Hundreds rally at Texas Capitol to protest abortion ban, demand protection of women’s rights

Natalia E. Contreras
Austin American-Statesman

Vienna, 12, got up on a stool to reach the microphone. 

She spoke to a crowd of hundreds of women, men, and children Saturday who gathered on the Capitol's south lawn to protest Senate Bill 8, a Texas law that bans many abortions. 

"Most people don't think about kids like me when they think about pregnancy. But the fact is kids as early as 10 years old can get pregnant," she said. "This issue isn't just relevant to adults. ...  I want to live in a world where girls aren't raped. I want to live in a world where I don't have to be marching for my constitutional rights."

More:Federal judge weighs request to block Texas abortion law

Rita Moyers, Maya Riser and Haley Hogan , all of Austin, attend the Women's March ATX rally at the Texas State Capitol, Saturday, Oct., 2, 2021. The march was a response to controversial legislation recently passed by Texas lawmakers banning abortions after six weeks of pregnancy.

The rally was organized by Women's March ATX, a group that advocates women's reproductive rights, LGBTQIA rights and workers' rights. Hundreds of Women's March protests Saturday were planned across all 50 states and in Washington, D.C. 

Vienna, whose parents declined to give her last name, is the leader of Austin's youth committee of the National Organization for Women. She was among dozens of speakers that included several other Austin middle and high school students; Texas lawmakers; activists; and advocates for marginalized groups.

About 30 counter protesters were also at the rally, separated from the main event by a line of Texas Department of Public Safety officers. The anti-abortion advocates held signs that read, "I am the pro-life generation."

Women's March ATX rally at the Texas State Capitol, Saturday, Oct., 2, 2021. The march was a response to controversial legislation recently passed by Texas lawmakers banning abortions after six weeks of pregnancy.

Lawmakers who spoke at the rally Saturday included U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, state Sen. Sarah Eckhardt, and Travis County Commissioners Brigid Shea, and Ann Howard. Former state Sen. Wendy Davis also spoke at the event. 

Many speakers focused on the importance of protecting the rights of younger generations and how SB 8 can disproportionately affect low-income populations and women of color.

Pamela Bryant, founder of Walk By Faith Prison Ministry, joined the rally Saturday in solidarity. Bryant said the group has recently been walking the streets and helping the homeless population in Austin.  

The abortion law's impact on homeless women was top of mind for her, Bryant said. 

"I don't think (lawmakers) understand each individual's situation. They're not seeing it from how it can impact other people," Bryant said. "It's just not right for them to make decisions for everyone and especially for people of color, for the whole world."

On Friday, U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman heard arguments from lawyers from the U.S. Justice Department and the Texas attorney general's office as Pitman considers a request from the federal government to block enforcement of the state law. 

Anti-abortion advocates confront pro-choice advocates during the Women's March ATX rally at the Texas State Capitol, Saturday, Oct., 2, 2021. The march was a response to controversial legislation recently passed by Texas lawmakers banning abortions after six weeks of pregnancy.

Philip King, 40, and Amanda Barczyk, 39, took their 4-year-old niece Maya with them to Saturday's rally. They helped Maya make signs that read "Girl Power" and "We Are Strong." 

"We want to teach her from a young age that it's important to fight for what you believe in and that when unjust laws are passed, we need to fight to get lawmakers into power who reflect our values," King said. "Even though I don't have a uterus, I love so many women who would be affected by this law. It goes beyond abortion. This really affects everyone and especially marginalized women." 

Austin American-Statesman reporter Natalia Contreras can be reached at 512-626-4036 or ncontreras@statesman.com. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook, @NataliaECG.