We knew when it happened. For three hours we had been in the sea of shouting, chanting, and chaos, and in an instance, it was all over. Frozen with shock, we barely heard the surge of volume rise up from the other side. Exchanging looks between each other, we knew: it did not pass.
The days prior to the Supreme Court dismissal of Texas HB2—a bill which had common sense health and safety regulations for abortion clinics—had been nerve-wracking, but hopeful. I had started my time in Washington D.C. four days earlier on Thursday, June 23, the day we originally thought that the ruling would come down. On that day, the protesting was similar to June 27, albeit, less intense; pro-choicers on one side, pro-lifers on another, chanting over each other.
After learning that the decision had been deferred to Monday, we drove back to Students for Life of America’s headquarters. We talked about the current state of things; the fact that this HB2 was even up for debate was confusing. How could women possibly be protesting health and safety standards? We thought, why would women go to abortion clinics even though they might have rusty equipment, blood stained walls, or other severe health and safety violations (such as in Kermit Gosnell’s abortion clinic)? “What’s going on in a woman’s mind to think that she’s worth that?” one member said sadly.
The Supreme Court blatantly ignored one part of Roe v. Wade when making their decision which clearly recognizes the state’s role in making sure that abortion clinics are clean and safe. Roe reads, “The State has a legitimate interest in seeing to it that abortion, like any other medical procedure, is performed under circumstances that insure maximum safety for the patient. This interest obviously extends at least to the performing physician and his staff, to the facilities involved, to the availability of after-care, and to adequate provision for any complication or emergency that might arise. The prevalence of high mortality rates at illegal "abortion mills" strengthens, rather than weakens, the State's interest in regulating the conditions under which abortions are performed.”
The whole concept of protestors rallying against HB2 was migraine-inducing, for two reasons: First, the pro-choice protestors were protesting health and safety regulations. If abortions are to truly be “safe, legal, and rare,” abortion clinics should be held to high standards of safety; for example, abortion practitioners should have hospital admitting privileges in case complications occur, and, if an emergency does take place, equipment such as wheelchairs or gurneys should be able to fit into an abortion clinic to help get a woman in need to a hospital quickly.
Second, they did not seem to know that they were protesting health and safety standards; although a few signs referenced pro-life “trap laws,” protestors seemed confused at my “Health & Safety Regulations for Abortion Clinics are Common Sense” sign, while they held signs that were completely unrelated to the bill, such as having to do with birth control or that protecting abortion access is “a Catholic value.” One particularly ironic sign read: “Everyone Deserves Access to Safe Abortion Care.” (Emphasis mine.)
It has gotten to the point where abortion is not hoped to be “safe, legal, and rare” anymore. Access to abortion is all that matters, despite the terrible conditions or dangerous situations women are put in to get them.
When Monday, June 27, rolled around, we were as ready as we would ever be. We had hustled all weekend calling up supporters, making banners, and gathering supplies for the rally, using every penny we had, rallying every supporter we could to come join us. A group of about ten pro-life supporters even stayed up holding vigil on the steps of the Supreme Court the night before. While we were waiting, conversation often drifted between different topics as we waited for the dawn. When talking about why we were there, one member talked about how her experience as a teacher led her to devote herself to combating abortion full-time. Another member shared that she was there because her parents were told to abort her because she was diagnosed with a disability before birth.
Before we knew it, it was 7 a.m. and the rest of the team had joined us to help set up. As the pro-choice side began to gather as well, things started off quite well; both sides had set up their separate camps and rallied for a while with little to no interference. Things started to heat up after an hour, especially when some anti-abortion protestors—who were unaffiliated with us—showed up with some horrifying graphic images and negative messages.
After this, both sides started to mesh more and more, jumping, dancing, and trying to cover the other side. The pro-choicers chanted phrases like, “Abortion is medical, not political,” and “Stop the sham,” while pro-lifers chanted, “We are the pro-life generation,” “Pro-woman, pro-life,” and “Abortion hurts women. Women deserve better.” The pro-lifers carried pretty much the same banners and signs as they had on the past Thursday, but the pro-choicers brought a new banner with them: a giant, hand-sewn quilt with each patch made by a woman from Texas.
As they held it up, myself and a couple other pro-life women moved in front. After introducing ourselves, we started talking about why we were there; I mentioned that I had been tired of seeing women leave the abortion clinics crying. Another mentioned how she once had to drive a young woman home who had just had an abortion, since who ever dropped her off abandoned her there.
After three hours of chanting, singing, and waving banners, we heard our verdict: the Supreme Court had struck down HB2 on the grounds that it placed an “undue burden” on women seeking abortions. We could not believe it. Had the court really struck down common sense health and safety measures in order to advance their special interests?
Exchanging looks between each other, we knew, and were devastated. As the pro-choicers screamed and cheered, we could not help but feel utterly devastated. As the pro-lifers began to pack up, Rosemary (the other LMJ intern) and myself solemnly stood on the pro-choice side with our signs that said, “Protect Them Both,” and “Health & Safety Regulations for Abortion Clinics are Common Sense.” When we were taking a break from holding up our signs, a kind older woman—probably thinking that we were pro-choice supporters—asked me to take a picture of herself and her young daughter in front of the Supreme Court. As I prepared to take their picture, the young girl asked her mom, “Why are they cheering, mom?” referring to the pro-choicers’ celebration. “Because we won a big case in women’s rights today!” her mom answered. It was hard not to cry.
Are we really so delusional as to give our girls a future where this outpatient surgical procedure given only to women is substandard? Where alleged health clinics do not have adequate health and safety regulations? Where advocating against such is known as a win for human rights?
Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, summed it up well in her closing speech as she said, “This ruling shows that the Supreme Court does not give a damn about women.” The Supreme Court put their special interests above common sense health and safety standards for abortion clinics, and women lost.
But, amidst everything, there is hope. Pro-life groups on campus outnumber Planned Parenthood groups 4 to 1. Millennials are reported to be more opposed to abortion than the preceding generation. Fifty-three abortion clinics were closed in 2015, while 81% of all abortion clinics open in 1991 have been shut down. States are beginning to regulate abortion more and more, and some have even stopped funding Planned Parenthood in favor of federally qualified health centers.  Pregnancy resource centers and holistic pregnancy medical centers are offering safe, healthy, life-affirming alternatives to abortion.
We are the generation who will abolish abortion, and we will provide better and healthier alternatives to meet the needs of women in crisis so that they feel supported and empowered.
*The photo used above from June 27th features Rosemary and Margaret (the two LMJ interns) at the center between pro-choice activists. Photo from Getty Images.