More than 1,000 protesters took to the streets of Boston Tuesday, rallying against a draft Supreme Court decision poised to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade case that legalized abortion nationwide.
On the steps of the Massachusetts state house, a Planned Parenthood nurse told the story of a violent shooting at her Brookline clinic in 1994. A mother of a child in Boston Public Schools demanded better sex education for her son. A trans activist explained the challenges faced by the LGBTQ community in accessing healthcare. Striking down abortion rights, organizers argued, could impact reproductive health for a variety of communities in every state — even seemingly progressive places like Massachusetts.
“There’s consistent attacks on reproductive health already here in Massachusetts, even if it's not abortion access,” organizer Rachel Domond told GBH News. “Unaffordable health care, the sex education in our schools and issues with access to contraception, the list goes on.”
In 2020, the maternal mortality rate for Black women was 55.3 deaths per 100,000 live births, 2.9 times the rate for white women, according to the CDC. Racism and poverty are intertwined in the fight for reproductive justice, Domond said.
“Throughout history, Black women have been subject to the worst forms of bodily exploitation and regulation. It’s Black women who are more likely to live in under-resourced neighborhoods with limited access to health care, Black women who make up 7% of all single moms,” Domond said. “We’re consistently blamed for the failing social order in this country, regardless of whether we decide to abort or have kids. Enough is enough.”
Teresa Eliot Roberts, a nurse at Planned Parenthood in Jamaica Plain, stood before a crowd that spilled out into the Boston Common. “No matter your gender, your age, how much money you have, no matter what state you come from, I want to take care of you,” Roberts said. “We're lucky here in Massachusetts, relatively speaking. Of course, that doesn't mean much.”
Roberts was working at one of two Brookline Planned Parenthood offices targeted by an anti-abortion zealot in 1994. John Salvi shot and killed Roberts’ friend and colleague Shannon Lowney and Leanne Nichols, an employee at another Brookline clinic. Five others were injured in the shooting.
“If the anti-choice movement were really pro-life, clinic providers wouldn't be killed or threatened,” Roberts said.
Organizers from the Boston chapter of the Party for Socialism and Liberation called on elected officials to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act, a bill that would protect the right to abortion nationally and block medically unecessary restrictions or bans on abortion care. The bill passed in the U.S. House of Representatives in September of last year and failed in the Senate in February.
“This callous treatment of an often lifesaving health care procedure is outrageous,” organizer Maddie Dery said. “We will never be able to secure this right unless we take it to the streets. The Supreme Court is threatening a war on women's rights, and the only force capable of putting a stop to them is the people of the United States mobilizing and organizing to defend our rights.”
The threat to abortion access is another attack in a series of recent bills limiting healthcare for the transgender community, Allston-based activist Mandy Wilkens said. “Trans people get abortions too. Transphobia in our medical system is rampant and it’s difficult, even terrifying, to get basic things like gender affirming care.”
Wilkens compared the draft opinion to recent laws passed in Alabama that ban medical care for transgender youth.
“This is the medical care we rely on as trans people and it's under attack, these bills will kill trans kids,” Wilkens said. “This is the same appointment. Banning abortions will only ban safe abortions. There is blood on the hands of the Supreme Court.”
The potential decision could have larger repercussions on reproductive rights generally, said Andira Ture, an organizer demanding better sexual education and handling of sexual misconduct at Boston Public Schools.
“The fight for reproductive justice and reproductive health is not just abortion,” Ture said. “It incorporates all of these issues.”
Calling for a “mass movement” of continued walkouts, protests, marches and rallies, organizers plan to gather on Friday evening in Copely Square for another demonstration organized by local activist organizations including the Boston Liberation Center.
Chanting “my body my choice” and “my body my choice,” the crowd marched around the Boston Common, returning to the steps of the state house before peacefully dispersing, calling on those gathered to continue the fight.
“We cannot rely on the courts and we cannot rely on the Democratic party to defend our rights, we can rely only on ourselves,” Claire Grossi, an activist with Socialist Alternative, told the crowd. “Roe v. Wade was won in 1973 on the basis of mass protests led by women and other working class people. It was won despite a majority Republican court and a Republican president. We, the people, hold the power to defend abortion. Right here in the streets is where we leverage that power.”