On Saturday, October 2nd, the organizers behind the Women’s March will be staging marches and rallies across the country to protest restrictive abortion legislation like the law that just took effect in Texas. Since its inception, the Women’s March has come under heavy scrutiny for centering white cis women in its mission to “harness the political power” of women across the country. This year, the organization made a more conscious effort to commit to a grassroots approach, inviting activists and community leaders to host their own pro-abortion rallies in their respective states amongst their respective communities. The result is the Rally for Abortion Justice: over 600 “sister marches” occurring in concert with the main rally that will take place in Washington, DC.
In the lead-up to the events, Jezebel spoke with three organizations who have joined their power with that of the Women’s March team in order to create what they all hope to be a more equitable abortion-focused set of demonstrations that could potentially turn the tide in how the country talks about and legislates the procedure.
Michelle Colon, Co-Founder of SHERO Mississippi
Michelle Colon is an abortion freedom fighter, and the organization she founded, Sistahs Helping Every Woman Rise and Organize (SHERO), is steeped in the fight to bring reproductive justice to the Black and brown communities of Mississippi. Colon made it abundantly clear that while her organization will be hosting a sister event to the Women’s March DC rally, it will be and must be more than a vague symbolic attempt to protect women’s rights. “I was very adamant that I’m not going to do a ‘women’s march,’ because so many people who show up for these marches, especially here in Mississippi, did not come out to support abortion rights. There are still a lot of people who want to be ‘pro-woman,’ but they don’t want to talk about abortion,” Colon told Jezebel.
While conversations about abortion have long been the clarion call of white feminists who view reproductive justice as the be-all-end-all of the feminist movement, Colon brings a perspective to that conversation that fully encompasses the history of Black and brown people and the medical discrimination they’ve faced in this United States for decades. This, she explains, is why it’s so important to be a source of information and empathy in her community. “It’s a huge problem for us because we already experience various biases,” Colon said. “When we go to the doctor, there’s coercion, disrespect, devaluing. So there’s a lot of obstacles for Black and brown women [when going] to the doctor, period. [We] have a history in the medical healthcare system when it used to be, [doctors] didn’t want to provide us with care or they wanted us to be guinea pigs in their experiments.” In some cases, Colon said, “they’ve allowed us to die.”
Like many other organizers, Colon sees the current moment as a last stand for some states. “We are at a standpoint where if the Supreme Court upholds the ban out of Mississippi, we are going to lose Roe in the south,” Colon warned, noting that anyone seeking an abortion in Mississippi would have to travel Florida, Illinois, of Kansas in order to see a provider.
Margie Del Castillo, national director of field and advocacy, The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice
Staring down a similar situation of provider loss is Margie Del Castillo and the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice, a group that is on the ground in Virginia, Texas, New York, and Florida. Once Del Castillo mentioned Texas during our call, the conversation took a necessary shift to how the undocumented population in Texas was being affected by SB 8. “We organize in the Rio Grande Valley, specifically,” Del Castillo said, referring to the southernmost portion of the state. “There’s a lot of Border Patrol interaction and checkpoints along the Rio Grande Valley. So when you think about our members, a lot of who are undocumented in that area, if they were to try to access care, a lot of times that’s difficult, because of the addition of the Border Patrol.”
Del Castillo explained that people who get stopped are checkpoints don’t always have the necessary documentation that would allow them to leave a specific area. So those seeking an abortion in a region with no providers don’t even have the option to travel to another state to seek care. “You can imagine that abortion care is essentially out of the hands of people in those situations,” she adds.
Despite the odds, Del Castillo is optimistic for the future, not only because she has to be in order to continue in this field of work, but because of this “historic mobilization for abortion, access, and justice” taking place on October 2nd which includes over 100 organizations. Most importantly, she said, these events are being helmed by “folks who are most impacted” by the lack of abortion access. “That’s Black women, that’s BIPOC. It’s people of color,” Del Castillo said.
While positive change is coming, in Del Castillo’s view, she admits it will be slow-moving. “In the meantime, we’re doing that long-term cultural shift work to get us there. We’re doing that education in our communities. We’re doing work in the media to change the narrative, to change the stigma about abortion.”
Lindsay Rodriguez, Communications Director, National Network of Abortion Funds
The various stigmas surrounding abortion are often what prevent people from engaging with the topic altogether. Some choose to view it as a moral or spiritual issue rather than a medical procedure that cannot be overruled by feelings and moral ambiguities. Lindsay Rodriguez poignantly described abortion access as, “an intersection of economic issues and racial justice issues.”
Rodriguez argued that this distinction is what could bring progressive politicians into alignment with pro-abortion activists. “Progressives who consider themselves progressive, but maybe not abortion activists or advocates really need to take to heart and learn more about how the majority of people who have abortions are parents already. Many of them say they’re having abortions because they can’t afford another child,” Rodriguez explained. She added that lack of abortion access is also an issue of worker’s protection for the people who “can’t get paid time off or sick time and can’t get their abortions, so either way they lose wages.”
The people receiving the brunt of that wage loss are people of color, according to Rodriguez, a loss that is only compounded by the lack of access to other kinds of healthcare. “I think that anybody that is a proponent of economic justice and racial justice really needs to view abortion access as a very, very specific, very critical microcosm of those issues.”
On Saturday, every state across the US will hold an in-person or virtual event calling for improved access to abortion. To join or donate to your local march or rally, visit the Women’s March website and enter your city and state for more information.