‘We Won’t Go Back’: Thousands March On Capitol For Abortion Rights, Access

An estimated crowd of 10,000 people marched to the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul on a steamy Sunday, with Jewish organizations, clergy, and legislators part of the event.

The event was organized by UnRestrict Minnesota, of which NCJW Minnesota and Jewish Community Action are a part.

“We are a proud member of the UnRestrict Minnesota, and NCJW has been a part of this coalition since before I started this role six weeks ago,” said Erica Solomon, the new executive director of NCJW Minnesota, who was one of the speakers on the steps of the Capitol. “Our organization and our faith celebrates opportunities for us to partner with others, to learn from many perspectives, and to build shared strength and I am so grateful that being a part of UnRestrict has allowed us to do just that.”

Erin Maye Quade, the UnRestrict Minnesota campaign manager, said that this coalition had been prepared for just this moment.

“UnRestrict Minnesota started because we knew this moment was coming,” she said. “We are prepared here in Minnesota because we knew we had to do everything in our power to defend our autonomy and our agency.” 

The timing of the event from a Jewish perspective was an interesting one. Adath Jeshurun’s Hazzan Joanna Dulkin, who spoke to the crowd as it gathered at Saint Paul College before the march, pointed out that Sunday, July 17 is – in the Jewish calendar – the 17th of Tammuz, a day of fasting and mourning that marks the day when the walls of Jerusalem were breached, leading to the destruction of the second temple.

“Today, we gather because walls of our holy democracy have been breached. The walls of our bodily autonomy have been breached. The walls of justice for all have been breached,” Dulkin said. “We have entered into an unprecedented time in our country where those who want to practice their religion as it is taught us will not have those freedoms anymore.

“There is a time to mourn, a time to reach, a time to act, and today is a time to make your voices heard. Let people know that abortion bans are against your religion, that a ban on abortion anywhere is an assault on religious freedom everywhere.”

The UnRestrict Minnnesota coalition is a mix of organizations that cover service providers, legal, and cultural organizations: Gender Justice, Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota Action Fund, Pro-Choice Minnesota, Our Justice, Reproductive Health Action Network Minnesota, OutFront Minnesota, ERA Minnesota, Women’s March Minnesota, Women Winning, and Local Progress.

“JCA marched today because our Jewish values tell us to protect the lives and dignity of those who are pregnant. We marched because our bodies, the bodies of our children and our friends, are in danger from a movement that seeks to impose one narrow interpretation of Christian values,” said Dave Snyder, JCA’s organizing director. “This country cannot safeguard the freedom of everyone to practice our faith traditions if one narrow, fundamentalist sect imposes control, hatred, incitement to violence, and strips basic human rights from us, one group at a time. We were honored to march with so many thousands of fellow Minnesotans today, and we will continue this work tomorrow, next month, and next year.”

Politicians speaking out

In addition to organizers, activists, artists, and those who told their own abortion stories to the crowd, a number of politicians spoke, including city council members, state legislators, members of congress, the attorney general, governor and, lieutenant governor.

Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan speaks at the Thousands took part in the Our Future: March for Abortion Access rally at the Capitol on July 17, with First Lady Gwen Walz and Gov. Tim Walz (left), and Flanagan's husband Tom Weber (right).

Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan speaks at the Thousands took part in the Our Future: March for Abortion Access rally at the Capitol on July 17, with First Lady Gwen Walz and Gov. Tim Walz (left), and Flanagan’s husband Tom Weber (right).

“Our children and grandchildren are going to ask what the hell we did during this time, and we’re going to say everything possible,” said Gov. Tim Walz. “I can tell you that Lt. Gov. [Peggy] Flanagan, the First Lady, and myself, just like you, in those terrible hours after the Supreme Court’s horrific decision on Dobbs, the one thing we were saying is: ‘what can we do? What can we do with this office to use every bit of the authority and the legal rights we have to protect Minnesotans rights and freedoms?’”

Walz said that what they could do was to order state agencies to not cooperate with those states that have denied abortion rights, as well as take steps to protect those that come to Minnesota to receive health care. 

“When the decision came down from the Supreme Court, the first thing that I did was call my mom. And my mom said: ‘My girl, I have been preparing you for this moment your entire life,’” Flanagan said. “And we know that there are people who came before us who cleared a pathway who made sure that we were protected, make sure that we had the right to an abortion, and we are going to fight that fight again and it is an honor to do so.

“As long as we are in this office, as long as we occupy the offices in this building. We will fight like hell to protect your right to an abortion.”

State Sen. Sandy Pappas, one of the Jewish members of the legislature, advocated in her speech for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment

“We need the ERA because a law is not a constitutional guarantee. Laws are fickle. They come and go with the prevailing political winds,” said Pappas, who pointed out that Minnesota was one of 24 states that do not have a state ERA in its state constitution. “As we saw with the despicable Dobbs decision, laws can be stripped away; but put us in the Constitution and equality will be guaranteed by the highest law of the land.”

Embracing religious freedom

Dulkin’s pre-march speech was given prior to those of female clergy of other faiths. Solomon spoke on the steps with women representing other minority organizations that were involved in the coalition.

NCJW Minnesota's group gets together at Saint Paul College before marching to the Capitol.

NCJW Minnesota’s group gets together at Saint Paul College before marching to the Capitol.

“For a while, I was standing next to somebody who had a sign talking about how abortion is part of our Christian belief system,” Solomon said after the rally. “And [Rep. Ilhan Omar] was talking about how it’s part of their Muslim belief system. So it’s, it’s really good to know that we are not the only ones that are here sharing how reproductive rights and abortion access is part of our belief system.”

Solomon ended her speech by talking about how the groups that are part of the UnRestrict Minnesota coalition are guided by traditions and values.

“We are here because abortion restrictions and bans impede our right to freedom, religious and otherwise,” she said. “And most of all, we’re here because we deeply believe that we are strongest in our path to justice when we walk together.”