Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the Barclays Center Tuesday evening to rally and express their anger over the leaked Supreme Court draft opinion that would overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which established the constitutional right to abortion.
Organizers initially planned for a large rally outside the home of the Brooklyn Nets as those outraged by the court’s decision sought to mobilize against the Court’s decision, but the formal event was soon canceled with the intention of not detracting from a larger rally at Foley Square in Manhattan, with a plum list of speakers like Attorney General Letitia James and City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams.
But the high court’s apparent intentions to dismantle reproductive rights — and allow a rash of conservative states to outright ban abortion — has so enraged Brooklynites that hundreds showed up to the Barclays Center anyway, spontaneously chanting “We will fight with all our might,” “My body, my choice,” and “F**k the court, we will abort,” among others.
“I think the more folks that can be seen in opposition to this, the better,” said Kaia Klissner, a communications professional from Williamsburg who attended the rally. “I don’t know if there’s any hope for this Supreme Court decision to be stopped in its tracks, but I hope it promotes some sort of awareness that this is not the sentiment of the entire country.”
Roe v. Wade and New York State law
The Supreme Court has not yet formally overturned Roe, but observers have strongly suspected for months that the right-wing majority on the bench will strike down the landmark decision when it unveils its decision in an ongoing case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, wherein plaintiffs are challenging a Mississippi law banning abortions after 15 weeks gestation. A decision is expected from the high court in June, but a draft opinion by Justice Samuel Alito was leaked to Politico and published on Monday; Chief Justice John Roberts on Tuesday confirmed the draft was authentic but said it is not necessarily the final position of the court, and called the leak “a betrayal of the confidences of the court.”
With Roe struck down, states will be free to ban abortion outright, and a laundry list of right-wing states have laws on the books automatically prohibiting abortion the moment Roe is overturned, with many attaching criminal penalties to the procedure.
Though anti-abortion activists have indicated their next frontier is a nationwide ban, abortion will remain legal in New York State should Roe be overturned; the right to an abortion was codified in state law in 2019, and the state’s Democratic politicians have indicated that they intend to make the state a “beacon” of reproductive freedom for the nation.
“We know the people who will hurt the most is people who look like me. Poor people, people of color, people who don’t have funds to travel from state to state,” Attorney General James said at the Foley Square rally. “But I want individuals to know, in those deep red states, that New York is here for you as well.”
James said at Foley Square that New York State will be establishing a fund to pay for procedures and travel costs for people coming to New York from states where abortions will be illegal.
Still, the dire state of affairs for those seeking reproductive health care across much of the United States has left outraged Brooklynites in search of outlets to express their frustration and find ways to help those who will be left without options.
“Roe v. Wade, this decision is the only thing that’s governing reproductive rights, women’s rights. It’s important that we use our voices and yell out when things are going wrong,” said Michelle Smoler, a public policy grad student at NYU who lives in Crown Heights. “You can’t just stand by and allow people’s rights to be wholesale swept away. We have to stand up for those people, even if our institutions are so disconnected from the people who they’re supposed to be representing. Maybe they won’t be able to react to this, but it’s important that we come out and say something either way.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Tuesday that the upper chamber would vote on a bill to codify the protections afforded by Roe into federal law, which has already passed the House of Representatives, but the proposal is likely dead in the water unless Democrats also nuke the filibuster, which they have not committed to.
“Legislating through judicial decision has proven pretty tricky. And we’re seeing right now that those decisions can be rolled back with the increased partisanship of the court, of our country,” Smoler said. “We should’ve done something before now.”
Activists plan to protest outside of Schumer’s home on Prospect Park West Wednesday evening, demanding he kill the filibuster, the 60-vote threshold that has stalled much of the Democratic Party’s agenda in the Senate.
The dangerous prospect of abortion without Roe
Those who remember the days before Roe expressed horror at what’s likely to come for those seeking abortions, arguing that banning abortions will not stop them from happening, but just make them easily accessible only to wealthier people who can afford to travel out of state, and extremely dangerous for those who can’t. Many demonstrators at the Barclays Center and at Foley Square carried signs bearing wire hangers, which many would use in an attempt to self-abort and unwittingly cause severe injury or even death.
Park Slope resident Ilene Goldberg, 77, said she recalled when a friend of hers contracted hepatitis following an unsanctioned, back-alley abortion prior to the practice’s legalization in New York in 1970. Her friend luckily survived and is still going strong at 78, but a neighbor from her youth wasn’t so lucky; she passed away after trying to abort a pregnancy with a hanger.
“We are lucky we inherited some freedoms, which we don’t want to give up,” Goldberg said. “We’re going backwards in many fields. The world is in a horrible state.”
Those who remember pre-Roe times aren’t the only ones horrified, either. Nicole Di Schino, a lawyer and former journalist from Windsor Terrace, said she is made to feel nauseous at the thought of the world her three young daughters will inherit.
“I had hoped that [my daughters] could grow up in a world where they had more equality than I do,” Di Schino said. “Not less.”