Several thousand people flooded Seattle’s Cal Anderson Park on Saturday, carrying signs reading “Abortion is health care” and “Hands off my uterus,” part of rallies nationwide in defense of abortion rights.
Organized by local abortion providers and advocates, the Seattle event drew supporters of all ages, women sharing stories about their experiences with abortion, and a presence from an array of progressive groups, including Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, Northwest Abortion Access Fund and several socialist groups.
Supporters joined a chant of “Bans off our bodies.” Several donned “Handmaid’s Tale” costumes, and one wore a T-shirt reading “Don’t tread on me” — signs of resistance to the leaked draft U.S. Supreme Court opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade and, advocates say, bring a dangerous rollback of civil rights and established rights to privacy.
In the crowd, 79-year-old Naomi Rhoads said she had an abortion in her late 20s, before Roe, and now sees the country sliding backward.
“My family had enough money. They put me on a plane to London,” Rhoads said. There, Rhoads saw “six women who had been on the plane” also seeking abortions.
“It is very clear to me from that experience that laws against abortion only affect poor women and poor families and they are a war against the poor,” said Rhoads, a retired acupuncturist and massage therapist. “Because the wealthy ones and even the middle-class ones will find a way to get [an] abortion done by a medical professional.”
Nationwide, more than 380 events were scheduled Saturday, organizers said, including in Everett and Olympia. Thousands of abortion-rights supporters also rallied at the Idaho State Capitol.
After the demonstration wrapped up on Seattle’s Capitol Hill, more than 1,000 demonstrators marched toward downtown and through Pike Place Market, led by the group Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights. “Not the church. Not the state. People will decide their fate,” the group chanted near Seventh Avenue and Pine Street.
The crowd grew to span several blocks as tourists looked on. A woman carrying a white plastic Chukar Cherries bag left the sidewalk to join the march briefly. Under one of the iconic “Public Market” signs, marchers laid down in a “die in” to underscore the dangers of illegal abortions.
U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., offered support for the protests. “We have no choice but to keep fighting — that’s what people across the country are turning out to do,” Murray said in a statement.
Dasha Oluokun, 20, came to Cal Anderson Park with a homemade sign that said, “Let’s Talk About the Elephant in the Womb,” a reference to Republicans opposing abortion. “I hope protests around all the major cities, not only in Washington but in the United States, can make the Supreme Court turn their head,” Oluokun said.
If Roe v. Wade is overturned, abortion laws would not change in Washington, where the state legalized abortions in 1970 and a 1991 ballot measure codified Roe v. Wade into state law.
But the state likely would see an influx of people traveling from other states, including Idaho, where it would become a felony to perform an abortion except for narrow exceptions. To boost access, some advocates hope to see Washington state set aside funding to help cover the costs of abortion, similar to a $15 million plan in Oregon.
“We must make it obvious and known that we are a sanctuary state,” said Dawn Dailey, 46, unfurling a massive sign on the lawn reading, “Save Roe.”
At the same time, Dailey said, “we must realize we, too, are at risk of having legislation overturned in this state” if conservative lawmakers gain influence.
Dailey said she became a parent as a teenager because she grew up in a religious area with “paternalistic, patriarchal pressures and expectations” and little access to abortion.
“I suffered housing and food and health care instabilities and poverty until I was able to finish school and gain a higher education,” Dailey said. “I don’t think anyone else should have those rights taken away from them.”
On stage, state Sen. Emily Randall, D-Bremerton, applauded state efforts to protect abortion access, but noted Republicans have controlled the state Senate in the past.
Protecting access in one state is not enough, Oluokun said. “I know I’m safe right now, but let’s say I move somewhere that’s more affordable, like Texas, then yes I would be afraid of my right to be able to get an abortion. I’m definitely scared for other people.”
Oluokun, who lives in Tacoma, said her mom became pregnant at 14 years old, wasn’t ready and had an abortion. “Then she got pregnant with me at 20 and felt it was the right time.”
“She said that she felt like that experience made her ready to have me,” Oluokun said, adding later, “I’ve never gotten pregnant, but if I had, I would want the ability to choose.”