Demonstrators surged into downtown Seattle late Friday to protest the Supreme Court’s extraordinary decision to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling and eliminate the constitutional right to an abortion.
Hundreds rallied in Westlake Park, hundreds more crowded outside the Henry M. Jackson Federal Building and another large group spilled through Yesler Terrace Park, venting anger at the court and sharing moments of sadness while vowing to take their fight to the ballot and beyond.
“We don’t care what any court has to say. We will never stop helping each other,” Amelia Bonow, director of Shout Your Abortion, said at the Yesler Terrace rally, where demonstrators wrote letters expressing support for abortion providers in red states who will likely be forced to shut their doors.
News of the court’s historic decision broke Friday morning, stirring horror for many Washington residents and approval from others as they contemplated a new era in reproductive rights for Americans. The moment met with strong reactions not only on the streets but also from various political leaders, corporate titans and Seattle sports teams.
“It’s an atrocity,” said Margo Heights, an organizer with the Seattle chapter of Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights, who helped put together the Westlake Park rally that grew in number and volume as the summer sun beat down on demonstrators chanting: “This decision must not stand! Legal abortion on demand!”
They waved green signs with slogans like “Abort the Court” and “Forced Motherhood = Female Enslavement.”
“We need legal abortion on demand nationwide, and we need to demand that the federal government codify this right,” Heights said.
At a rally outside the Federal Building, demonstrator Gina Petry seethed over the court’s decision. Demonstrators blocked Second Avenue between Madison and Marion streets.
“We knew this day was going to come, but when the reality hits, it’s just horrible,” Petry said. “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.”
Relatively new to activism, Noelle Holbert said she made her way downtown Friday because “I don’t want to be in my room scrolling on my phone while the world is crumbling. … It feels like my rights are being stripped away.” Sarah Shapiro and Carrie Campbell recalled protests they attended decades ago “about the same damn stuff.” Campbell called that infuriating.
Demonstrators marched Friday night from Westlake Park to merge with the Federal Building crowd, with a police vehicle bringing up the rear. Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant called for “mass action and civil disobedience” and other speakers shared their personal abortion stories before the group of more than 1,000 marched on.
Few anti-abortion demonstrators showed up in Seattle, though some conservatives, like Julie Barrett, founder of Conservative Ladies of Washington, were exchanging happy messages Friday, Barrett said. Her organization tweeted, “Today we celebrate the victory for HUMAN LIFE!”
U.S. Sen. Patty Murray and the state’s other Democratic leaders in Congress pointed to November elections as an outlet for anger and outrage, while local leaders like King County Executive Dow Constantine and Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell pledged funding for abortion access.
“As one of the one in four women in this country who has had an abortion, I am outraged for what this will mean,” particularly for disadvantaged women and women in abusive relationships, U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal said in a statement.
“We must channel our anger into organizing and make it clear the right to abortion is on the ballot in November,” added Jayapal, who represents most of Seattle.
Yet U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, a Republican who represents Yakima, called the court’s decision “a victory for our most vulnerable.”
Gov. Jay Inslee issued a joint statement with his counterparts from California and Oregon, promising to preserve the West Coast as a haven for people seeking and doctors providing abortions. The states will deny cooperation with out-of-state investigations, inquiries and arrests regarding abortions in Washington, California and Oregon, among other steps.
“Washington state remains steadfast in our commitment to protect the ability and right of every patient who comes to our state in need of abortion care, and we will fight like hell to restore that right to patients all across the country,” Inslee said in a statement.
Constantine proposed directing $500,000 to the Northwest Abortion Action Fund and $500,000 to Public Health – Seattle & King County for reproductive health care, while Harrell proposed $250,000 for the Action Fund, which runs a toll-free hotline, helps pay for abortions and helps people traveling with places to stay.
“The Supreme Court’s decision is dangerous, outrageous, and an unacceptable step back for generations of women now and to come,” Harrell said in a statement. “Maternal mortality will increase. Infant mortality will increase. Poverty will rise. … Where we can counter this, we must.”
The Metropolitan King County Council and Seattle City Council must approve the allocations and are likely to do so. Sawant said Friday she would also propose legislation making Seattle a “sanctuary city” for abortions.
In addition to striking down Roe, the court may next “carry out draconian attacks on LGBTQ rights,” she warned.
Meanwhile, two major Washington corporations, Microsoft and Starbucks, announced they will reimburse abortion travel expenses for certain employees, though Microsoft did not say whether the company will change its data practices to improve privacy for people seeking abortions in response to concerns raised by some experts.
A Washington law approved at the ballot in 1991 guarantees the right to an abortion until the point that a fetus becomes viable, and that law remains in effect, with Democrats currently controlling the state Legislature here. But Friday’s decision will reverberate in Washington, nonetheless.
Inslee and abortion-rights activists have called for a state constitutional amendment to guard against the chance that lawmakers or voters could pass a new law restricting abortions.
Local anti-abortion activists are saying they want to capitalize on this moment. The Washington State Catholic Conference commended the court’s decision Friday, saying the Catholic Church welcomes “an opportunity to reduce the number of abortions in the U.S. and build a culture of life.”
Researchers focusing on reproductive rights expect Washington to see a huge increase in abortion patients coming from other states, including Idaho — where a law triggered Friday will make it a crime to perform an abortion.
“We’re certainly expecting an increase,” and jammed clinics will be challenged to adjust, said Courtney Normand, the Washington state director for Planned Parenthood’s advocacy arm.
Though she and her colleagues have been planning for Roe’s demise for years, “Some of us are numb, and the emotions come in waves,” she said.
“We’re encouraging people to share their stories and talk to each other, because abortion is normal and common and it’s health care,” she added. “The more people connect, the more healing can happen and hopefully the more political change we can see.”
Normand is concentrated on this year’s legislative contests, she said, noting that Washington Republicans have proposed abortion bans multiple times, including recently. The current election cycle is “one of the most pivotal in our lifetime … with all aspects of body autonomy and privacy on the line” now that the court has punted to the states, she said.
The Seattle Sounders men’s soccer team issued a statement Friday backing abortion rights, as did the Seattle Storm women’s basketball team.
Megan Rapinoe, a soccer star with Seattle’s OL Reign, also spoke out, saying the court’s decision would keep “not one child safer.” Rather than stopping abortions, she said, the change will stop “safe abortions.”
At the Yesler Terrace Park rally, Bonow, with Shout Your Abortion, called abortion access a “community responsibility” that includes supporting clinics and spreading information about safe-to-use abortion pills.
Downtown at the Federal Building protest, Taverna Hollingsworth said she grew up Christian and decided people should have the right to choose an abortion after much soul-searching. Now she’s wondering what comes next.
“I don’t know what we do,” she said. “Vote?”
Seattle Times reporters Paige Cornwell, Sarah Grace Taylor, Amanda Zhou, Brendan Kiley, Maya Miller, Michelle Baruchman, Kate Shefte, Renata Geraldo, Daisy Zavala Magaña, Omar Shaikh Rashad, Alison Saldanha and Nina Shapiro contributed.