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Reproductive Rights Protests Target Texas Capitol, Supreme Court, And Cities From Coast To Coast

Patricia Lim For KUT
Demonstrators rally outside the state Capitol on Saturday to protest Texas' new abortion law, which bans the procedure as early as six weeks.

A theme emerged at the Women’s March outside the state Capitol on Saturday: Should opponents of the new abortion law stay in Texas?

Katherine Ellenthal, who was born and raised in the state, said she's "frightened" about the direction it’s headed in.

"This is my home and I wouldn't want to leave,” she said, “but I wouldn't rule it out, either.”

Ellenthal said she has four kids, two of whom have already left Texas. She said the younger ones also want to leave.

"No one wants to go to college in Texas," she said.

Ellenthal joined hundreds of people on the south steps of the Capitol condemning what organizers called “the war against reproductive and voting rights.” Rallies took place across the country Saturday after Texas enacted the most restrictive abortion ban in the country and as the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to rule on the future of Roe v. Wade.

Related: 5th Women's March focuses on reproductive rights

The Texas law, which went into effect Sept. 1, prohibits people from getting an abortion as early as six weeks, even in cases of rape, sexual abuse or incest.

"It's preposterous that this abortion law has not taken into context survivors of rape and incest, and people should be able to access abortions, period," said Kimiya Factory, an organizer at Saturday' rally in San Antonio.

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Paul Flahive/Texas Public Radio
Organizer Kimiya Factory addresses a crowd during the "bans off our bodies" rally in San Antonio on October 2, 2021.

Courts, including the Supreme Court, have refused to block the law so far. Every other state that has tried to enact similar laws has been stopped after courts ruled the laws were unconstitutional.

Instead of requiring enforcement by the state, lawmakers drafted the Texas law to be enforced by private citizens, which is a reason it hasn't been blocked.

The new law also allows citizens to sue people or organizations who perform or helps someone get an abortion after six weeks. If successful, the plaintiff could be awarded $10,000 or more.

Texas is now the only state in which the legal precedent set by Roe has not been in effect.

Roberto Martinez/Texas Public Radio
Thousands demonstrate during the "bans off our bodies" march in San Antonio on October 2, 2021.

Fifteen-year-old Vanessa, who was attending her first political rally Saturday, said she’s planning to leave the state because of the abortion ban.

"When I move out, I am leaving Texas because I think women's rights are very important," she said.

Others, like Ashlie Harrison, are waiting to see what happens. She said she's hoping the courts will intervene.

"If this law doesn't go away, I don't want to get rid of my rights," she said. "So, I do think about maybe moving out if it doesn't get changed."

Demonstrator Amy Porter said it was important to stay. Voting, she said, is the solution.

"You know what? I love this state,” she said. “This is my state. I am not leaving.”

— Keren Carrión (@kerencarrion8) October 2, 2021

Thousands have gathered for the Reproductive Liberation March in Dallas. They’ll be heading to the streets soon. @keranews

The U.S. Justice Department has asked the federal court in Austin to at least temporarily halt the ban. It argues the state is violating the constitutional rights of Texans.

Abortion providers say there are also real human costs.

Dr. Amna Dermish, the regional medical director with Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, said every day she has gone to work for the past month she has had to tell a patient she's too late to get an abortion.

On the first day the law was in effect, Dermish said, a woman came to the clinic whose birth control had failed and she had to tell her she couldn't get the procedure.

“She was six weeks and one day,” she said. “She asked if she could hold my hand and it was just really, really hard because that was all I could do for her in that moment.”

Roberto Martinez/Texas Public Radio
Thousands of abortion rights protesters march in San Antonio on October 2, 2021.

However, abortion bans are nothing new to the city of Lubbock. Kim Gonzalez has been on the frontlines advocating for abortion rights since the city banned them in June.

"I'm angry that we still have to be here fighting for this. our grandmothers fought for us to have this right 40 years ago," she said.

Gonzalez is asking Lubbockites to urge their representatives to vote yes on the Women’s Health Protection Act. The bill — penned in response to the new law in Texas — was passed by the US House.

In Houston, thousands of protesters marched to City Hall, where the crowd listened to several speakers, including Phyllis Randolph Frye — the first openly transgender judge appointed in the U.S.

Lucio Vasquez / Houston Public Media
Thousands marched to Houston City Hall on Oct. 2, 2021 in protest of Texas' new restrictive abortion law, as hundreds of similar marches took place throughout the entire country.

Among those in attendance was Mayor Sylvester Turner, U.S. Rep. Al Green, and U.S. Rep Sylvia Garcia.

While the speeches rang throughout the courtyard of City Hall, Diana Barrera, 32, danced with an Aztec dance group called Danza Itcoalt Tezkatlipoka Houston just outside of the crowd.

Barrera said the dance elevates their energy and lifts up their prayers, which include women negatively impacted by SB 8 and her ancestors — indigenous women who've been stripped of their reproductive rights for centuries.

“Not only are we standing in our power as women, but if you take this back 500 years ago, our women were forcibly sterilized as a way to control our population, as a form of genocide,” Barrera said. “So this is something that we haven’t just been resisting, since Abbott decided to come up with this crazy law. But we’ve been resisting this type of violence against women for over 500 years.”

Lucio Vasquez / Houston Public Media
Thousands gathered at Discovery Green before marching to Houston City Hall on Oct. 2, 2021.

Kaysie Ellingson is the former news director for Texas Tech Public Media. She came to Lubbock after living in Anchorage, Alaska, working as a documentary producer for Alaska Public Media. Prior to working in public media, Kaysie earned her master's degree in journalism from the University of Southern California with an emphasis in documentary production.