Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt: Purple Was the Color of the Day at the Protests Outside the Supreme Court
Pro-choice protestors face the Supreme Court as the lawyers exit after oral argument; ©photo by Jo Freeman
By Jo Freeman
The chants could be heard three blocks from the Supreme Court. The speeches couldn't be heard from 30 feet. Buttressed against the cold wind by purple knit caps and emboldened by enthusiasm well over a thousand people gathered on the sidewalk in front of the Court Wednesday morning to shout their support for the lawyers arguing the case of Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt.
This is one of many cases which tests the limits to which state legislators can go to shut down abortion clinics without running afoul of the Court's 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade. Legislatures have spent the last forty years putting up barriers to a woman's right to choose, most of which have been challenged in the courts. Some of these laws survived the challenges; some did not.
In 2013 Texas passed Act HB2, requiring clinic doctors to have admitting privileges at local hospitals. Most of these hospitals won't allow abortion doctors to work on their premises. HB2 also requires clinics to meet the expensive building standards of ambulatory surgical centers, which far surpasses their actual needs. The number of operating clinics in the state dropped from 42 to 19.
The Center for Reproductive Rights filed suit two years ago. The federal trial court found these requirements to be an undue burden, contrary to Roe. The federal appeals court reversed. The Supreme Court granted certiorari. Because the appeals court upheld the restrictions, a 4-4 decision will leave that decision intact. It will take 5 Justices to find that HB2 is an undue burden on a woman's right to have an abortion as prohibited by Roe.
Buses brought hundreds people from all over the east coast, including five from New York City that left at 4:00 a.m., to deposit their passengers at the Court by 8:00 a.m. Many more people came from the DC area for at least part of the 4-hour protest. Pro-choicers weren't the only ones on that sidewalk. About 50 pro-lifers formed a small enclave, identifiable by their blue balloons and blue signs saying "Protect Women Protect Life." Not all of the pro-choice signs were purple, but that was the dominant color.
CRR was one of many groups which mobilized their members and provided buses. NARAL, Planned Parenthood, the National Abortion Federation, STOP Patriarchy, NOW, the ACLU, Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and others all pitched in. Purple was the color of the day, though pink is the usual color of pro-choice protests. However, pink is also identified with Planned Parenthood, which has been under attack in the last couple years. Some demonstrators put pink PP stickers on their purple caps to show their organizational loyalty.
Throughout the morning there was a non-violent battle between the Blue and the Purple, as each side tried to block the other's signs with their own. Although Blue was vastly outnumbered, each group had one microphone, set up about 30 feet apart. Speakers tried to be heard over each other and the general roar of the crowd. The decibel level was raised even more by a man preaching 'Jesus Saves' through two hand-held megaphones as he wandered the edge of the crowd. Another Jesus preacher used his voice, which was as loud as the megaphone, and he had a shofar.
The US Capital police refused to allow anyone on the steps, and the DC police wouldn't allow the crowd to flow into the street. All those people were crammed into about 20 feet between the bottom step and the street. Some people retreated across the street where at least there was more space on the sidewalk.
Although there were dozens of speakers, ranging from Members of Congress to abortion providers to women who had had abortions, there was no press kit or even a speakers list. If you didn't recognize a face, or hear a name when introduced, those straining to hear didn't know who said what. Hearing the "what" wasn't very easy either. That didn't stop anyone from yelling and chanting.
Sometime after 11:00 a.m. the plaintiffs and their lawyers exited the Court and descended the many steps to hold a press conference in an area the USCP had blocked off for the press on the plaza. Although there was a bank of microphones, each went to a specific media and there was no amplifier. What was said at the press conference was not audible to the unaided ear. The crowd lined the space below the last step with their signs pointing toward the courthouse.
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