Women Speak for Themselves, a grassroots organization of more than 40,000 women for religious freedom, gathered today at Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C. to protest enforcement of the Health and Human Services mandate, which requires employers (including some religious institutions) to cover contraceptives for employees. The mandate went into effect for for-profit organizations a year ago today.
“I went to Georgetown Law. But my classmate Sandra Fluke does not speak for me … I can speak for myself. And I speak for religious freedom,” said Maya Noronha, an attorney, to applause from the protesters.
The group of women rallied in the square to hear an hour of brief speeches from women of varied backgrounds. Afterward, some protesters went to Capitol Hill to meet with members of Congress to urge them to fight the mandate.
Helen Alvaré, a law professor at George Mason University and WSFT founder, led the speeches, saying, “The political class of D.C. today doesn’t believe that we exist…the idea that we have to fear that we’re a small group and we don’t really have younger women on our side, set that aside.”
Some of the biggest cheers from the crowd came when speaker Cynthia Wood, a lawyer and environmental scientist, read from the recently published final regulations of the mandate, which argue that the state has a compelling interest in providing contraception for the sake of “helping women contribute to society to the same degree as men.” The women alternately booed and cheered as Wood thundered, “How dare they tell me, a mother who works outside the home, or any mother, that we do not contribute to society the same as men?”
Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie of the Catholic Association represented Latino women against the mandate, saying, “Latino immigrants have come to the United States not looking for handouts. … We came here looking for freedom.” Later, in an interview, she said, “I think the government is happy to use Latino women as props in their push to talk about the ‘war on women.’ I think it’s easy to talk about Latino women, how we tend to be poor and we need more reproductive rights access. ... We don’t prize contraception or the access to contraception above other things, like religious liberty, and they need to know that about us.”
At one point, one of the protesters yelled, “The sixties are over!” The crowd laughed, and Alvaré quipped, “We’re kind of the hippies fighting against the man now. The establishment is doing something that is no longer interesting, creative, or freeing—and we are.”
Not all of the women against the mandate came to the protest, of course, but according to Janice Weber of Women for Women, an organization of over 2,500, they were all represented. “Many women who are here are in leadership roles, I would venture to say that every woman represents many other women who cannot be here,” she told me.
The protest was relatively small, but women from about 20 different states attended.