Activists for and against abortion rights stage dueling protests in downtown Chicago
Dueling abortion protesters filled the streets and sidewalks of the Loop for hours on Saturday afternoon, with a line of Chicago police bike units attempting to drive the two sides apart as they shouted competing slogans.
A total of hundreds of protesters from both movements flocked to major downtown thoroughfares, such as Michigan Avenue, adjacent to where the Taste of Chicago food festival was taking place, following an anti -abortion “March for Life Chicago” at the Federal Plaza.
March for Life protesters occupied the main streets as officers blocked counter-protesters on the sidewalk from getting closer, although some occasionally tried to cross the line of police bikes snaking between the two sides. A woman, angry she was blocked, shouted at the officers, while another man relented as a lieutenant wrapped his arm around her waist and pushed him back to the sidewalk.
The crowd was divided into a sea of yellow umbrellas – a symbol of opposition to abortion rights – and a mass of green, the global color of the abortion rights movement. A few supporters of the latter cause walked aside so they could carry a large green banner that said, “We’re not going back.”
The protest came after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last month to overturn Roe v. Wade and end nearly 50 years of constitutional abortion protection. In the absence of the historic judgment of 1973 which guaranteed the right to terminate a pregnancy, the question of the law on abortion is a matter for the States. Illinois leaders have sought to reassure residents and others in the Midwest that the state will remain a safe haven for abortion access.
Earlier in the day, March for Life set up in Federal Plaza with four large speaker systems suspended from a stage to ensure its representatives’ voices would blast for blocks. Kevin Grillot, the organization’s executive director, thanked the fans for not giving up and said: “After 49 long years, Roe vs. Wade is gone.” Applause tore through the rally crowd.
Then Grillot tried to hold a minute of silence for all abortions performed in America, although counter-protesters had already gathered and broke the silence with chants of “2, 4, 6, 8, right to l ‘abortion in every state’.
Another speaker who identified herself as “Jennifer” then began to share her story of regretting an abortion. A circle of bikers on the pro-abortion rights side revved their engines in an attempt to drown her out, but she finished her speech.
Verbal skirmishes erupted around the corner from Federal Plaza as the speakers continued. A small group of pro-abortion rights protesters, shouting ‘my body, my choice’, followed a man with a megaphone shouting anti-abortion rights slogans and was told by someone else, “close your legs”.
Eventually, a Chicago police lieutenant told the counter-protesters to leave the area or be arrested, a directive the crowd heeded as cops established a bike perimeter around the anti-abortion rally.
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“Our Constitution says everyone has the right to life, and abortion takes life. So it’s as simple as that,” said a woman from Medinah, Illinois, who identified herself as “Nancy” in an interview. “The naivety of these people, to think they’re not killing someone.”
Meanwhile, Jay Becker, an organizer for Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights, dismissed the conservative-leaning Supreme Court as “completely illegitimate” at a rally in Daley Plaza ahead of the March for Life protest.
“Two weeks ago a hammer fell on us,” Becker told the crowd. “These Christian fascists in black robes place the value of a cell group above that of half the population.”
One of the youngest abortion rights protesters in the crowd was Destiny Vasquez, a 17-year-old student from George Washington High School on the southeast side. She said she had been planning for the moment for a year and feared the Supreme Court’s decision would affect people of color the most.
“I don’t know why they go against basic human rights,” Vasquez said of the March for Life protesters she was prepared to confront. “If they really cared about life, they would care about what happened after this baby was born. We have a shortage of formula, a shortage of food. So many shortages and we don’t focus on what happens in real life.”
No arrests were made at the protest, a Chicago police spokeswoman said.