Hundreds of abortion-rights supporters packed Chicago’s Federal Plaza on Friday evening. With a mix of anger and energy to fight back against the Supreme Court’s decision that overturned Roe v. Wade, they chanted “abortion is health care” and “my body, my choice” in unison.
“We must be in the streets not just today, but for many days to come,” Dr. Amy Whitaker, the chief medical officer of Planned Parenthood of Illinois, told the crowd. “We must make our voices heard. We will not go back and we will not back down.”
At the protest, Gov. JB Pritzker said he has two words for Friday’s decision: “Hell no.”
“In Illinois, we trust women,” Pritzker said. “We will not sit back and let women be treated as second-class citizens by a bunch of retrograde politicians and judges.”
Pritzker also took his moment at the mic to urge people to vote in Tuesday’s primary vote.
“We must elect pro-choice candidates,” Pritzker said. “To those anti-choice politicians, know we are coming for you.”
Friday’s ruling to overturn the landmark 1973 decision that gave constitutional protections for abortion came more than a month after the stunning leak of a draft opinion by Justice Samuel Alito indicating the court was prepared to take this momentous step.
Many of the Chicagoans who gathered on Friday night said they were angry and heartbroken, despite knowing the decision was likely. Driven by that anger, they were motivated to send a message.
“I believe that our presence is important. The more unified that we are and the more pressure that we apply together, it’ll actually make change,” said Natalie Summers, 28, who said she was “devastated” when she heard the news Friday morning. “Specifically for BIPOC women, because I know they’re the most unrepresented with the least amount of resources.”
Esther Bergdahl, a 38-year-old Roscoe Village resident, held up a homemade sign that attracted consistent requests from fellow protesters to take her photo. It read: “I had more rights this morning.”
Bergdahl was raised by a mother who protested for abortion rights pre-Roe. Now, she and others in attendance find themselves in that same position. Some acknowledged that fact with signs that read “my mom already marched for this.”
Kiersten Crouse, 24, wore a shirt with the words “my mom had an abortion” painted across the front. She bought it that way a while back from someone raising money for abortion access, but after the news this morning, she added her own words to the back: “I had a miscarriage at 18 because abortion wasn’t available to me. Keep abortion legal.”
Friday’s decision is expected to lead to abortion bans in roughly half the states in the country. Here in Illinois, Gov. Pritzker has pledged that the state will remain a “beacon of hope in an increasingly dark world.”
“We will fight like hell, not just for the women of Illinois, but for every person in our state and every person across the nation who believes not in limiting civil rights and human rights, but in expanding them,” Pritzker said last month after the draft opinion leaked.
Earlier on Friday, a small gathering of anti-abortion groups also gathered in Federal Plaza in front of a “Roe is history!” sign to applaud the Supreme Court’s decision, onlookers loudly booed, yelled and cried while holding signs that read “forced birth = violence” and “keep your f***ing hands off our uteruses!”
Amy Gehrke, the executive director of Illinois Right to Life, referenced the governor’s words at the Federal Plaza press conference, saying that “the real beacon of hope in the state of Illinois are the millions of pro-life residents that we have here in our state.” She said her organization will now focus on fighting additional “pro-abortion measures” in Illinois and attempting to restore the state’s parental notification abortion law, which was repealed by Democrats last fall.
“We’re going to be encouraging people to join us here and help us win our state for life,” Gehrke said. “We do fully expect Illinois to be ground zero in the abortion debate.”
As Gehrke spoke, an abortion-rights supporter named Emma cried in anger. Emma, who didn’t want to use her last name, lives in Michigan but is visiting her boyfriend in the city for the weekend. After meeting him downtown for lunch, she happened upon the anti-abortion press conference. Despite being “pretty heartbroken and distraught” after hearing the news Friday morning, she decided to hear what they had to say.
“I just wanted to listen because I really tried to see other people’s point of views and it just hurt too much,” she said. “I don’t see anything in their eyes that shows that they empathize with anyone except something that’s not alive.”
She was not alone in her emotional reaction. Christina Arnold, a 34-year-old resident of Hyde Park, was also in tears as she asked emphatically, “What about our health, our rights, our safety?”
“I mean, they can’t f***ing do this,” she said.
Arnold and others with abortion-rights signs were early attendees of the later protest of abortion-rights groups including Chicago for Abortion Rights.
Friends Alex Blaze, Giorgos Losoff and Jordan Reich held abortion-rights signs – making it clear that despite arriving early, they were there for an abortion-rights rally to protest the ruling, scheduled later in the day.
Losoff said the decision to come out and show support for abortion access was simple: “It’s necessary,” he said.
“It’s basic human rights,” Losoff said. “We need to support the women and or non-binary people in our lives that need these rights. And this is a slippery slope for [other rights] being taken.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Courtney Kueppers is a digital producer/reporter at WBEZ. Follow her @cmkueppers.