FROM WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Wednesday, thousands of activists gathered in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., eventually forcing police to close off part of First Street NE to accommodate the crowds. The sides had the predictable war of signage. But like many things in the fight for abortion rights, the pro-choice activists were out maneuvered by antis.
About two dozen anti-abortion protesters were ready before 8 a.m., armed with massive wooden poles holding four-foot-tall signs over the heads of the growing pro-choice crowd. The protesters positioned themselves sign-to-sign just past the set of bollards acting as an informal barrier between the pro-abortion activist starting to gather hours before oral arguments and the sidewalk. The group of anti-abortion protesters had an exceptionally effective audio system that blasted a rotating cast of people calling pro-abortion activists “whores” and “jezebels” and asking “why don’t we abort you.”
The signs were largely graphic and medically inaccurate. ABORTION IS MURDER with bloody handprints adorned one large sign. Another invited the reader to ASK ME WHY YOU DESERVE HELL while another had what was supposed to be a deteriorating fetal skull over a petri dish (maybe a jar?) with the words ABORTION IS DOMESTIC VIOLENCE. This was all only on the side of the Supreme Court steps where the pro-abortion rally would take place. Between the loud sound system telling me I was a murderer and the growing crowds, it led to a feeling of claustrophobia as I made way through the crowd.
This was all hours before the nine justices of the Supreme Court would meet to decide if Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Clinic was worth upending a half-century of legal precedent. Mississippi asked the highest court to consider its 15-week abortion ban, but the question before the Supreme Court is more broad than just the Magnolia State. The Supreme Court considered the legality of all pre-viability abortion bans in America. Science has generally deemed fetuses to be viable around 22-24 weeks after the last menstrual cycle. Slowly, the use of viability as how to mark when the state can or cannot enact abortion restrictions has been slashed away, turning to the nebulous legal concepts of “undue burden” and “substantial obstacle,” with the justices today indicting an eagerness to move past viability.
Francine Tansey, 71, came all the way from Los Angeles. It was the second time in recent years she’d come to D.C. to be a part of a social justice protest. Most recently, she’d been arrested at the Senate building during the Kavanaugh hearings. Those hearings upset her, but attending Dobbs was essential to who she is.
I wanted to talk to her because of the handwritten red shirt she was wearing. “2 Abortions (1 Illegal & I lived to tell about it!) and the other. Thank you ppl.”
Her first abortion was in 1972 and the second one was 1975. She’s one of the people who understood how much danger was mitigated when Roe was decided in 1973. “I was young at those two times and took a big risk the first time when it wasn’t legal,” Tansey said. “I was misdiagnosed by a doctor the second time.”
She knew her body “like a clock” but the doctor kept denying she was pregnant until finally cementing the diagnosis at 13 weeks. By then it was too late for her to receive care at Kaiser Health, a hospital system in California. She went to the Planned Parenthood affiliate instead. “It was all fine. I’m here because every woman has a right to make that choice,” she told Jezebel. “It’s healthcare. You get to choose whether you have various procedures or various treatments. You get to choose whether you have a child at some point.”
“Doesn’t this say it all?” Tansey told me, gesturing to the back of her shirt. “But if we don’t speak up, we’re gonna lose it.”
COVID-19 (and even the breaking news of a new variant) wasn’t going to keep Julie Jenkins from D.C. I met her, as away from the crowds of people as you could get on Wednesday morning — standing in a crosswalk so maybe we could finally hear each other. Jenkins traveled from New Hampshire because as an abortion provider, it was critical to be here.
Her step-father had provided abortions and she wanted to provide abortions, too. But Jenkins isn’t a doctor. She’s a nurse practitioners who provided abortions in California. But when she moved back to her home state of Maine in 2011, she couldn’t. The law only allowed doctors, despite the WHO and ACOG recognize advance practice clinicians (APCs) as professionally capable of providing abortions if properly trained. After her experience in California, Jenkins couldn’t go back, couldn’t take turning away patients who she knew she could help.
So in 2017, she became the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit to challenge the Maine law that allowed only physicians to perform abortions. Eventually the law became moot because the legislature took up the issue, expanding abortion provision to include nurse practitioners, physician assistants and other medical professionals. Now, she works with Advanced Practice Clinician Cluster of the Reproductive Health Access Network to expand the type of medical professionals trained to provide abortion care.
“I decided to come, committed to COVID precautions, because I felt this was an incredibly important moment,” the 48 year old told Jezebel. “I didn’t make it down for the Louisiana case and I had signed an amicus brief for this. This is such a seminal moment for abortion rights.”
With every new person I talked to, the noise from the anti-abortion protesters side just seemed to get louder. Some pro-abortion activists described to me how police made them move to not cause a scene, giving the antis more space to yell obscenities at people demanding full autonomy.
“I don’t think people realize how critical this moment is,” she said.
Jenkins and Roe have the same birth year. This might be last year that both Jenkins and Roe age.