by Connie Thompson
Every year on January 22, the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the reactionary anti-choice events “March for Life” takes place across the United States. In Indianapolis, the group converges on the state capitol building to rally with bigoted members of the Indianapolis archdiocese and Indiana State House and Senate. In the past, no local organizations have stood up to these bullies directly as they gather. This year, a group of brave Hoosiers heeded the call to defend the right to reproductive justice and to directly challenge the patriarchial and misogynistic values of the March for Life.
On a bitterly cold day, organizers from the Indianapolis Party for Socialism and Liberation, Indy Feminists, Queering Indy, and Women’s March Youth Empower Indiana rallied poor and working-class Hoosiers from across the state for their own counter-demonstration: the March for Choice. Despite verbal and physical harassment from March for Life attendees, the diverse group of counter-protesters stayed resolute in their mission to defend the right to free and on-demand abortions.
The event began with a rally on Monument Circle, which was also sponsored by Planned Parenthood Advocates of Indiana and Kentucky. Several speakers at the rally emphasized the importance of showing up in the streets for the cause of reproductive justice, even though the right to abortion is already supposedly guaranteed by the Supreme Court ruling.
“It is crucial for us to remember that the gains we have won under capitalism have only been won through struggle,” said Sam James, a PSL Indianapolis organizer and patient escort at a local reproductive healthcare clinic. “It was the people’s movements of the sixties and seventies, among them the movement for women’s liberation and the anti-war movement, that led to the historic decision on this day forty-seven years ago.”
Similarly, Matty Slaydon of Queering Indy discussed with Liberation News how the right to abortion is important to defend under capitalism. “The issue of abortion is intersectional,” they said, “and this issue definitely looks at things like race, gender, socioeconomic class, and Queering Indy stands against imperialism, classism, and obviously, gender discrimination. We can not sit idly by and allow these fundamental human rights to be attacked.”
The link between the denial of abortion access and race and gender are evident. The March for Choice responded to sexist, racist, and homophobic slurs from the opposing crowd with chants of “Anti-woman, anti-gay; Christian fascists go away,” and “When trans people are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!”
Women attending the March for Choice were eager to share their reasons for protesting. Brittni McFarland told Liberation News why coming across the state to show her support was so crucial.
“I think it’s really important to show that we aren’t silent, that we are here… I actually drove all the way down here from Fort Wayne, Indiana because I really felt that it was an important thing to be a part of today.”
McFarland shared her experience visiting a Planned Parenthood clinic for non-abortive services, describing how she faced “hateful slurs.” She went on to add, “It was just so hateful, when all I needed was some answers.”
She concluded with advice to people who have had similar experiences to her: “It can be really scary to come out here and just be a part of this, and it’s even scarier to share your personal story, but if you don’t speak up, if we don’t show our faces, then people are going to think that we don’t exist, and it’s important to show that we do.”
Shortly after the rally was underway, Debby Bartley of the Indiana War Memorial called protest organizers over. Bartley informed them that they needed a permit for the rally. This was quite a surprise, as the groups have collectively held dozens of demonstrations at the same place over the last years without a problem. Organizers told Bartley the rally would be over by 12:00, and she said they had to leave before then.
However, organizers pulled up Indiana War Memorial regulations, which state that no permit is needed if the gathering is under 50 people. There were 41 people in attendance. Bartley responded that, “we are in the process of changing that,” and changed her tact, now saying only that “I’m informing you that you will need a permit in the future.”
After completing the rally as planned, protesters marched to the State House to directly confront the March for Life gathering.
Even in the face of scarce and underfunded clinics, absurd regulations that include giving patients unscientific information, and bigoted attacks from the evangelical right, the working people of the Hoosier state will continue to stand up and say: “Abortion free and on demand! We won’t go back!”