WASHINGTON – Rain couldn’t stop an estimated 1,500 activists from marching to the White House this weekend in an “uprising to protect abortion rights,” just weeks after the Supreme Court overturned its Roe v. Wade decision.
The Saturday event organized by the Women’s March came one day after President Joe Biden signed an executive order aimed at protecting abortion access in states that still allow abortion. But he said his authority is limited and called on voters to take the issue to the polls this fall.
Protesters at the rally welcomed the executive order, but demanded that more be done.
“He needs to use every ounce of power he has, he needs to push the limits of presidential power,” said Ellie Sims, a Chandler resident who is currently studying at Georgetown University.
That was echoed by march organizers and the hundreds who turned out in pouring rain.
“We are calling on our leaders to fight as hard for abortion rights as we fought to get them elected,” said Women’s March Executive Director Rachel O’Leary Carmona in a prepared statement. “We came out today to demand more.”
After gathering in downtown Washington, the protesters marched toward the White House, waving signs and flags and chanting, “pro-life is a lie, you don’t care if women die,” “my body, my choice” and “abortion is health care.”
The rally ended at Lafayette Square, where hundreds of the marchers pressed on for a sit-in at the White House fence. They tied the marchers’ green “Bans off our bodies” bandanas to the fence, while several took off their bras and tied them to the fence in protest as well.
A handful of protesters briefly tied themselves to the fence with the bandanas, but police said no arrests were made during the peaceful event. A small group of counter-protesters tried to make their voices heard during the march, but were mostly drowned out.
The Bidens were not in the White House for the event, but were at their home in Delaware for the weekend. When asked by reporters on Sunday about the march, however, the president said he supported the rally and said it is critical for advocates to “keep protesting.”
Biden also said he is considering declaring a public health emergency in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision, which overturned decades of abortion rights in the U.S. and left abortion laws to the states.
He repeated his statement that the only way to guarantee abortion rights is to make Roe v. Wade “the law of the land,” but that he alone cannot do so.
“The only way we do that is through an election in the United States Congress,” Biden said. “In the meantime, states can make those judgments.”
While some states have enacted abortion protections, a number of others have already banned abortions in the weeks since the court’s ruling, and more are moving in that direction.
Arizona is one of those states. A 1901 law that is still on the books in Arizona makes abortion, or assisting in one, a crime except in cases of medical emergency. That law has been blocked since Roe was handed down in 1973, but Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich has gone to court to get that injunction lifted.
Brnovich said the law is enforceable and it’s up to county attorneys to enforce it, but abortion-rights organizations, including Planned Parenthood of Arizona, said they are ready to challenge the law from being reinstated.
Sims said her right to an abortion is safe for now in Washington, D.C., which protects abortion access, but she realizes it could be taken “in a split second.” She said she wants people to vote for “pro-choice people down the ballot,” but said it was important to be at Saturday’s march to advocate and hit lawmakers “where it hurts.”
Marchers were unimpressed by Biden’s executive order Friday directing federal agencies to safeguard access to reproductive health care services, including contraceptives and medical abortion pills, and to educate patients and physicians on abortion and reproductive rights and responsibilities.
It also called for the Justice Department to work with volunteer lawyers who can defend patients seeking abortion services across state lines, and encouraged the Federal Trade Commission to consider actions to protect privacy of data from patients searching for abortion services.
Sims called the order a “good start” but said more needs to be done. That was echoed by Wendy Hidalgo, a Northern Virginia resident who marched with her daughter to the White House. She called the order “less than what we were asking for.”
“I think it was to appease people, but I don’t think it’s going to do much in terms of what’s happening in this country,” Hidalgo said. “He (Biden) needs to be much more forceful.”
Hidalgo said she had her daughter by choice because she had a choice, and she wants her daughter’s children to also have a choice. Sims said she was also at the march for herself as well as her family and friends in Arizona.
“I know my sisters and trans friends at home are not safe,” she said. “While I can sit here comfortably, relatively comfortably, I know my rights can be taken away in a split second.”
-Cronkite News reporter Daisy Gonzalez-Perez contributed to this report.