Hundreds of abortion-rights supporters gathered Saturday in front of Baltimore City Hall to demand safe and legal access to abortion. The message was clear: “Bans off our bodies.”
Protestors held signs that read “My body, my choice” and “Abortion is healthcare” or “STAY OUT OF MY UTERUS,” accompanied by pictures of Supreme Court Justices Amy Barrett, Samuel Alito, John Roberts, Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh.
Saturday’s “Bans Off Our Bodies” protest in Baltimore was part of a nationwide event by Planned Parenthood and affiliates in response to last week’s leaked Supreme Court draft opinion, which revealed a majority of the justices favored overturning Roe v. Wade, a landmark case that established the constitutional right to abortion.
Even in states like Maryland, where the right to an abortion is in state law, it’s still a cause for concern for folks like Ingrid Sabio-McLaughlin, who attended the rally with her 10-year-old daughter.
“I am here protesting because I believe in a woman’s right to choose and bodily autonomy,” she said. “We have to be able to do whatever we want to do with our bodies. I want to make sure that my daughter has the same rights that I have.”
Sabio-McLaughlin, who marched alongside two other women through the streets of downtown Baltimore, said she was mortified when she learned of the leak.
“I was frightened to my bones because we already fought this fight. The generation before me fought this fight. I don’t want my daughter to have to fight it too,” she said.
Sabio-McLaughlin, of Randallstown, is a professor who teaches history, and women and gender studies at the Community College of Baltimore County.
Before the march, attendees heard from speakers including Karen J. Nelson, president & CEO of Planned Parenthood of Maryland.
“We got a serious crisis across this country,” Nelson told the crowd. “You, only you should make decisions about your own personal healthcare... No politician. No government. No Supreme Court is going to tell us what we can do.”
Other “Bans Off Our Bodies” rallies also took place Saturday across the country including Washington D.C., New York City, Austin, Chicago and Los Angeles.
Saturday’s rallies were supposed to be a day of awareness but became “full blown, all hands on deck” mobilization after the leak, Nelson said.
“We’ve been expecting the Supreme Court ruling, and we’ve been treating it very seriously. But we weren’t expecting it till June,” she said. “But the leaked has really elevated the urgency. And so it has become a major day of of action across the country.”
Baltimore Police and organizers blocked off traffic at intersections as the march began, and cars honked their horns repeatedly as protesters made their way west on E. Fayette Street.
The march stopped at the William Donald Schaefer Building, which houses several state agencies. There the crowd called out Gov. Larry Hogan to release $3.5 million in funding for abortion.
The Maryland legislature adjusted abortion law this year
This year, with Roe facing its greatest threat yet at the hands of the conservative majority controlling the Supreme Court, legislators in Maryland went back to the drawing board.
In an effort to expand Maryland’s capacity to provide abortions, they opted to allow clinicians who are not doctors perform the procedure, and mandated that insurance companies cover the procedure without co-payments unless they can cite a religious or legal exemption.
Hogan, a Republican, vetoed the measure, arguing that allowing physician assistants, midwives and nurse practitioners to perform the procedure “endangers the health and lives of women.” The legislature overrode the veto, meaning the law will take effect July 1.
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But the political battle over the law was reignited last week. Following the leak on Roe, the Maryland law’s proponents called on Hogan to release $3.5 million for a training program for new abortion providers. The training program was included in the new law, but legislators had to start the funding with next year’s budget, said Del. Ariana Kelly, a Montgomery County Democrat who sponsored the bill. Releasing the money any earlier would be up to Hogan.
Despite pleas from Democrats like Comptroller Peter Franchot, who is running for governor, Hogan has made clear he will not release the funds, arguing that “suddenly releasing taxpayer dollars” for training would “run counter to [his] concerns about setting back the standards for women’s health.”
“If it’s not us now, it’s going to be us later”
The Senate on Wednesday failed to advance legislation, called the Women’s Health Protection Act, that would codify a constitutional right to abortion into federal law. All 50 Republicans and Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W. Va., opposed the bill.
Local abortion-rights nonprofit groups such as Baltimore Abortion Fund, which had a speaker at Saturday’s rally, reported experiencing a 40% increase in services over the past two years. The group expects a 60 to 100% increase in demand for services if Roe falls, said Porsha Pinder, a director at BAF.
Organizers hoped the protests send a resounding message that the majority of Americans support upholding Roe.
“I know that people in other states don’t have the same rights that we do in Maryland,” Sabio-McLaughlin said. “We have to stand up for everybody because if it’s not us now. It’s going to be us later.”
Reporter Christine Condon contributed to reporting.