Demonstrating at the Supreme Court
This is a post about abortion rights. I understand that abortion is a sensitive topic, so I want to be clear at the outset that I consider abortion to be health care and I support legal, safe abortion for everyone who needs that care. In addition to my own feelings on this subject, I also talk about the pro-life groups I saw and interacted with on my day of protesting.
I’ve changed the names of the people I met unless they were otherwise publicly identified as being at the protest.
May 6th, 2022 - Washington, DC
I spent Friday morning standing in front of the Supreme Court building in DC in the rain with a sign protesting the Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. I had been in Crystal City all week for work. When the draft abortion rights memo was leaked on Monday, I felt strongly that I had been given a chance to go to where this horrible ruling was made and make a public statement about why I feel it is so wrong. After my last meeting on Thursday, I grabbed some poster paper, markers, an umbrella, protein bars, and water from a nearby CVS, went back to my hotel, and had some art time. I decided on two messages: “Abortion is health care”, and “Keep abortion safe and legal”. I considered “Impeach Thomas / Investigate Kavanaugh” but though that diluted the point I wanted to get across.
I think the text I sent to my wife that night really captured my state of mind:
I know it won't change anything, but I'm here, I'm a citizen, and I have the right and responsibility to tell the government when I think they are fucking up.
In the morning, I took the Metro to Capitol South and walked all around the Supreme Court building. At 9 am, there were no protesters of any persuasion. The scene was grim. It was drizzling, the street had crowd control and Jersey barriers set up, and the entire Court property, usually open to visitors, was surrounded by 8’ metal segmented barriers. A few police officers lingered on the famous steps. I decided to stand under a tree on First St SE in front of the court building and between it and the Capitol. An officer approached me from the other side of the barrier. He called out, “For or against?” I was confused, so I blurted out, “Um, pro-choice. Is it ok if I stand here?” He said, “Sure. I just have to call it in on the radio.” I guessed that his job was keeping the two sides away from each other to avoid any physical interaction.
Not that there was much chance for a fight, though, because I was the only one there for about an hour. In the beginning when I was alone, I felt sort of self-conscious, just me in my wet shoes holding an umbrella and a sign. Who was I talking to, anyway, if nobody was there to read what I had wrote? A few people began to come by to see the building, and as each couple or single woman passed by, most of them said some variation of “thank you” quietly to me. A group of middle school students and their chaperones approached. The young boys looked curious or frowned at me, mostly, but there were two young girls in the group, maybe 13 or 14, who caught my eye and gave me a surreptitious thumbs up. I can’t relate how much that raised my spirits and resolve. They were the ones who are going to struggle in the next few years and I hope they got the message that there are always going to be people on their side to stand up for their rights. These people might be shouting in frustration and rage, and sometimes they might be quiet strangers just standing with a sign. More school groups passed by and I got a few more signs of solidarity from young women, a few tight-lipped semi-scowls (typically from older men), and more “thank you”s from adult women. Nobody argued with me, and I avoided eye contact unless someone else initiated.
Around 10 am, a couple walked up and asked if I knew if there were any organized protests going on nearby. I told them that I had looked around earlier and didn’t see anyone, but that they were welcome to stand with me if they wanted. They were from New York City and had ridden the bus all night to be at the Supreme Court. A little later, an 80-year-old mom and her daughter arrived and joined us. They were carrying round “Keep Abortion Legal” signs that reminded me of the protests in the 70s and 80s. "How long are we going to have to keep doing this?", I wondered.
A group of about a dozen people with signs, a drum, and a bullhorn walked past us. I waved, and one of the members shook their head “no” and scowled. I was a little confused, because most of them were women and I got a definite LGBTQ vibe, so I had assumed that they were aligned with us. The new group made their way to the other side of the crowd control barrier that blocked the street perpendicular to the Court. They started chanting, “hey hey, ho ho, Roe v Wade has got to go”, and I understood why I had gotten the grim look earlier. They sang about peace, equality, and non-violence, and also about how they were going to "dance on the grave of Roe versus Wade". I turned to Patty, the 80-year-old mom, and said, “I feel like I’m getting a mixed message here.” She laughed and we agreed that it was hard for us to reconcile. I later learned that they were with Rehumanize International, a secular pro-life group. After singing and chanting energetically for about 20 minutes, they packed up and left.
