Gaza Protesters Crashed Biden’s ‘Restore Roe’ Rally. We Talked to Some of Them.

“We’re going to keep making them as uncomfortable as possible,” one protester said. “You can’t support this administration and say you’re pro-women’s rights.”

Gaza Protesters Crashed Biden’s ‘Restore Roe’ Rally. We Talked to Some of Them.
Biden speaks at the ”Reproductive Freedom Campaign Rally” at George Mason University on January 23, 2024, in Manassas, Virginia. Photo:Getty Images

On Tuesday, the day after the 51st anniversary of the Roe v. Wade ruling, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris held a reelection campaign rally in Virginia to emphasize their support for reproductive rights. The “Reproductive Freedom Campaign Rally” at George Mason University featured a stage decorated with signs that read “Defend Choice” and “Restore Roe.” After being introduced by Amanda Zurawski, the lead plaintiff in a Texas lawsuit filed by women denied emergency abortions, Biden was interrupted by protesters 14 times. In Biden and Harris’ remarks, both emphasized that Trump is “responsible” for women’s “suffering” post-Roe and vowed to restore the precedent’s protections if given a Democratic majority in Congressbut the feminist counter-protesters criticizing the administration’s handling of Israel’s bombardment of Gaza dominated the event.

“When we support reproductive rights and justice, we can’t exclude the women of Gaza from that analysis,” Danaka Katovich, one of the protest organizers working with Code Pink, told Jezebel. At least 14 people disrupted the rally to protest Biden’s policy in Gaza; at times, the president has bypassed Congress to send more weapons and money to Israel, even as Israeli forces have killed at least 25,000 Palestinians since October. More protesters protested Biden and Harris outside the venue. They chanted “Genocide Joe”; asked Biden “how many babies have you killed”; and demanded a ceasefire. Some held signs that read “Ceasefire now.”

The protesters who confronted Biden during the rally cited the estimated 50,000 pregnant women in Gaza and the over 10,000 Palestinian children who have been killed since this iteration of Israeli attacks on Gaza began. Code Pink, one of the groups that helped protest the rally, pointed to how “miscarriages are up 300%,” “two mothers are killed by Israel every hour” according to the United Nations, and 20,000 newborns born into the war are without neonatal care in social media posts about the rally. “How can [Biden] campaign on reproductive justice while dropping bombs on Palestinian mothers?” the group tweeted on Tuesday, highlighting how Biden’s refusal to demand a ceasefire has directly contributed to reproductive violence in Gaza—in direct contrast with the reproductive freedom values espoused at the Tuesdsy rally.

“When we support reproductive rights and justice, we can’t exclude the women of Gaza from that analysis.”

Hazami Barmada, a Palestinian-American activist, joined a coalition of groups including Code Pink and DMV Dissenters at the rally, and was the 10th person to interrupt Biden. As security escorted her away, Biden, seemingly disoriented, lumped her with the “Trump” and “MAGA Republicans” who are attacking reproductive rights. At different points, he said that the protesters “feel deeply,” but didn’t acknowledge what they were protesting and just tried to continue his remarks. Neither Biden nor Harris (who wasn’t interrupted) at any point engaged with what the protesters were saying, or their demands for a ceasefire.

“I think he just started fumbling around at that point, he was so caught off guard,” Barmada told Jezebel of his comments implying she was a Republican. By then, protesters and rally attendees alike were screaming at each other during his remarks. Barmada, of course, is not a Trump supporter. Trump and Biden “both terrify me,” she clarified. “But you cannot win an election on the backs of women in Gaza, off burning, mutilating, killing, maiming innocent civilians.”

Barmada says she was especially disturbed by the reactions of rally attendees to her and other protesters, characterizing their behavior as “cult-ish.” Many chanted “four more years” and “we love Joe” in response to protesters’ chants of “genocide Joe” and demands for a ceasefire as the Palestinian death toll—of which nearly 70% are women and children—continues to surge. “People kept chanting, even when he wasn’t really saying anything and couldn’t really point to campaign promises he’s kept. His messaging was all around the boogie monster of Donald Trump—and the audience just seemed so tone-deaf from reality.”

Barmada also expressed frustration with the national reproductive rights and women’s groups that attended and supported the rally, including the National Organization for Women (NOW), Reproductive Freedom for All (formerly NARAL), Planned Parenthood and its Virginia affiliate, and REPRO Rising Virginia. None of these groups responded to multiple requests for comment from Jezebel about the protesters’ criticisms of Biden and Harris’ policy in Gaza; the reproductive health crises ensuing in Gaza; and whether they share the demands of several international humanitarian and reproductive health groups calling for a ceasefire to protect women, girls, and pregnant and menstruating people. (The International Planned Parenthood Federation, its affiliate Palestinian Family Planning & Protection Association, Doctors Without Borders, World Health Organization, Care International, and other groups have all called for an immediate ceasefire.)

