Abortion rights activists celebrate Roe v. Wade anniversary, prepare for upcoming court case

Forrest Milburn

As the Supreme Court prepares to hear arguments on another abortion case, a crowd of more than a hundred abortion rights activists, students and legislators rallied Friday afternoon at the Texas Capitol to celebrate Roe v. Wade’s 43rd anniversary.

More than forty years after seven Supreme Court justices struck down a Texas anti-abortion law in the Roe case, a different court with a 5-4 majority of Republican-appointed justices is set to hear arguments on Texas’ House Bill 2 on March 2.

HB2, an anti-abortion law passed in summer 2013, bans abortions after 20 weeks, requires that abortion providers must qualify as “ambulatory surgical centers” and must only employ doctors to perform abortions who also have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.

“More often than not, we’re realizing that the practical effects of this law are to prevent women from accessing the safe, compassionate and professional care that they deserve,” said Marva Sadler, director of clinical services for Whole Woman’s Health. “In the end, these laws are only hurting thousands of Texans and perpetuating a cycle that takes decisions [away] from women.”

Speakers at the rally included representatives from NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, Whole Woman’s Health, the National Organization for Women, and Planned Parenthood, all groups who helped organize the rally.

The June 2013 13-hour filibuster from State Sen. Wendy Davis against HB2  — although it eventually failed during a later special session of the legislature dedicated to passing the bill — has invigorated and inspired abortion rights activists from Texas and all over the country. State Sen. Kirk Watson from Austin, who spoke alongside other legislators, focused heavily on the HB2 filibuster, during which he supported Sen. Davis’ filibuster.

“The key to that day was that the people were there and were all together, and that was what made all the difference,” Watson said.

Mari Schimmer, executive director for the advocacy group Shift. at the rally, said she is not worried because of the court’s history of siding with the people on abortion.

“The energy of the country [shows] people want abortion to be available, they want it to be safe and they want it to be something that everyone who needs it can get and afford,” Schimmer said. “I think the Supreme Court will feel that energy and rule in the way that our country is headed.”

The stakes in the upcoming Supreme Court case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, are high for both sides of the abortion issue, with a range of possible outcomes that could include increased regulations and clinic shutdowns around the country if the Texas ban is upheld.

Since the Roe decision, Republican-dominated legislatures have passed 1,074 anti-abortion laws restricting women’s access to abortion clinics, with 288 passed since 2010.

“Even though there’s been a series of attacks from legislators who want to see an elimination of abortion, it’s still happening,” Schimmer said. “Women still need abortions, they’re still getting abortions and there’s still a lot of energy to make sure that happens and that it is safe for the women who need it.”

Abortion rights activists argue they will continue to keep a united front against opponents even if the Supreme Court doesn’t vote in their favor.

“Here we are, forty years later and we still, maybe now more than ever, must be together,” Watson said.