Abortion rights rally proceeds peacefully in Portland
Following the news that the U.S. Supreme Court may be on the verge of allowing states to ban abortion, for the first time in nearly half a century, a crowd gathered in downtown Portland to support abortion and women's reproductive rights.
If the court does overturn the 1973 case of Roe v. Wade, more marches and protests are expected in Portland and elsewhere. The court's ruling could come later this month or in June.
At the Saturday, May 14, Portland rally, protesters listened to speeches for 90 minutes before marching from Chapman Square as far Powell's Books on West Burnside Street and back. The protest was at times loud but always peaceful, a grim pageant dotted with mordant signs and coat hangers recalling the pre-Roe v. Wade days of back-alley abortions.
The Bans Off Our Bodies rally was organized by Planned Parenthood of Oregon and PDX for Repro Rights after the leak of the draft opinion. A reversal of Roe would allow states such as Mississippi to set their own restrictions on the procedure, and could result in "health care refugees" coming to the Pacific Coast states of Oregon, Washington and California, which have codified reproductive rights into state law.
The Portland crowd chanted "Abortion is our right, we won't give up the fight," and "What is abortion? Health care! And what is health care? A human right!"
An Do, executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon, the political arm of Planned Parenthood of Oregon, read a passionate speech from her phone targeting U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky and minority leader in the Senate, in a call-and-response segment. She urged people to tell their own abortion stories to make it clear how common the procedure is.
"We will keep fighting in every state in the nation, this will not stop us," Do said. "Feel your grief but do not allow it to slow you down."
Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty pledged that Oregon would not go back to the days when light-skinned people had a better chance of getting an underground abortion than Black people.
Other candidates made their pitches for supporting Roe v. Wade and their campaigns for office in the May 17 primary election.
Elsewhere, health care and political leaders held a news conference, including Oregon U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley and Gov. Kate Brown, who gave their support for abortion access.
In the crowd near the Justice Center in downtown Portland, Joann Kingston of Portland said she came with her humorous sign about mayonnaise to ensure future generations have the same health care choices she had growing up, without any criminal penalties of discrimination. "Hopefully it will stay where it's at, or even get better. But we know some pharmacists have pushed back on giving certain birth control medications, and I think we are close to that. I don't want somebody else trying to make that decision for other people."
Kingston said she has been on four or five marches since the 2017 Women's March, but Justice Samuel Alito's draft ruling triggered her fears. "This one is a big one for me," Kingston said.
A woman who preferred to only give her first name, Jenn, said she is frightened by what could happen if the court's leaked ruling doesn't change in the coming weeks. "A lot of people can't advocate for themselves so I want to be there for them as well," she said.
A mental health therapist, she said abortion is a top-three issue for her, when it comes to getting out to protest. She suggested voting might also help the cause. "The biggest thing is to keep having the hard conversations with people we don't agree with, because the polarization adds to the issue," she said.
Carissa Silva came out because, as a licensed practical nurse, she said she believes abortion is necessary health care for anyone with a reproductive system.
"I do OB-GYN (obstetrics and gynecology) for women's sexual health," she said. Her clinic will be offering the pill version of abortion in the next few weeks.
"This is the first time I've ever come out at a rally. It's just me and my dog, Duncan," Silva said.
"I'm not surprised one bit, (given) who we have on our Supreme Court," she added. "It's going to triple the cost for us, with people coming from out of state to Oregon (for abortions). We're going to get an influx of people and it's going to be our own taxpayers' money. I'm OK with that, because there's bounties on women's heads in state like Texas."
A woman who refused to give her name held a sign reading "424,000 foster kids prove this isn't about 'protecting babies'" on one side and "Where are the laws on MEN'S bodies?" on the reverse.
"The fact that people want to take away my basic human rights and force birth upon women, that's not OK," she said. When the draft ruling came out she said she was disgusted. "We knew it was coming but still seeing it made me physically ill."
Coming from Reedsport on the coast, Marji Luther said she was in town to visit her nephew but felt compelled to come to the rally with her boyfriend.
"I wasn't surprised with the draft but I'm outraged with the way they're interpreting the constitution. There are all sorts of things that are not in the constitution that they are trying to uphold," she said.
Luther used the same sandwich board she has used to protest a liquid natural gas port in Coos Bay, weekly, and for a teachers strike in Medford when she lived there. Her sign read "My Body, My Choice!"
"Every woman in the country needs to get out and vote blue. We need sixty votes in the senate to codify (abortion rights)," she said.
Sitting outside the Virginia Café with her friend after the march, Leah Aldridge said the issue ranks very high with her because she works in women's health care. "I'm a mom of two and I understand the reasons women get abortions, and I think most of the country doesn't understand it's due to anomalies, or the poverty women face," she said. "It's exhausting that we're going to force women to be mothers that aren't ready."
Heading home to Gresham after the march was Amy Ward, who had a double-sided sign. This, and a brief protest on May 3, was her first marches. She said she was happy with Saturday's turn out.
"This is something I feel really strongly about. I'm a mom of two, by choice," Ward said. "The draft ruling wasn't a surprise but it was so disappointing that it made me question my nation in a way I never have before, and made me want to get involved in a way I never have before."
After the speeches, the crowd fell in behind a decommissioned fire truck covered in slogans and flanked by people wearing all black with black facemasks, known as Black Bloc, a subsection of the antifascist group sometimes called "antifa." They stopped traffic with motorcycles and bicycles so the march could proceed down Southwest Fourth Avenue to Burnside and back. Aside from a loud firework tossed outside the Apple store, there was nothing aggressive about their actions. The rear of the march was brought up by a samba marching band, and people dispersed on returning to Chapman Square.
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