
“This is a [expletive deleted] slap in the face,” Bonow said. “Defiance is an option.”
Seattle Times staff reporter Mike Carter contributed to this report.