It was during this time that I gave my one and only media interview of the day. A young man in a blue hooded raincoat had joined us under the tree at some point. He was quiet, and other than a friendly nod, I didn't interact with him. During the Rehumanize demonstration, he approached me and said that he was from The Impact and asked if I would be willing to be interviewed. I agreed, and he started recording on his phone. He asked me why I was at the Supreme Court today. I told him that I was upset by the draft decision that was leaked on Monday. I said that I felt like it was important for me as a citizen to stand up and show that I disagreed with the court. I emphasized that abortion is health care for anyone who can get pregnant, and that it should be safe and legal for everyone in the country. I told him that I was worried about the women in states that were already restricting access to abortion because they would not be able to travel to get the health care they needed. He thanked me and moved on to interview Jo, the woman from New York.
By the way, Jo had brought stickers:
She stuck one on the barrier, right on one of the signs reading, "Closed by order of the Marshal of the Supreme Court". It didn't take the police long to notice. One of the officers came out to politely but firmly tell us not to put any more signs or stickers on the barrier. They removed the sign from the barrier and took it away. Patty's daughter (whose name I did not catch), got fired up and said that we should all take a sticker and put them on different signs across the barrier. "If we all do it at once, we probably won't be arrested," she said. I said, "That's not my thing, but don't let me stop you." Six or seven people got stickers, spread out across the sidewalk, and applied them to the signs on the barrier. I had to admire their chutzpah. I was reluctant to do anything to provoke the police because I had a plane to catch later that afternoon and didn't want to be involved in a conflict. As before, a group of officers emerged from behind the barrier and started peeling off the stickers. They were armed with what looked like razor blade scrapers. Within a few minutes, all of the stickers were gone. An officer reminded us that, "In the District of Columbia, defacing private property is an arrestable misdemeanor." This made most of the pro-choice protestors angry. Some shouted that the barrier was public property. I grudgingly admired the fact that that the police were so well prepared to deal with stickers. I would not have been surprised if they had paint remover, bolt cutters, and wire snippers ready for deployment as well.
The crowd around the tree and on the sidewalk grew over the late morning and early afternoon. As the rain let up we moved out from under the tree and in front of the barrier. So many people had traveled from across the country to be at the Supreme Court that day. Kate from Nebraska told me that she dipped into her savings to travel because she's worried about increasing restrictions on abortion in her state. The mom and daughter standing to my left had come from Oregon, and the woman on my right was from Colorado. A professionally-dressed woman watched us from the sidewalk for a while, then pulled some paper and a pen out of her purse, wrote a pro-choice message, and walked over to stand next to us. We talked for a bit and I learned that she was in DC for work as well. Her job was with a reproductive rights non-profit organization. Like me she was moved to come to the Court building to show her support for legal abortion.
Over the weekend, I vanity-searched for my name in hopes of finding the article I was interviewed for. As it turns out, the journalist did not say, "The Impact"; he said, "The Epoch Times", which is a far-right web site (Wikipedia). I was indeed mentioned in an article titled, "Rain Cools Protests Over Supreme Court Abortion Issue". I won't link to it because I don't agree with their views on, well, anything. To his credit, writer Jackson Elliott quoted me accurately:
On May 6, fewer than a dozen protesters gathered. It may have been the first time prolife supporters outnumbered their opponents.
Three pro-abortion protesters waited with umbrellas under a tree near the court.
“I feel responsible,” said visiting Santa Cruz, California, resident Paul Mietz Egli. “I feel like if I’m an American citizen, and I feel so strongly about an issue, that I have to speak up.”
Accurate quotes or not, I do have an issue with being called "pro-abortion", however. Nobody is pro-abortion. Abortion is intensely personal and traumatic. I can't wish that pain on anyone.
The entire experience affected me deeply. I feel like there is a strong current of support for reproductive rights in this country and that the only thing that will keep the pro-choice movement down will be despair. Those middle school girls, their moms, and cousins, and friends need our help. So what can you and I do right now? Here are some suggestions from the ACLU:
ACLU's Brigitte Amiri – deputy director of our Reproductive Freedom Project – is breaking everything down for you in a special edition podcast episode that's ready for you to dig into now:
Check it out for answers, resources, and insight into the fight ahead, including ACLU's own strategy for defending abortion without Roe.
And just so you have it right away, we pulled three key points from her interview that Brigitte thinks you should know immediately:
1. The SCOTUS leak was only a draft. Abortion is still legal and people who have abortion appointments scheduled should still go. Call your local clinic if you have any questions.
2. If you need help finding abortion care, go to the National Network of Abortion Funds page: abortionfunds.org/need-abortion
3. If you want to support people who need access to abortion care, give to your local abortion funds: Donating to the National Network of Abortion Funds right now will split your generosity evenly between different abortion funds with the option to customize your gift. (This link will direct you to the third-party site, actblue.com.)
Please consider donating.