LOS ANGELES — Joining demonstrators across the country, thousands of women’s rights activists marched in downtown Los Angeles and elsewhere around the state Saturday as the U.S. Supreme Court appears poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision legalizing abortion nationwide.
Donna Troy Wangler was among the few women gathered at the L.A. City Hall rally who wasn’t toting a sign proclaiming her views. But the Inland Empire high school teacher had a poignant story to share about her daughter Lauren, who was born with Down syndrome and 6 six years old when she died.
“Some people seem to think it’s a snap for moms like [me] to have an abortion,” Wangler said. “I decided to keep my child — and that was a traumatic load to carry. But gosh, the love we shared changed my life forever.”
Holding up her cellphone, she gushed, “Here’s a photo of Lauren — Look how proud of herself she is!”
“So, I’m here today,” added Wangler, 53, “because I want the world to know that abortion is a woman’s choice. No one else’s.”
The rally is one of hundreds taking place across the country, including in San Francisco, San Diego, Washington, D.C., New York, Chicago and Austin, Texas.
Shante Young, 28, a construction company project engineer who lives in Costa Mesa, and her boyfriend Dylan Sanchez, 30, a retail salesman who lives in Whittier, sought shade under a tree in Grand Park as they listened to the voices of abortion rights supporters booming through loudspeakers from the stage in front of City Hall. A few yards away, anti-abortion demonstrators banged drums and used a megaphone to drown out the activists’ voices.
“If they start taking away women’s rights, they’re going to take away the right to vote,” Young said. “What’s next? It’s very scary.”
News helicopters hovered overhead, and hundreds of protesters around them applauded and cheered the speakers on stage. “The biggest thing is to make our presence known,” Sanchez said. He, too, fretted that the loss of abortion rights would foreshadow the loss of other rights. “I’m just concerned that one thing is going to change another thing, like a domino effect,” he said.
Betty Linville, 68, who lives in Koreatown, attended the rally with a friend, Anna Gladstone, 62, who lives in the Hollywood Hills.
“I have memories of women and men fighting for abortion rights 50 years ago,” Linville said. She said she worried the “incredible freedom” of legal abortion was in jeopardy, especially for women who lack the means to travel from a state where it is banned to one where it is allowed.
“What is next?” Linville said. “What else is going to be taken away?”
“This comes down to poor women who won’t have access to travel for abortion,” Gladstone said.
Gov. Gavin Newsom has unveiled a plan for California to set aside $40 million for abortion service providers to help cover uninsured residents and an expected influx of women from other states seeking care if the decision is overturned. California legislators have also said they will ask voters in November to place permanent protections for the procedure in the state Constitution.
“If Roe is overturned, California is destined to play a critical role in health care for women everywhere,” said Gabriel Carnick, a film director and photographer who attended Saturday’s rally. “Women will be moving here from across the nation, along with doctors that treat them.”
”That’s wonderful for California,” she added, ”but terrible for the states they will be leaving behind.”
The demonstrations come after Politico reported May 2 that a draft opinion written by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. indicated a majority of the court would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, reversing its recognition of women’s constitutional right to access safe and legal abortions.
The Supreme Court has confirmed the authenticity of the draft but said that the decision is not yet final. At least 26 states are expected to ban abortion if the precedent falls.
The court, which has a 6-3 conservative majority, could issue a final opinion in late June or early July.
Most Americans support abortion rights — up to a point. A major survey of 10,441 Americans by the Pew Research Center, conducted in March and released earlier this month, found 61% of Americans said abortion should be legal all (19%) or most (42%) of the time.
On the other side, just 8% said abortion should be illegal in all cases, while another 29% said it should be illegal in most cases or with only a few exceptions. Those results are consistent with a host of other surveys of opinion regarding abortion.
Kim O’Kelly, 52, a makeup artist, and her friend Kelly Sweeney, 54, a personal assistant, came to the L.A. City Hall protest from their homes in Burbank and each picked up a green sign when they arrived: “Stop the Supreme Court from taking away abortion rights!”
“We’re afraid that Roe v. Wade is going to be overturned, and we’re not going to take it lying down — we’re going to fight for it,” O’Kelly said.
Sweeney said older men using their power to curb abortion rights fail to appreciate the many different circumstances that can lead a woman to end a pregnancy. She raised the prospect of a 14-year-old who has been raped being forced to drive to Mexico to get an abortion, saying those who threaten abortion rights lack empathy for such people.
“It’s never considered,” she said. “It should just be safe for everyone.”
Ellen Lee, 29, waved a sign reading: “I’m not a servile flesh vessel.”
“This is a phrase that I’ve said to so many men in life,” said Lee, an architectural analyst who lives in El Monte. Pinned on her tank top was a “We are the Resistance” button showing Princess Leia from “Star Wars.”
Lee described the protest as an important show of force that can bring about change. “There’s power in numbers, and we have the numbers,” she said. “I really believe in the power of a group.”
Lee was shocked by the draft Supreme Court ruling, but also inspired to fight back. “It’s the kind of feeling inside that you’re living a dystopian nightmare, but it also spurs a lot of motivation,” she said.
Standing at her side listening to the speakers was her mother, Linda Lee, 59, a medical assistant who also lives in El Monte and was carrying a sign reading: “Not my daughter, you b—!” She carried the same sign in the Women’s March after Donald Trump’s inauguration as president.
“It’s really scary,” the elder Lee said, voicing concern that LGBTQ rights and the right to racially mixed marriages could be threatened once Roe v. Wade is struck down. “If they get their way with that, then they’re going to continue to get more,” she said.
Rep. Maxine Waters then took the stage, one of several speakers who included Mayor Eric Garcetti, Sen. Alex Padilla and Rep. Karen Bass. Shortly after that, many in the crowd joined performers on stage in singing “We Shall Overcome.”
The protest ended shortly after noon with an urgent plea from an activist at the podium: “We need your help!”
Among legions of volunteers was Elizabeth Folio, a veteran activist whose assignment was to hand out free posters from a sweltering curb with a panoramic view of the event. She could hardly keep up with the demand.
That was because, she said, “things have changed. Serious concern over these issues has turned into anger.”
Nodding appreciatively toward the crowd, she said, “there’s more men involved, too.”
“People understand that abortion isn’t going anywhere,“ she added. “Overturning Roe will only eliminate safe abortion. That’s something people didn’t want to talk about before. But they are now.”
(L.A. Times staff writers David Lauter and Melody Gutierrez contributed to this report.)