As she walked through the Crystal City Metro station on Saturday morning, Dawn Fritts had no idea where she was going.
Fritts, a 52-year-old from Fort Wayne, Ind., had never been to Washington. She’d never been to a protest. But she was outraged by the six-week abortion ban in Texas, so she donned her Ruth Bader Ginsburg pin, boarded a minivan with seven women she didn’t know and traveled nine hours so she could march to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“When women’s rights are under attack, what do we do?” chanted a veteran member of the group, MeChelle Callen.
Fritts looked around at her fellow marchers — mostly women in their 50s and 60s — and shouted the retort.
“Stand up! Fight back!”
The “Rally for Abortion Justice” drew thousands of protesters to D.C. on Saturday and many more to more than 600 other protests across the country. Organized by the Women’s March, the protest was a direct response to the six-week abortion ban that took effect in Texas on Sept. 1, the most restrictive abortion law enacted since before Roe v. Wade. Some women, like Fritts, felt compelled to march for the very first time.
The day after the Texas ban went into effect, Indiana state representatives announced their plans to do the same thing. Liz Brown, a state senator from Fort Wayne, said she would file a “Texas-style” antiabortion bill in January, voicing her strong support for the civil liability component of the bill, which allows any citizen to sue someone who helps facilitate an illegal abortion.
“I think that abortions affect society and the community and frankly, in some states, even though you may have pro-life legislators, you do not always have pro-life bureaucrats who are willing to do enforcement inspections,” Brown told the Tribune-Star.
In their Republican-controlled state legislature, Fritts fears Brown will be successful.
Women’s March organizers, too, hoped this year’s marches would energize the movement around threats to abortion access. With a 6-3 conservative majority in the Supreme Court, many fear Roe v. Wade could be in jeopardy. Antiabortion activists, meanwhile, have celebrated the Texas ban and are looking ahead to the Supreme Court taking up Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban in December. Some counterprotested in D.C. on Saturday.
The women who boarded the van from Fort Wayne are members of Women United for Progress Allen County, or WUFPAC. Kimberly Michaelsen, 52, started the group for liberal women in the area on Facebook in September 2020. Since then, the group has swelled to 4,300 members. Many of the women are among the only liberals in their friend circles, Fritts said. Fort Wayne, known as “the City of Churches,” went 54.5 percent for former president Donald Trump in 2020 but can often feel far more conservative, she said. In 2018, the only abortion clinic in the city was forced to close, citing harassment from antiabortion activists.
Until recently, Fritts, who works in accounting, did not speak publicly about her politics. She was afraid of how friends and colleagues might attack her online, she said. When millions of women attended the first Women’s March in January 2017, Fritts stayed home. But now, the stakes feel higher.
“Texas really opened up my eyes,” Fritts said. “I wasn’t aware we could lose this right.”
When she was offered a spot in the van, sponsored by another WUFPAC member, Fritts said she didn’t hesitate: She knew she had to go.
Since the Texas law took effect, Fritts has been thinking a lot about a family friend who came to her for help when she was 16. She needed an abortion, she told Fritts, who was roughly her mother’s age, but could not get one in Indiana without parental consent. If she told her parents she was pregnant, the 16-year-old said, she worried they might force her to keep the baby. Fritts helped her orchestrate a four-hour trip to Illinois.
She was furious that this 16-year-old needed parental consent to access abortion. And she was similarly furious when her own 16-year-old daughter had to get her permission before the state would allow her to get on birth control.
When Fritts was 16, she remembers driving to the local Planned Parenthood to pick up birth control with a group of her friends.
“It was a rite of passage,” she said. “You got your driver’s license, and you went to Planned Parenthood.”
She can’t believe how much ground has been lost in 40 years, she said.
As a mother, Fritts said she did what she could to foster a healthy conversation around sexuality. She stocked her teenage son’s closet with a Costco-size pack of condoms, she said — and started talking to her daughter about sex when she first asked about bras at age 5. But if the laws crack down on birth control and abortion, she said, there’s only so much a supportive parent can do.
On the Metro, Fritts spotted another three women in abortion rights T-shirts. One was holding a sign that read, “I will not go quietly back to the 1950s.”
Fritts smiled and raised her fist in solidarity.
“You go,” said Becky Hansen, 52, Fritts’s roommate who was also attending her first Women’s March. “We’re following you.”
Here in D.C., Fritts is relieved to have her beliefs out in the open: on her sign, on her T-shirt, on the top of her head where she placed her “pussy ears.” On Saturday morning, before the March, she decided to post about her trip on Facebook.
“Today is the day that we march,” she wrote.
She made sure to include a photo of a Women’s March poster that explicitly called out “reproductive rights,” so no one could mistake why she was there.
“It only got 13 likes, but here’s what’s important: He’s a Catholic,” she said, pointing at one of the comments, “and she’s a Trump supporter,” she said, pointing at another. Both friends, who she’d assumed would oppose her decision to march, were supportive.
Her eyes welled as she looked at the post. After so many years of hiding her beliefs about abortion, she said, “it just means so much.”
Kieran O’Dowd, a member of WUFPAC who organized the trip from Fort Wayne, had been hoping for a larger turnout. She’d planned to charter a 55-person bus, she said, but in the end, only a handful signed up.
Still, she said, she’s excited about how this march will inspire newcomers like Fritts and Hansen. After years of leading these protests, she said, she is burned out and needs people like them to help propel the movement. And after an emotionally charged weekend in D.C., she said, she knows that “they’ll be on fire.” Before they embark on their nine-hour return journey, they plan to visit Arlington Cemetery, where they’ll stand at the foot of Ginsburg’s grave.
When the group reached the protest’s starting point around 10:30 a.m., the women fanned out, buying commemorative pins and collecting free bottles of water. Some called their husbands, others took selfies. Kelly Clarkson’s “Miss Independent” blared in the background.
For a few moments, Fritts stood still.
“I’m overwhelmed,” she said. “All my people are here.”