Earlier this year, a small group of women and I got together to display art around Washington, DC. We were celebrating the 49th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, which protected women’s constitutional access to abortion.
As the conservative Supreme Court considers new anti-Roe cases and state legislatures rush to pass tough new restrictions, Roe may not reach his 50th birthday. We therefore wanted to advocate for continued access to reproductive health care.
What followed was an intense interaction with Capitol Police, who accused us of “defacing” federal property simply for putting up signs on lampposts. They forced us to retrace our steps and scratch every poster, including some we hadn’t even posted. It was humiliating, but we cooperated to avoid arrest.
Along the way, the officers kept reminding us of their oath to “defend the Constitution” — even as they repeatedly threatened us with jail for expressing our First Amendment rights to free speech and of peaceful assembly. (And isn’t abortion also a constitutional right?)
“Ladies, I hope this is a huge life lesson,” an officer told us at the end, staring at us. “Because if we see you here again doing this, you will be arrested, no questions asked.”
He was right on one point: it was a life lesson. That day, we learned that the state would apparently step in to protect a lamppost from a poster but would not protect women from the violation of their bodily autonomy.
The aggressive behavior of these officers parallels the militant anti-abortion bans that could sweep the nation if Roe is overthrown.
In Texas, a new law prohibits abortions from six weeks of pregnancy. That’s long before a detectable heartbeat – and long before many women even know they’re pregnant. Amazingly, the law also offers $10,000 incentives for private citizens to sue any woman, medical professional, or friend or family member who “aids and abets” an abortion.
In Mississippi, a new law completely bans abortions after 15 weeks. While the case is before the Supreme Court, the state argues that it has a “legitimate governmental interest” in prohibiting the procedure, so the Constitution cannot restrict the state’s ability to do so.
Meanwhile, at least 21 states have laws in place to restrict or ban abortion if Roe is overthrown.
Already, extremist laws like these are having an impact. According to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, abortions in Texas dropped 60% in the first month after the new law was passed.
Neighboring states, like my home state of New Mexico, have seen a surge of Texans seeking help and services. New Mexican funds that cover the costs of health care, gas, food and childcare for patients seeking abortions report that their resources are being taxed by the additional demand.
The criminalization of abortion only accelerates the inequalities faced by marginalized communities. Nearly half of women who have abortions live below the poverty line, but in much of the country, especially in the South and Midwest, they lose access to it.
Nearly 60% of Americans oppose rescinding Roe — about twice as many as those who support rescinding it. Most of us are strongly opposed to these sweeping restrictions that undermine women’s access to safe reproductive care, which will force women to seek out illegal and unsafe care instead.
This means that we will have to speak, which is not always easy. I found out with my own eyes when a policeman forced me to scratch a poster quoting bell hooks that “women should have the right to choose.”
But I will continue to fight to protect our bodily autonomy, our economic rights, and our participation in our democracy. I hope you too.
Ennedith Lopez is a New Mexico Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. This piece was distributed by OtherWords.org.