As the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court heard the arguments of attorneys on either side of two cases that will determine if the birth control benefit in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will be permitted to stand as currently constructed, advocates for and against rallied in front of the Court.
On one side of the vast plaza in front of the Court building, anti-choice forces massed, some bearing signs featuring photographs of bloody fetuses, and insisting that birth control and abortion are the same thing. Dominating the protest visuals of the pro-Hobby Lobby crowd were the red sashes of Tradition, Family and Property (TFP), the far-right Catholic group whose founder has called the Spanish Inquisition, during which accused heretics were tortured to death, “a glorious moment” for the church.
On the other, some 40 progressive groups came together in coalition to support the contraception benefit, the dominant color being the pink stocking caps and t-shirts of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, which co-sponsored the rally together with the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Women’s Law Center, and NARAL Pro-Choice America.
Snow fell throughout the morning, soaking the rally-goers, who remained undaunted and energetic. Signs on the reproductive justice side of the plaza offered an array of messages:
“If Men Could Get Pregnant, Birth Control Would Be From Gumball Machines and Bacon-Flavored”
“Keep Your Hobbies Off My Ovaries”
“Bigotry Disguised as Religious Liberty Is Still Bigotry”
On the side of the plaza where the Hobby Lobby supporters gathered, the TFP contingent unfurled a banner that read, “God’s Law Comes First. Repeal Socialist Obamacare!” A man on the sidewalk in front of them propped up a homemade poster emblazoned with a swastika, a photo of President Barack Obama wearing a crown, the words “Tyranny” and “You Will Pay,” together with a photo of a bloody fetus in one corner.
At the progressive rally, dubbed “Not My Boss’s Business,” Kimberly Inez McGuire, director of public affairs for the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH), and Carol McDonald, director of strategic partnerships for the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, led the crowd in spirited chants, such as: “Let it snow, we won’t go! Bosses in the bedroom got to go!” and “What do we want? Birth control! When do we want it? Always!” McGuire also led chants in Spanish, and McDonald emceed the rally.
Organizers read a statement they said was from an employee of Hobby Lobby who wished to remain anonymous, fearing for her job. “We are a single-income family and if I were to lose my job over something like this we would probably be on the streets,” the statement reads. The writer explained:
Birth control coverage should be important for everyone, not just women. … without birth control, I could have been pregnant a lot sooner than I would have liked … This is a very significant thing in my opinion and I think it should be readily available for any woman that wants to take responsibility of her life.
McDonald told a bit of her own story, explaining that she was born to a teen
mother. “And the one lesson that I heard over and over, when I was a teenager and I was comin’ up, was, ‘Wait until you’re ready to have your children,’” McDonald said. “And I waited until I was 37. And that decision—for me to wait until I was ready? That helped me to break the cycle of poverty in my family.”
medical director at the Planned Parenthood affiliate of Metropolitan D.C., told the story of one of her patients, a single mother with a full-time job who was attending school at night. Her patient was “trying to do the right thing,” Perritt said, by coming to the clinic for birth control. “But upon hearing of the cost of the only method that was medically safe for her, she burst into tears,” Perritt said. “She could not afford it. There was no way—not with everything else on her plate.”
As anti-choice protesters caught sight of Perritt in her white doctor’s coat on the podium, they moved in behind her, hoisting giant, gruesome posters of a bloody fetus, and remained after she left the microphone. McDonald urged the crowd to ignore them, as rally-goers attempted to raise their own signs and banners to block out the
Also represented among the speakers at the progressive rally were officials from the labor movement and LGBT organizations, including Hector Sanchez, chair of the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda and executive director of Labor Council for Latin American Advancement; Sarah Warbelow, state legislative director of the Human Rights Campaign; and Rev. Darlene Nipper, deputy director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
“Today we come together to push back the latest desperate effort by extremists to control our freedom, to control our bodies, and our health-care choices,” Nipper told the cheering crowd. “The fanatical right is always wrong. In this instance, they’re stooping even lower than usual. They’re cynically using religion and people of faith to justify their almost rabid hatred of women, Obamacare and, ultimately, real freedom.”
Dorothy Roberts, professor of law and sociology at University of Pennsylvania and board chair of the Black Women’s Health Imperative, spoke to the disproportionate impact of barriers to birth control aspect of women of color and others. “We found that when access to health care is denied, it’s the most marginalized women in this country and around the world who suffer the most—women of color, poor and low-wage workers, lesbian and trans women, women with disabilities,” said Roberts, author of Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction and the Meaning of Liberty. “And this case has far-reaching consequences for their equal rights. Birth control is good health care, period.”
Testimonials were offered, as well, by several college students, doctors and nurses, and religious leaders. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) stepped up for a minute to state her appreciation for the creative messaging of the rally-goers’ signs, and to promise to “continue this fight until it’s won.”
“[W]e are the 99 percent, we are intersectional,” McDonald told the crowd. “This is what democracy looks like.”
All pictures used in the slideshow below were taken by Adele M. Stan. Hover over any picture to see its caption: