Organizer Erica Cokley (left) rallies crowds outside the U.S. Custom House on East Bay Street Oct. 2 | Credit: Andy Brack

More than 600 people, many of them shouting “My body, my choice,” marched midday Saturday from Charleston City Hall to the U.S. Custom House to support reproductive rights.

Across the state, hundreds more were expected at similar rallies in Columbia, Greenville and Myrtle Beach  to send a strong message against a restrictive abortion measure, known as the “fetal heartbeat” law, that state legislators passed in February.

“The marches this weekend continue to highlight the still heinous attitudes toward women in South Carolina,” said Charleston women’s right’s advocate Jennet Robinson Alterman   “Consider that women did not serve on juries until 1969. We have among the highest rates of infant and maternal mortality in the U.S. 

“Women’s reproductive rights are practically nonexistent. Women are still paid significantly less than men to name just a few of the reasons we march and march and march.”

Participants gathered outside City Hall Saturday around 11:15 a.m. | Credit: Andy Brack
Credit: Andy Brack

Spurred on by restrictive anti-abortion legislation passed in Texas, South Carolina and other states, marchers also rallied in Augusta, Savannah and Charlotte and in scores of Women’s March events across the nation.

“Supporters of reproductive health care are rallying to show our support for the right to legal abortion, said Molly Rivera, communications director for Planned Parenthood South Atlantic. “We also know that a right without access isn’t a right in practice.

“Decades of attacks on reproductive rights and health care by state legislators have already made abortion inaccessible for many people in South Carolina. And these same lawmakers have long made clear their intention to continue to pass as many laws as possible to stigmatize abortion and restrict access to care, if not block it entirely.”

About 600 people participated in Saturday’s march from City Hall to the U.S. Custom House | Credit: Andy Brack

On Saturday, women’s rights advocates gathered at 11 a.m. in Washington Square next to Charleston City Hall for pep talks and prayer, which was led by the Rev. Thomas Dixon of North Charleston.  They left around 11:30 a.m. and walked along Meeting Street bearing placards and wearing lots of white clothing.  It took about eight minutes for the line to turn the corner from Meeting Street to Market Street as participants headed to the Custom House.

At the Custom House, organizer Erica Cokley of Charleston shouted messages of support for reproductive freedom as the crowd, comprised mostly of women, made noise with call-and-response shouts.  

Earlier this week, Cokley, a member of Charleston County School Board, said the march was a national call to action after passage of the Texas law that bans almost all abortions.

“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 Charleston City Paper.

Courtney Thomas, director of communications of the S.C. Women’s Rights and Empowerment Network in Columbia, said Thursday that a threat to abortion rights would impact all South Carolinians.

“Our leaders need to know that this issue is not niche, [and] there are advocates who are willing to fight to retain their reproductive freedom,” she said.