Bans Off Our Bodies, the name of the Women’s March across the country that occurred on October 2, was the first march with abortion at the epicenter. It was clear what the message was, and it was one led in Chicago by women of color.
Thousands of people, young and old, marched for abortion access. Downtown flooded with activists, bright neon protest signs and Ruth Bader Ginsburg socks and shirts. “Abortion Justice Now,” “Someone You Love Had an Abortion” and “My Body, My Choice,” signs were held high for the three city blocks marched to protest abortion restrictions in Texas.
SB 8 went into effect 30 days ago in Texas and it made abortion after six weeks illegal, even though most people have no idea they are pregnant that early.
Marchers were told specifically not to wear handmaid’s tale cloaks, as the show centers around white women. Even with SB 8 in Texas, white women often have the most privilege in any abortion narrative. Only a small handful in red cloaks hadn’t gotten the memo.
In Illinois, abortion is legal until about twenty-two weeks, and there is no mandated false counseling or waiting period. But there’s still PNA: the parental notification act means an abortion-seeker under eighteen cannot get an abortion without parental or guardian consent.
Dr. Amy Whitaker, chief medical officer of Planned Parenthood Illinois, talked about this and SB 8 from the front of the crowd. Her seventeen-year-old daughter attended with her, holding a bright pink sign, reading: “Repeal PNA!”
“It is time to repeal the parental notification of abortion,” Whitaker said, while the crowd erupted in cheers. “I am here with my wonderful seventeen-year-old daughter. And for her and everyone else her age who lives in or comes to Illinois, abortion is still restricted. PNA is archaic, and it is not supported by any major medical organizations. Mandating parental involvement in abortion is not necessary, and it is dangerous.”
Growing Demand for Abortion in Illinois
Within days of SB 8 being passed, Planned Parenthood Illinois’ abortion intake spiked. Dr. Whitaker recently saw an eighteen-year-old in her office, a college freshman who flew all the way to Chicago from Texas. She was able to fly in and out the same day and only miss one day of school.
“When I asked her, how do you feel about doing all that work and traveling this far to have a short and safe procedure, she said, ‘I feel lucky.’”
She shared that the clinic where she had her ultrasound in Texas was filled with young pregnant people, sobbing and saying, “What am I going to do?”
Qudsiyyah Sharyif, the program manager of the Chicago Abortion Fund (CAF), took the stage to talk about the resources CAF offers and the increase for need that occurred since SB 8 has passed.
In 2019, CAF funded 823 abortion seekers. In 2020 it doubled to over 1600.
“We continue to see the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on top of centuries of reproductive oppression on folks’ ability to access abortion care in Illinois and across the Midwest,” she said. “Just this month, we got a record-breaking number of requests for support—391 people.”
Roughly 25 percent of those who contacted CAF in September were Illinois residents, even though abortion is claimed to be more accessible in the state, there are still noticeable barriers. Residents in Texas have already begun reaching out to CAF for support. Sharyif said CAF will provide support to anyone, regardless of zip code.
“Safety isn’t facilitated by policing, surveilling, and violence,” she said. “Safety is when we are fully supported, when our communities are fully resourced, when we have the agency and ability to make the choices that we need to make to keep ourselves and our families safe.”
Ending Abortion Stigma
Yvonee Berry was in attendance at the march. She got there early, around 10:30 a.m. She was walking by herself, holding a sign, “I had an abortion, and I am not ashamed.” As she shared her story, she began tearing up, recalling what she saw friends go through before Roe v. Wade—and even after.
“I want for my daughter and, if I have grandchildren, for this to be available,” she said. “I was alive when it wasn’t legal; I am very lucky to not know anyone who died. But I know several women who took very dangerous steps to manage their abortions.”
Berry had her abortion in the ’80s, and although it was safe and legal, she never told anyone. She wasn’t ashamed, but she said it was a private decision she made. When she told her daughter last year over dinner, her daughter was surprised Berry had never told her—they volunteered at Planned Parenthood together.
She explained she has read about anti-choice groups claiming that abortion is an “emotionally destructive choice.”
“That was not my experience at all,” Berry said. “It was what I needed to do at the time, it was right for me, and I have no regrets or shame. We have to talk about it, we have to be public. This is not anything to be ashamed of, it’s about controlling your own destiny.”
Mother and daughter duo Ali Pilster and Grace Gordon have made it a priority to attend protests over the years, including the Women’s March, March for Our Lives, and Black Lives Matter demonstrations. Grace is thirteen years old, and she wishes that more kids her age took notice of SB 8 and how it will impact them one day if more laws continue to pass across the country restricting abortion.
“Not a lot of people my age are aware of these political things even though it can affect their lives very quickly,” she said.
Pilster said it’s important for her that her daughter is informed and passionate, going to the marches further ignites that. She shared that she had an abortion too, and without it, she would have been forced to stay in a “terrible marriage.”
“I think it’s important to understand that there are a lot of different reasons why people get abortions, but it is all for their quality of life,” she said.
Pilster’s sign read: “Abortion Bans Only Apply to Poor Women.” In Texas, it’s no shock that rich white people are still able to receive care. It is low-income people and people of color who will be forced to carry pregnancies to term. Pilster shared that she and her daughter talk about this a lot, and she explains to Grace that it’s all about being there for those who don’t have access, even if you still do.
“Wealthy people and white women will always be okay, but we need to use our privilege to spread the awareness and be here for those who won’t always have that access,” she said.
This article was co-published in collaboration with Rampant Magazine.