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Hundreds rally for reproductive rights in Pittsburgh as part of a nationwide demonstration

10.2.21 our body our choice_kk.jpg
Kiley Koscinski
90.5 WESA
A protester holds a sign that reads "Our bodies, our choice!" during a march downtown Saturday. The large crowd demonstrated in support of reproductive rights. Rallies across the country are planned after Texas passed the nation's most restrictive abortion law and ahead of the conservative Supreme Court's next term.

Abortion-rights supporters filled half a dozen city blocks marching through downtown Pittsburgh Saturday. The march was part of a nationwide call to protect reproductive rights after Texas instituted the nation’s most restrictive abortion law — and ahead of the Supreme Court’s next term, during which a conservative majority of justices could rule on the future of Roe v. Wade.

“We won’t back down… we will not allow the reality of Texas to become the reality of this country,” said Becky Foster, board chair of Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania, to a crowd of hundreds outside of the City-County Building.

Demonstrators gathered around noon for a rally before marching through downtown.

10.2.21 protest_power to the polls march_kk.jpg
Kiley Koscinski
Protesters march down Liberty Avenue downtown Saturday calling for protections for reproductive rights. The march was part of hundreds planned across the nation.

According to Women’s March, an organization that hosted annual protests during Donald Trump’s presidency, more than 600 rallies were planned in all 50 states Saturday.

Women’s March Pittsburgh organized the local protest. The group’s leader, Tracy Baton, said she was floored by the turnout. The overwhelming majority of protesters were women.

“It shows how much Pittsburghers care about the right to choose and [that] they’re willing to put their feet in the streets for it,” she said.

Speakers focused heavily on voting out elected officials who don’t support reproductive rights.

Abortion is legal in Pennsylvania up to about 24 weeks into pregnancy. Republican-backed legislation pending in Harrisburg — but sure to meet a veto from Gov. Tom Wolf were it to pass — would ban the procedure after a doctor identifies a fetal heartbeat, usually around six weeks.

Another bill that passed the state House in June would prohibit abortions sought solely because of a Down syndrome diagnosis.

“Before Texas, we said ‘This could never happen,’ but it happened. And we’re here,” said Chardae Jones, mayor of Braddock. “It’s time to get legislation out of our ovaries. It’s time to put our voices where we vote. It’s time to go forward, not backward.”

U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle was one of two men who spoke to the crowd. “Women and women alone should make decisions about their bodies,” Doyle said. “In Congress I’m happy to be an ally… and we’re going to eliminate the Hyde Amendment so that a person’s income should have no basis on whether or not they have access to reproductive services.”

The Hyde Amendment prohibits the use of federal dollars for abortions except in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the woman. Doyle has supported the amendment in the past but co-sponsored a Congressional bill that would repeal the Hyde Amendment in 2019.

A handful of other speakers encouraged those present to call their representatives and encourage them to vote against anti-abortion-rights bills. Voter-registration activists were on hand to sign up new voters and to educate demonstrators about how they could help with voter-registration efforts.

“Only by taking our power to the polls can we have the change we need,” Baton said.

Others speakers shared their experience with abortions. Sydney Paige, a medical student and volunteer with Pro Choice with Heart, spoke about her experience with sexual assault and homophobia.

“Our right to choose has systematically been taken away at every step. Our local, state and federal government has continued to fail girls like me,” she said.

Brenda Tate, chairperson of the Allegheny County Black Caucus, told a story from her childhood about a neighbor who died during an abortion in an alleyway.

“For many years… I related going into the alley and death,” she said. “I’m not going back [to] the alley. You’re not going back to the alley. We are not going back to the alley!” she yelled to a roaring crowd.

Laura Horowitz, a volunteer escort with Pittsburgh pro-choice escorts, spoke about what anti-abortion-rights activists yell at women as they walk into clinics. Horowitz has escorted women from their cars to the clinic since the 1990s.

“If we weren’t there, there is a certainty that [anti-abortion-rights protesters] would physically block patients and staff from entering the clinic,” she said. But women are still subjected to insults and verbal intimidation, she added.

The crowd marched down Grant Street and Liberty Avenue before returning to the City-County Building to disperse. Police conducted rolling street closures to assist the march.

A smaller group continued marching in response to a heckler after the majority of the crowd left.

Streets reopened shortly after 2 p.m.

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