“We’re going to keep showing up and making them as uncomfortable as possible, and not allow them to sanitize the reality of what they’re supporting,” Barmada said. “You can’t support or ignore what this administration is doing and say you’re pro-women’s rights.”

Jezebel has previously spoken to groups including Care International, PFPPA, WHO, and Medical Aid for Palestinians about the horrific state of reproductive health in Gaza under Israeli bombardment and its ongoing blockade. Experts from these groups report that there is nowhere safe to give birth in Gaza, and the few remaining hospitals are entirely at capacity and often unable to help people who are going into labor. The dire lack of medical supplies has led to c-sections without anesthesia, as well as high rates of postpartum infections from lack of proper sanitary products, and increased infant mortality from lack of available health care. The miscarriage rate has surged by 300% and a complete dearth of hygiene products has led to surging rates of infection among menstruating people. Biden and Harris’ campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the protesters’ demands.

Katovich told Jezebel that she sees the Biden administration’s “performative” support for reproductive rights as contrary to what he’s funding and supporting in Gaza. She recalled how the reactions from “Restore Roe” rally attendees mirrored the reactions she faced when she interrupted Biden at a campaign event in Illinois in November. “My only response is, where is your humanity? Where do you draw a line in the sand, how many Palestinians have to die for you to not support who’s funding their slaughter?” She emphasized that “we have to ensure everyone in this country has a right to an abortion” and that she supports the mission of these groups—but that Palestinians can’t be left behind.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity out of fear of professional retaliation, an employee of one of the reproductive rights organizations involved in the rally told Jezebel that leadership at their organization “explicitly said we can’t speak” on Israel-Palestine “in any way that could be traced to the organization.” The employee also expressed frustration with how “white leaders” at top national women’s organizations have been “incredibly silent on atrocities that are happening in Gaza.”

“They’re always touting things like, ‘Believe Black women,’ ‘trust women of color,’ but when it actually comes to practicing their values, they don’t,” the employee said. Citing their experience working in fundraising, the employee also said they suspect national women’s organizations are “choosing to fall in line with oppressive systems because it benefits them,” pointing to how aligning with Democratic politicians is often required for fundraising. “These organizations will do anything to not affect their donor base.”

Renee Bracey Sherman, executive director of We Testify, an organization dedicated to amplifying the voices of people who have had abortions, told Jezebel she “did not sign up to be an arm of the Democratic Party.” She was invited to the rally by the Biden-Harris campaign but declined over its treatment of Palestinian women as well as what she characterized as the administration’s lack of meaningful advocacy for abortion access. Bracey Sherman says she can empathize with groups that chose to attend the rally, “but what I was deeply disturbed by was seeing a number of leaders in our movement cheering ‘four more years,’ as feminist protesters were begging the president to stop bombing pregnant people and children and families.” To Bracey Sherman, that some women’s groups could continue to unconditionally support Biden for merely identifying as “pro-choice,” while other feminists protest his treatment of Palestinian women, elucidates the difference between reproductive rights and reproductive justice—the latter of which is a framework that challenges systems of oppression and white supremacy and demands more than just a right to abortion.

Bracey Sherman says she’s “never forgotten” how reproductive rights movement leaders criticized her ongoing campaign to pressure Biden to say the word “abortion” instead of the euphemisms he tends to use—they accused her of being “unhelpful”—and is frustrated that Biden’s Gaza policy isn’t also seen as unhelpful. She also questioned how Biden’s Catholic faith has sometimes been cited as the reason he—in his own words—isn’t “big on abortion,” but his Catholic faith “can apparently excuse 25,000 Palestinians killed” and “ignore the Pope’s demands for a ceasefire.”

Reproductive justice organizations like Indigenous Women Rising, the National Network of Abortion Funds, and the Feminist Women’s Health Center signed a letter calling Palestinian liberation a core part of their movement in October. “Zionism is a contradiction to Reproductive Justice,” the letter states. “At its core, Zionism denies Palestinians the right to exist, thrive, and have autonomy over their bodies, something that impacts Palestinians of all genders and ages.” In December, hundreds of Planned Parenthood employees wrote a letter criticizing their organization for what they see as an insufficient response to the crisis in Gaza from leadership—particularly as the health center of an International Planned Parenthood Federation affiliate was destroyed by Israel in October. As of publication, the U.S. Planned Parenthood organization hasn’t called for a ceasefire.

“Reproductive freedom doesn’t stop at our borders,” Bracey Sherman said. “It is not liberation for me as a Black woman to have abortion access on the backs of dead Palestinians.”

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