Capitol Police Arrest 181 Protesters Waging Sit-In for Abortion Rights in DC

Capitol Police arrested 181 pro-abortion demonstrators in Washington, D.C. on Thursday as they waged a sit-in to protest the Supreme Court’s recent overturn of Roe v. Wade.

During the protest by Center for Popular Democracy Action, Planned Parenthood Action Fund and Working Families Party – joined by prominent figures like Rep. Judy Chu (D-California) – demonstrators blocked a street near the Supreme Court, demanding that lawmakers take action to protect abortion seekers across the country.

Capitol Police began arresting people around noon on Thursday after surrounding them as the protesters marched to the Supreme Court building, calling for mass civil disobedience and vowing not to back down until abortion rights were restored. Chu, one of the original sponsors of the Democrats’ bill to codify Roe, was among the people arrested, as well as the progressive pastor and activist Rev. William Barber II.

Police said that the reason for the arrests was that the protesters were blocking an intersection, though videos posted on social media show that police closely surrounded protesters as they marched, before the arrests began. Meanwhile, uprisings waged by hundreds of thousands of people over the past week have been met with police violence, including the use of tear gas, which is an abortifacient.

Journalist Chuck Modi documented on Twitter that police were kettling protesters, an anti-protest tactic often used by police to trap protesters in which they surround protesters and confine them to a certain area like an alleyway or a bridge.

Modi noted that Capitol Police officers treated the abortion protesters with far more hostility than they did the January 6 attackers – an armed mob with a stated intent of killing political figures and staging a coup backed by the then-president of the United States. D.C. police said that they only arrested about a dozen people out of a mob of thousands of far right militants on the day of the January 6 attack.

Progressive advocates noted that the difference in the police response, while infuriating, was no surprise. “It’s not a coincidence that violent fascists were treated with kid gloves and folks protesting non-violently for abortion are arrested,” said anti-capitalist activist Joshua Potash. “Cops view one group as their friends and the other as an enemy.”

Barber, who said he was held in police custody for over three hours, condemned the police for the arrests. “There is something deeply immoral when you would be willing to use your power, not to provide people living wages, not to provide people voting rights, but to take away a woman’s power over her body,” he said. (Trans men and nonbinary people are also affected by the Roe overturn, and the trans community has seen a wave of attacks on their bodily autonomy even outside of the abortion ruling.)

Abortion advocates have been calling on lawmakers to take immediate action to protect abortion rights and prevent what researchers say will be a sharp uptick in death rates of pregnant people. President Joe Biden called for creating a carveout in the Senate filibuster in order to pass Democrats’ abortion bill, but the pledge means little in the face of recalcitrant conservative Democrats Senators Kyrsten Sinema (Arizona) and Joe Manchin (West Virginia), who were quick to shoot down Biden’s call.

Progressives say that, even if it were possible, creating a filibuster carveout would be wholly insufficient to meet the demands of this moment as the Supreme Court guts Americans’ rights at a rapid clip. Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota) have called for far right Supreme Court justices who voted to overturn Roe to be investigated and potentially impeached, while other lawmakers have called for expanding the Supreme Court to combat Republican court packing.