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Tens of thousands march for US abortion rights

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Protesters march past the US Capitol as they take part in the Women's March and Rally for Abortion Justice in Washington on October 2, 2021. AFP

Tens of thousands march for US abortion rights

Wearing pink hats and T-shirts and shouting "Hands off my body", tens of thousands of women took to the streets across the US on October 2 in protests aimed at countering a conservative drive to restrict access to abortions.

In Washington, about 10,000 protesters rallied in a square near the White House under sunny skies before marching to the US Supreme Court, which will have the final say on the contentious issue.

The protesters held signs that read "Mind your uterus" and "Make abortion legal", with several women – and men – dressed like late Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the US’ iconic women's rights crusader, who died last year.

The perennial fight over the procedure in the US has become even more intense since a law in the state of Texas went into effect September 1 banning almost all abortions, unleashing a fierce counterattack in the courts and Congress, but with few public demonstrations until now.

Two days before the Supreme Court is due to reconvene, the rallies took place in more than 600 cities, according to organisers, who said that hundreds of thousands of people gathered across all 50 states.

"Women are humans, we are full humans, and we need to be treated like full humans," said Laura Bushwitz, a 66-year-old retired teacher from Florida state protesting in the US capital, wearing a dress with portraits of women activists and politicians.

"We should be able to have our own choice on what we want to do with our bodies. Period." Michaellyn Martinez, a woman in her seventies with closely cropped hair, told AFP she got pregnant at the age of 19, several years before the landmark 1973 Roe v Wade case, when the Supreme Court guaranteed the right to an abortion up until a foetus is viable outside the womb.

Martinez ended up having a daughter and getting married only to divorce two years later. "It changed my whole life – not having access to birth control and abortion," she said. "I don't want us to go back to the time when I was a young woman."

At the Supreme Court, the marchers were met by counter-protests. A chain of riot police kept the two groups apart. In New York City, activists gathered in Manhattan borough's Foley Square holding signs that read "We are not ovary-acting" and "I have a vagenda". Juliette O'Shea, 17, organised about 30 teens from her Manhattan high school to attend the rally to "show solidarity" with Texas.

"We're trying to show that we are a strong and unified group of people who will not be silent when crazy abortion bans like the one in Texas are put into place," O'Shea told AFP.

The Supreme Court has already refused to block the Texas law and has agreed to review a restrictive law in Mississippi state that could provide an opportunity to overturn Roe v Wade.

So far this year, 19 states have adopted 63 laws restricting access to abortions.

In Texas, where conservative Governor Greg Abbott signed his state's abortion bill into law in May, hundreds gathered outside the capitol building in Austin holding signs with messages such as "My body, my choice" and "Abort Abbott". Similar scenes played out coast to coast in major cities such as Chicago and San Francisco, as well as smaller locales such as Great Falls, Montana and Lubbock, Texas.

A first Women's March was held the day after former president Donald Trump's inauguration in 2017, rallying millions of his opponents. Although the event drew smaller numbers in subsequent years, organisers hoped this year's rally centred on abortion would galvanise supporters.

Alexis McGill Johnson, president of Planned Parenthood, told protesters in Washington the story of a Texas woman who had to drive more than 1,600km across three state lines to get an abortion in Colorado – alone, because she was afraid that anybody helping her might get sued.

The organisers of the Rally for Abortion Justice have called on Congress to enshrine the right to abortion in federal law, to protect it from any possible reversal by the Supreme Court.

A bill to that effect was adopted a week ago in the House of Representatives, which is controlled by Democrats, but has no chance of passing the Senate where Republicans have enough votes to block it. Trump's appointment of three conservative justices to the Supreme Court emboldened local conservative elected officials across the country to embark on an anti-abortion offensive.

If the high court were to overturn Roe v Wade, every state would be free to ban or allow abortions.

That would mean 36 million women in 26 states – nearly half of US women of reproductive age – would likely lose the legal right to an abortion, according to a Planned Parenthood report released on October 1. AFP

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