Abortion rights supporters try to gain momentum in nationwide march
Last fall, Hannah Dasgupta focused her day on politics, with President Donald J. He channeled his fear and anger into activism at Trump. Concerned about the future of abortion rights, among other issues, during the Trump administration, she joined a group of suburban Ohio women working to elect Democrats.
A year later, Ms Dasgupta, 37, still cares about those issues just as deeply. But she did not join the nationwide women’s march for abortion rights on Saturday. In fact, he hadn’t even heard of it.
“I don’t watch the news every night anymore – I’m not nearly as worried,” said Ms. Dasgupta, a personal trainer and school aide who was turning her attention to local issues like her school board. “When Biden finally took the oath, I was like, ‘I’m out for a while.
Ms Dasgupta’s carelessness underscores one of the biggest challenges facing the Democratic Party as it approaches the midterm elections. At a time when abortion rights are facing their most significant challenge in nearly half a century, a section of the Democratic grassroots wants to, in Ms Dasgupta’s words, “take a long breath”.
Saturday’s march, sponsored by a coalition of nearly 200 civil rights, abortion rights and liberal organizations, offered an early test of Democratic enthusiasm in the post-Trump era, especially for the newly politically engaged women who took control of the party. helped him win. of Congress and the White House.
In 2017, the First Women’s March took to the streets of an estimated four million protesters across the country to express their outrage at Mr Trump’s inauguration. According to a survey of participants, many listed abortion rights as a persuasive issue. Since then, the annual events have drawn fewer crowds, and the organizers have found themselves plagued by controversy and internal strife.
Organizers of the abortion rights march said this year’s major events attracted thousands of people instead of the millions who protested during the Trump administration, but the geographic scope of the gatherings — more than 650 marches in 50 states — increased the breadth of their movement. performed. . He cast the march as the opening stages of a renewed fight, aimed at reminding voters that the White House change did not stop efforts to restrict abortion rights and access.
In the first six months of the Biden administration, more abortion restrictions were enacted by state legislatures than in any previous year, according to an analysis by the Guttmacher Institute, a research group advocating abortion rights.
“No matter where you live, no matter where you are, this fight is at your door right now,” said Alexis McGill Johnson, president and chief executive of the Planned Parenthood Association of America. “The moment is dark.”
Still, the march in downtown Washington was almost the tone of celebration, as protesters stretching a city block chanted, chanted and waved their home signs as they marched up the stairs of the Supreme Court. In Austin, Texas, thousands of participants packed elbow-to-elbow on the broad lawn in front of the State Capitol. Small marches spread across the country with protesters organizing events from Great Falls, Mont., to the Villages retirement community in Sumter County, Fla., where attendees decorated their golf carts with pink signs.
“We are the largest and longest-running protest movement in the country,” said Rachel O’Leary Carmona, executive director of the Women’s March, which organized the events. “For some reason, people are willing to discount the actions of 250,000 women because it’s less than the highest ever.”
In Austin, Leslie Ellis said the seriousness of Texas’ new abortion law had inspired her to attend her first abortion rally.
“It’s madness that women have to fight for their reproductive rights,” said Ms. Ellis, a dog caregiver from New Braunfels. “It is a constitutional right to have physical autonomy.”
Those who did not participate cited a variety of reasons: the coronavirus pandemic; a sense of political fatigue after a divisive election; Other issues that seemed more pressing than abortion, such as racial justice or transgender rights.
“There must have been a time when a march like this would have been a three-generation event,” said Democratic pollster Selinda Lake, who advises the White House and the Democratic Party. “Now, the 8-year-old hasn’t been vaccinated, and you’re afraid mom might get sick. People are just tired, and they’re deliberately checking.”
Even as Democrats view the struggle over abortion rights as a victorious political battle, party strategists worry that a drop in enthusiasm is another sign of what is expected to be a tough midterm election next year for their party. could be a precursor.
Already, Democrats find themselves struggling to respond to a series of public health, economic and foreign policy crises. As party factions stir and Mr Biden’s approval rating plummets, his domestic agenda is mired in a legislative impasse in Congress. Other issues that would propel the Democratic base, including legislation that could force abortion rights into federal law, face an uphill climb given the party’s razor-thin Congressional margins.
In interviews and polls, voters who believe abortion should remain legal say they worry about the future of abortion rights, and say that restrictions, such as a new law in Texas that would effectively nearly bans abortions after six weeks, they are more likely to vote. midterm elections.
But he also doubts that the constitutional right to abortion will be completely overhauled and the management of the pandemic will be deemed more urgent. And some of those who became active during the Trump administration now prefer to focus on state and local politics, where they see more opportunities to implement change. Other solutions to protect abortion rights proposed by liberal groups – including the extension of the Supreme Court – remain divisive among independent voters.
Judy Hines, a retired gym teacher in a conservative rural county in western Pennsylvania who is active in Democratic politics, hasn’t gone to a march for more than a year and a half, and since she has a family member with health issues. , he did not even arrive on Saturday.
“I’m hoping the fight is still among the people, but it’s not,” she said. “We look at our Supreme Court. We know how they are going to vote.”
Abortion rights advocates warn this is not a time for complacency. The Supreme Court is preparing to take on a case of abortion – with all three of Trump’s conservative appointments being first debated before the court – which has the potential to completely remove federal protections for abortion.
“We’ve had almost 50 years of legal abortion,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, chief executive officer of Whole Women’s Health, which operates four clinics in Texas. “People don’t believe it can roll back.”
Some advocates believe voters will become more engaged as bills similar to the Texas law are passed by other Republican-controlled state legislatures. Amy Arrambide, executive director of Avo Texas, an abortion rights organization in Austin, struggled to gain attention when the Texas law was first introduced. Since the bill became law last month, his organization has collected $120,000 in donations, an amount that normally takes six months.
“It’s a little disappointing, because we’ve been sounding the alarm for years, and no one was really paying attention,” she said. “People are realizing the danger is real.”
For decades, opponents of abortion rights have drawn large crowds to the National Mall in Washington for the March for Life, an event that includes high-profile conservative politicians and religious leaders. On Monday, thousands were outside the Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg urging for anti-abortion legislation to be passed.
The liberal movement that took to the streets in 2017 was led and led by women, many of whom were college-educated and often middle-aged women. They gathered for huge marches and almost weekly protests, in outer Paneras to discuss door-knocking strategies and to establish new Democratic groups in small, historically conservative towns. Dana R. Fisher, professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, said that many marchers came to these events with their own parcels of issues, but surveys showed this issue was most common among frequent protestors who held abortion rights. . Surveys among activist groups and at large marches.
Those motivations began to change over the past two years. As the threat of COVID-19 kept many older activists home, the May 2020 killing of George Floyd at the hands of the police ignited a massive wave of nationwide demonstrations, inspired by young crowds inspired by a different set. issues.
In polls conducted in March after Mr Floyd’s killing, as well as among organizers of last year’s Earth Day demonstration, the percentage of people who cited abortion rights as a major motivator for activism was very small, Ms. Fisher said.
Liz Fields, 45, said she participated in the march in Washington to express her frustration with the Supreme Court, which she believes is robbing women’s rights. Her husband, who joined her in protests over other issues over the summer, remained at home.
“I don’t want to say he doesn’t believe it, but abortion is just such a difficult issue,” she said.
David Montgomery contributed reporting from Austin.
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