Several thousand abortion rights advocates gathered in downtown San Antonio Saturday, joining protesters in hundreds of cities across the country for the nationwide “Bans Off Our Bodies” march in support of access to abortion.
The protest took place a month after a restrictive new abortion law went into effect in Texas.
The “Texas Heartbeat Act,” signed by Gov. Greg Abbott in May, prohibits abortions in Texas once cardiac activity is detected in an embryo, which can occur during the first six weeks of pregnancy — before many people know they are pregnant.
Protesters gathered in Milam Park downtown, where they cheered, chanted, and held signs that mixed anger with humor. “Girls Just Want to Have Fundamental Rights,” read one in glittery text. “Abort Abbott,” read another.
Organizers came from a broad coalition including Planned Parenthood, Texas Organizing Project, Avow, The Lilith Fund, Southwest Workers Union, Women’s March San Antonio, Women’s March Central Texas, and others.
It may have been the largest political demonstration since the Black Lives Matter protests last summer.
Mara Posada, director of public affairs at Planned Parenthood, said attendance was around 3,000. A higher estimate of 4,000 was given by Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar, who was among a handful of law enforcement on horseback at the back of the park.
In Milam Park, where the march began and ended, a line-up of speakers addressed the crowd with a microphone from a stone gazebo. They called for funding abortion organizations, denounced the recent bill, shared personal stories, and led the crowd in chants, including “Vote Abbott out!”
“We are done compromising and playing defense when it comes to our lives and our families,” said Amanda Reyna, a board member of the Lilith Fund, a grassroots abortion fund.
Vanessa Martinez, another board member for the Lilith Fund, told the crowd that she had once gotten an abortion, and had helped a friend who had been in a relationship with domestic violence get one. “To get an abortion is already a hard decision,” she said. “Add to that, shame and stigma … How much more can Greg Abbott do to us?”
In 2021, state legislatures have passed more abortion restrictions than in any previous year, according to an analysis by abortion rights group the Guttmacher Institute. In a novel legal maneuver to prevent court challenges, the new abortion law in Texas puts enforcement in the hands of private citizens. Anyone thought to be involved with an abortion can now be sued by any private citizen, including those with no connection to the case.
Diamond Mason, who introduced herself as a local performance poet and activist, said she wanted to love Texas. “But being black, queer and femme doesn’t earn reciprocity here. I learned early that Texas doesn’t love me back.”
Looking out over the crowd, she said “Y’all, I see a hell of a lot of Texas that loves me back.” The crowd broke into thunderous applause and cheering.
Sheriff Salazar struck up a conversation with some protesters, who were dressed as characters from “A Handmaid’s Tale,” a dystopian television series based on the Margaret Atwood novel about a totalitarian state that treats women as property. (Organizers had asked participants to refrain from referencing the show, echoing the National Women’s March).
“We’re this close to it,” he said, holding up his hand with a short gap between his finger and his thumb. “We’re just a couple of bad presidents away.”
The march took off for a tour of downtown, past City Hall and the San Antonio Immigration Court. As protesters marched in the streets, construction workers watched from the third story of a building. “We love y’all,” one shouted down.
Participants were instructed by organizers not to engage with any counter-protesters, though very few appeared to be present. Some of the protesters wore knitted pink hats, a throwback to the 2017 Women’s March. Many carried babies or walked with children.
Manissa Davison, who was there with her daughter and her mother, said she was there because she once had an abortion — “and I want my daughter to be able to have one.”
Sarah, who declined to give her last name except for the initial B., called the recent bill “absolutely repulsive.” She said she had four children and had also had four abortions.
Vivian Encino, who attended with a friend, said she found out about the march on Reddit, and that she was eager to post photos on the site. “I didn’t think there would be so many people and so many families here,” she said.