With the fate of abortion rights hanging in the balance, protesters gathered outside the home of Brooklyn’s own Sen. Chuck Schumer Wednesday afternoon calling on the Senate Majority Leader to hastily take action to protect reproductive freedom.
About 40 protesters descended on Schumer’s apartment building at 9 Prospect Park West, near Grand Army Plaza, demanding that the powerful Democrat meet the severity of the moment in the wake of a leaked draft opinion by Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, published by Politico, that would overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that established the constitutional right to get an abortion.
Schumer has already said that the Senate will vote on codifying the protections offered under Roe into federal law, and on Thursday he said the upper chamber will hold the vote on May 11.
“Republicans will have two choices: they can own the destruction of women’s rights, or they can reverse course and work to prevent the damage. Count me as skeptical that they’ll do the latter,” Schumer said at the Thursday press conference on Capitol Hill. “Next week’s vote will be one of the most important we take, not only this session, but in this century.”
But demonstrators said Schumer should also call votes on abolishing the filibuster — the 60-vote threshold that has snagged much of the Democratic Party’s agenda in Washington and which will in all likelihood leave any vote on codifying Roe dead in the water — and to expand the size of the Supreme Court to dilute its right-wing majority.
“What I want from Chuck Schumer is actual, balls-to-the-wall fighting, which he has never actually done. Ever, no matter what he says,” said Lisa Raymond-Tolan, the founder of Indivisible Nation BK, outside Schumer’s tony apartment building.
Raymond-Tolan’s group, which led the May 4 protest, bills itself as a not for profit organization dedicated to “promoting civic participation and engagement in the fight for justice, sustainability, and equality,” according to its website.
“I’m so glad he’s calling a vote, I will give you a tiny bit of credit, Chuck,” Raymond-Tolan said, “but it’s meaningless with the filibuster, meaningless, it’s performative. We need Chuck to fight.”
A spokesperson for the Majority Leader referred Brooklyn Paper to Schumer’s Thursday remarks, where he did not commit to any specific further actions in the likely event the bill is filibustered and fails, but did say that Wednesday’s vote will not be a one-and-done exercise.
“We’re starting off here, but you will hear plenty from us,” the Majority Leader said. “This is not just one vote and then this issue goes away. You will hear a lot from us through the next months all the way through November.”
“We’re having the vote next week,” he continued. “We’re gonna see where everyone stands. It’s the first time there’s a vote like this in a very very long time when the actual rights are at stake, when it’s not an abstract exercise. Once we have that vote, we will figure out the best way to go from there.”
With Roe struck down, states will be free to ban abortion outright, and a laundry list of states led by right-wing governments have laws on the books to criminalize abortion the moment the decision is overturned. The right to abortion is safe in New York State for now, as Roe has been codified in state law and Democratic state officials have said they hope New York is a “beacon” of reproductive freedom for the nation, encouraging people from other states to come to New York for procedures and even offering to pay for them.
But the writing is on the wall: anti-abortion activists have signaled their next frontier is a nationwide ban, and the content of Alito’s opinion suggests the Court’s right-wing majority might wish to overturn a number of other decisions establishing constitutional rights on the same basis as Roe, the right to privacy. Those could include same-sex marriage, same-sex relations writ large, or the right to use birth control, among others.
“My entire adult life, the Democratic Party has said ‘vote for me, donate to me, because we’re gonna protect Roe v. Wade,'” said Liat Olenick, the co-president of Indivisible Nation BK. “And, now’s their chance. Like, do what you’ve been saying you’re gonna do for the last 20 years.”
Outraged New Yorkers have taken to the streets a number of times since Politico published the leaked opinion Monday evening, which the Supreme Court later confirmed as authentic but not final. Many demonstrators have expressed pessimism at the notion protesting could actually move the needle, but are coming out anyway seeking an outlet to express their frustration and anger, and seek ways to help those in red states without means to travel, who will be left without options if they find themselves unexpectedly pregnant.
But protesters at Schumer’s house do see an ultimate goal of forcing their senator, one of Washington’s most powerful Democrats, into action to prevent cataclysm. They pointed to a joint statement from Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi immediately following the leak, where they did not outline any plan of action but hypothesized that the Court striking down Roe would force a reckoning for the Republican Party — “the party of Lincoln and Eisenhower” — in November.
“They didn’t even use the word abortion, first of all, which is pathetic,” Olenick said. “Nobody cares about Lincoln and Eisenhower right now. People care about the girls, the children, the women, the people who are going to be forced to carry pregnancies to term even if it endangers their lives, even if they don’t want to do that.”
Brittany Ramos DeBarros, a candidate for the Democratic nomination in the 11th Congressional District — which encompasses Staten Island and part of Brooklyn, and may or may not ultimately include Schumer’s house, depending on how the final district boundaries are drawn by a court-appointed “special master” — described the moment as a fulcrum of history, with the outcome dependent on how both powerful and everyday people respond.
“I am mad as hell,” DeBarros said at the rally. “This is a moment in time, and we get to decide who we’re gonna be in this moment. We can sleep through the moment, or we can rise to this occasion and decide that this is gonna be a defining moment where we step into our true power.”
DeBarros also noted that the Republican she hopes to unseat in November, Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, voted against codifying Roe in the House last year, calling the bill “barbaric,” and has dodged questions on whether she would vote to codify it now. Spokespersons for Malliotakis did not respond to a request for comment.
Both DeBarros and her Democratic primary opponent, former Rep. Max Rose, have called for Congress to codify Roe, and to dump the filibuster in order to do so if need be.
Filibuster aside, Schumer also has to contend with the fragile framework of his majority, where the split 50-50 Senate only moves in Democrats’ favor due to Vice President Kamala Harris’ tiebreaking vote, and where conservative Democrats like West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin often vote with Republicans. Nonetheless, protesters say Schumer can and should be playing hardball; chants led by demonstrators included “do your job” and “try harder.”
“He needs to try. If he needs to hold a vote on abortion rights every single day, he should do that,” Olenick said. “He needs to put himself out there and lead, because this could be the last chance that he or Democrats will have to fix anything in this country for a very, very long time.”