Aria Pedraza was walking near Federal Plaza when she saw a large police presence and crowd gathering. She went and got a coffee and came back – they were still there. “Abortion rights are human rights” and “My Body, My Choice” signs decorated the crowd as Pedraza pressed pause on her day and joined the rally last-minute.
Pedraza decided to stand on the opposite side of the street from the abortion rally near the anti-abortion protestors. She said she did this for representation, she didn’t want passersby to think that the anti-abortion crowd had any power over the abortion rights crowd.
“If they’re going to be loud, then I am going to be right next to them,” she said.
Pedraza, now 27, had an abortion in Chicago when she was 20. At the time, she was living in Milwaukee and traveled to Illinois with her mother to receive care. Her story is not unique and will become more common as Roe v. Wade will most likely be overturned, as stated in a leaked opinion brief by Supreme Court Justice Alito.
“The inescapable conclusion is that a right to abortion is not deeply rooted in the Nation’s history and traditions. On the contrary, an unbroken tradition of prohibiting abortion on pain of criminal punishment persisted from the earliest days of the common law until 1973,” Alito wrote.
In Illinois, access to abortion is protected under the Reproductive Health Act. Recently, PNA, the parental notification act requiring parental consent for abortion seekers under the age of 18, was also overturned. Illinois has the fewest restrictions in the Midwest and will become even more of a “destination state” for abortion seekers from the Midwest and the South in the future months.
The crowd surpassed the nearly 3,000 at the October 2021 Women’s March. Thousands of marchers chanted in unity and for many, they said they felt like they had to be there – even if it was their first protest.
Janine Brown and her daughter Merrilee, 10, attended the rally after having a “big conversation” last night.
“I thought it was important she starts to understand where the law will impact her life,” Brown said. “We had a big conversation and we talked about both sides and where they are coming from and I shared my opinion and I hope I gave her the room to express hers.”
And Merrilee did. The 10-year-old proudly held a pink and purple sign reading “My Body, My Choice” while sporting a Ruth Bader Ginsburg T-shirt.
“I am just really excited to be a part of this,” Merrilee said.
While much of the crowd planned their attendance to the rally, Daniele and Essence got off the train from New York when they saw the protest happening. They walked over with their luggage in hand and participated in the protest.
“There is no reason we should be going back in time,” Essence said. “No one wants to adopt all the kids in foster care but they want to force us to have them.”
Friends Rhona Jacobs and Amy Laiken, both 72 and long-time abortion rights activists, said the fight today is the same one they were having in the streets of Chicago 50 years ago.
“I fought for this 50 years ago, I have to be out here,” Jacobs said, who also attended the Jane Collective trial and recalls life then feeling very similar to now.
While many Democrats have used the tightening of abortion rights to discuss voter engagement, Laiken said it is not the pro-choice elected officials who will improve abortion access.
“There is a certain limit in our electoral process,” she said. “People we elect are not going to save us from the problem, we have to be out in the streets. I am outraged, but I am not surprised. We have seen these winds blowing for years and now it is coming to fruition.”
Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Lieutenant Gov. Juliana Stratton were among the list of speakers. They both referenced Illinois history and future as a pro-choice state.
“Even if the Supreme Court overturns a 50-year precedent, abortion will continue to be safe and legal here in Illinois. We trust women in Illinois,” Pritzker said.