Defiant pro-choice demonstrators spoke of the restrictive law’s possible influence outside of the US, despite counter protesters trying to intimidate and silence them
Last week (September 2), the US Supreme Court announced that it would not be blocking Texas’ ‘heartbeat bill’, which bans abortion in the state after six weeks of pregnancy – when a foetal heartbeat is detected – even in the cases of rape and incest. The decision means that Texas now has the strictest abortion law in the US, and one of the most restrictive in the world.
As well as banning abortion so early that many women won’t even know they’re pregnant, the bill empowers citizens to claim a $10,000 bounty if they successfully sue anyone they believe is procuring or helping someone procure an abortion. Whistleblower sites and subreddits have already been set up to encourage people to snitch on those they think are breaking the law. In an organised act of resistance, activists are spamming these platforms with fake tips (and Shrek porn) to stop people sharing real information.
In the week since the ban came into effect, pro-choice activists across the world have taken to the streets to protest the reversal of women’s autonomy over their bodies. On Saturday (September 4), a small but powerful crowd of pro-choicers in London remained defiant against an counter protest, which saw anti-abortion demonstrators attempt to intimidate, shame, and drown out their speeches.
The two crowds painted a starkly different picture. Abortion supporters were a sea of pink, with some wearing fluorescent vests emblazoned with the words ‘pro-choice’, while others carried signs that read, ‘My body, my choice’, ‘End the harassment of women’, and ‘We stand with Texan women’. Anti-abortion demonstrators were mostly dressed in dark colours, as they marched in a circle around the pro-choice crowd, holding up black and orange signs that read, ‘Be their voice’, ‘Pray to end abortion’, and ‘BLM: Both Lives Matter’. Nuns and priests reportedly joined the counter demonstration, while others carried religious paraphernalia.
Separated from the anti-abortion protesters by the police, pro-choice activists led chants and songs, while healthcare workers and women who’ve had abortions spoke about the shock and danger of Texas’ ban.
“There’s a common notion that what happened in the US can never happen over here,” NHS doctor Sonia Adesara told the attentive crowd. “That’s really misguided – the right wing, misogynistic policies that we’ve seen in Texas are very much present in this country. We’re here today not just to defend our rights, but to demand more. We need to make it loud and clear that our rights are non-negotiable – it’s our bodies, our choice.”
Below, Dazed speaks to pro-choice protesters about the ban, the power of resistance against it, and how it might influence lawmakers in the UK.
DR SONIA ADESARA
“I heard that the anti-choice people were out protesting, so I wanted to come here to show that I’m against what they’re doing and what they stand for. They’re trying to control women, and the policies they’re advocating for – the criminalisation of abortion – will hurt (and endanger) women. I felt it was my duty as a doctor to be out here to show that the healthcare profession is against what they’re calling for. The majority of healthcare workers are pro-abortion because we know that you need to have safe, free, and legal abortion – without that, women’s health and their lives are put at risk.
In recent years, we’ve seen many countries – not just the US – introduce abortion restrictions. What we’ve seen happening in the US shows us how quickly things we take for granted – reproductive rights, women’s rights – can be reversed. Even in this country, there’s politicians who are in power right now who want to restrict abortion access. We need to be careful – we can’t become complacent. In the US in just a few years, Roe v Wade – something we thought was enshrined in the constitution – has been reversed. In Europe, we’ve also seen abortion rights being reversed very quickly – this could happen in the UK.”
“What’s happening in Texas is repulsive. As women we have the right to our own bodies, and the fact that women who are over six weeks pregnant can’t have an abortion is awful. Abortion is healthcare; it’s our bodies, our choice. Surely it’s a basic human right that you’re entitled to control your own body.”
“I’m here today because anti-abortion laws are almost always a direct attack on women who are of lower economic and social classes, because wealthier women in Texas will still be able to travel to other states and get abortions. The people who will really be affected by the law are women of colour because they tend to be of lower social classes.”
“I feel really strongly that the changed laws in Texas have given us a wake up call, just as the situation in Northern Ireland has, where the right for choice only came about a year ago – and women there still can’t access services, so they still don’t have any rights. Women’s bodies are their own and especially up to 12 weeks, sometimes even 24 weeks in special situations. I’m a woman of colour from a conservative religious background, but I know full well how much men and the misuse of religious law have manipulated women to keep children to their own detriment sometimes. I’m campaigning for choices. I would never tell a woman what to do with her body or her unborn baby. It’s a tough decision for any woman to make, and we need to preserve the choice.
Six weeks is nothing – it means that there’s no choice in Texas. You might not even know you’re pregnant. It’s a manipulative way for ‘pro-lifers’ to stop abortions in the southern conservative states in the US, and that’s something that could set the bar backwards here.”
“I’m campaigning for choices. I would never tell a woman what to do with her body or her unborn baby” – Marie
“I’m here because I’m the fundraising chair of (the pro-choice campaign group) Abortion Rights. I got involved with Abortion Rights via a theatre show, All Aboard at Termination Station, which is a comedy cabaret about my personal experience of abortion. I came to their protest in 2019, and I was welcomed with open arms after my second abortion, which I’d only had two weeks prior to being at the protest.
What’s happening in Texas is disgusting; it’s a reminder that, as women, we can’t be complacent about our safety over here in the UK. We’re living under a Tory government, many of whom’s politicians are actively seeking to reduce women’s right to abortion. We need to show solidarity. It’s terrifying that, even after Biden’s win over Trump, we’re still having to deal with this.”
“I’m here to protest a moral outrage. The continuing criminal status of abortion in the UK, and the relentless attacks on reproductive freedom around the world are morally indefensible. The idea that any person can be forced to carry a pregnancy or give birth against their will is repugnant and should not be tolerated in a free society.
What’s happened in Texas has sent shockwaves rippling around the world because the US still sets the cultural narrative for what is acceptable in nominally free, democratic societies. What’s happening in Texas could happen here. We believe that we’re safe in the UK from this sort of thing, but I think over the coming decades we will see increasing movements against women and queer people’s right to basic bodily self-determination and basic reproductive freedom, in part because birth rates are falling around the western world.”