Abortion rights protesters

Abortion rights protesters outside the Hancock Whitney Center in downtown New Orleans May 22, 2019.

Hundreds of New Orleanians filled the streets on the corner of Poydras Street and St. Charles Avenue to protest the wave of abortion restrictions advancing in the Louisiana Legislature and across the country — which speakers called part of a “war against women.”

Brightly colored signs reading “Forced gestation is torture” and “All women deserve the same abortion access as the mistresses of pro-life politicians” were held high in the air as Lakeesha Harris, director of reproductive health and justice of Women With a Vision (WWAV), read the same list of demands she did at a protest at the state Capitol last week.

The demands included abortion access, contraceptive access, comprehensive sex education and a reduced black maternal mortality rate.

“We want full control of our bodies,” Harris said, “and goddamn it, we’re not asking.”

But the scope of the demands also spanned beyond reproductive issues to cover food and housing access for poor people, funding for child care centers and early childhood education and a $15 minimum wage.

“That is not a living wage. That is a minimum wage, and we deserve every freaking penny,” Harris said. This comes a day after the state Senate failed to pass a bill that would have let voters decide if they wanted to establish a state minimum wage of $9 an hour.

Several protestors wore shirts stating their opposition to two bills nearing final passage in the state legislature. One, Senate Bill 184 by State Sen. John Milkovich, D-Shreveport, would ban abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected — around six weeks, before many women even know they’re pregnant.

The other, House Bill 425 by State Rep. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, would let voters decide this fall if they want to add language to the state constitution saying it doesn’t protect the right to abortion or abortion funding. The House passed the bill 80-10 in April, and the Senate passed it 31-4 Tuesday.

“I don’t even care about the 10," said Deon Haywood, executive director of Women With a Vision, of the 10 senators that voted against the bill, “because you didn’t do the work to get [those 80] to change their minds.”

After about an hour of speakers, the crowd went from spilling into the streets to packing them, chanting sentiments such as “Educate, agitate, organize” and “We have nothing to lose but our chains.” The event began at noon and ended by 1:30 p.m.

WWAV, the New Orleans Abortion Fund (NOAF), BYP100 and New Orleans Peoples’ Assembly organized the event.

Haywood said the turnout exceeded her expectations and that the numbers were proof that there are people in Louisiana fighting abortion restrictions.

“We haven’t been a part of the national conversation, so today was about claiming our rights but also letting people know that we fight in Louisiana,” Haywood said. “Southerners stand up, and we are always fighting. We’re always on the front lines.”

Follow Kaylee Poche on Twitter: @kaylee_poche