Protesters gathered at Brittlebank Park in 2019 in support of abortion rights | Credit: Sam Spence file photo

Local organizers are planning a Charleston gathering coinciding with nationwide Women’s March events set for Saturday, as a show of unity in support of women’s reproductive rights. Spurred on by restrictive anti-abortion legislation passed in Texas and South Carolina, supporters will meet at Charleston City Hall and walk to the U.S. Custom House just before midday Saturday.

The event aims to send a strong message to the state’s legislators and leaders against the recent restrictive abortion bill — referred to as the “Fetal Heartbeat Bill” — passed by the South Carolina legislators in February.

“It’s a national call to action, after the law passed in Texas,” said Erica Cokley, one of the event’s local organizers, who also serves on Charleston County School Board.

“We want to continue to send a unified message that we stand in solidarity … amplifying the voices of the marginalized and standing together for all women’s rights,” specifically standing with women of color, Cokley told the City Paper.

Under the South Carolina Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act, doctors are forbidden to perform abortions if a fetal heartbeat is detected (with no exceptions in cases of rape, incest or medical necessity). However, heartbeats are typically detected five to six weeks after conception — before most women even know they’re pregnant.

Though a federal court blocked the bill just a day after Gov. Henry McMaster signed it into law, pro-choice advocates fear if the issue makes it to a now-conservative Supreme Court, it could jeopardize the precedent set by Roe v. Wade, the 1973 case that ruled women have the right to choose to have an abortion.

This fear was heightened after the Supreme Court refused to block a similar Texas bill signed into law in late May. The Texas bill takes abortion restrictions one step further by allowing citizens to sue individuals they suspect have provided an illegal abortion.

In an attempted response to pro-choice advocates’ dismay with the federal courts’ lack of interference, House Democrats approved the Women’s Health Protection Act last Friday. Though it’s very unlikely that the bill will make it through the Senate, Democrats hope this piece of legislation will guarantee a woman’s right to an abortion and protect the Roe vs. Wade decision.

Cokley said she realizes the event could draw a big crowd, but under the group’s permit, city COVID-19 precautions could affect how many are allowed to assemble.

For anyone interested in attending the Women’s March Amplified Voices march for reproductive rights this weekend, organizers are asking people to wear masks and white colored clothing.

The group will meet at 80 Broad St. in Washington Park near Charleston City Hall Saturday morning and begin marching at 11:15 a.m. to the U.S. Customs House.

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