Chicago at center of renewed war on abortion

Students form the front line of Chicago's 10th annual March For Life shouting, "We are the pro-life generation!"

Text By Aryn Braun
Video By Hannah Gebresilassie

The battle over abortion rights raged last weekend in Chicago, when competing protests clashed over the legality and morality of abortion in the United States.

Abortion rights activists lined up at the corner of Adams and Dearborn in 4-degree weather Sunday to protest Chicago’s March for Life, a smaller version of the annual pro-life march planned for later this week in Washington, D.C.

“It just bothers me that abortion is even legal in this country,” said Lauren Devan, as she took a break from dancing around the plaza at her very first March for Life.

The counterprotest, dubbed the March for Abortion Rights, was organized by local feminist group FURIE, and drew close to 300 purple-clad protesters, compared with the March for Life’s estimated 3,000. The two protests were planned around the 43rd anniversary of historic Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion in 1973.

Despite nearly subzero temperatures, pro-life and abortion rights activists took over Dearborn Street, advocating for their respective causes. (Hannah Gebresilassie/MEDILL)

“The only people who protest around Roe v. Wade are anti-choice people,” said Lauren Bianchi, a founding member of FURIE. “They’ve turned it into a rallying cry to try to remove abortion rights.”

Fueling the fire is the Supreme Court, which in November agreed to hear Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole, a case from Texas many believe could be the third installment in an abortion rights triumvirate, following Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

Gearing up for the Court’s decision later this year, Bianchi and others preached the need for feminist solidarity and a mass women’s movement to help defend abortion rights.

Activists and abortion rights supporters gather in protest of Chicago’s annual March for Life chanting, “Our bodies, our lives, our right to survive!” (Aryn Braun/MEDILL)

“[Chicago] has a strong feminist presence, for sure. Everything from FURIE to Women and Children First, to the Roxane Gay-Gloria Steinem event that happened in October, there’s momentum,” said Cate Harriman, a member of the Feminist Literary Society of Chicago.

On the other side of the street, rally-goers streamed into Federal Plaza to attend the 10th annual Chicago March for Life. Students, members of various churches and anti-abortion groups carried yellow balloons and blasted Top-40 hits, all while screaming, “We are the pro-life generation!”

Speakers at the March for Life consistently criticized organizations that provide abortion services, like Planned Parenthood.

Many, like Devan, expressed their concern about the “liberal politics” of the current administration, and see legal abortion as a pathway to a more progressive agenda.

“If you’re going to have sex, there’s a possibility you’re going to get pregnant, and I’m sick of people not taking responsibility for what their actions are,” Devan said. “I think our government loves to enable people.”

People begin trickling into Federal Plaza Sunday afternoon, setting up for Chicago’s 10th annual March for Life. (Aryn Braun/MEDILL)

Should the Court uphold the law, Texas women will face some of the toughest abortion restrictions in the country. Those living in remote areas will be left without viable, safe and legal abortion services if unable to make the long drive to a big city, where the 10 remaining clinics would be, according to the Texas Policy Evaluation Project.

“The impact is going to be devastating,” said Amanda Williams, executive director of the Austin-based Lilith Fund, which helps low-income women pay for abortions in central and south Texas.

The court is set to decide the case at the end of term in June, pushing the issue into the spotlight right as the presidential race takes center-stage.

Chicago’s anti-abortion and abortion rights groups are watching the case closely and attempting to rally support for their respective sides.

“This is a battle that people have been fighting for a long time, and it’s something that generations of women have had to deal with,” Harriman said. “We’re still fighting that good fight.”

Photo at top: Students form the front line of Chicago’s 10th annual March For Life shouting, “We are the pro-life generation!” (Aryn Braun/MEDILL)