Sign-waving abortion rights supporters march from library to Plaza
By Art Van Kraft for Ashland.News
More than 2,000 abortion rights protesters gathered at the Ashland Public Library Saturday and marched down Main Street to the Ashland Plaza, one of hundreds of “Bans Off Our Bodies” rallies across the nation in response to a leaked Supreme Court draft opinion overturning the constitutional right to abortion.
The chanting, sign-waving protesters flowed along the sidewalks and converged on Ashland Plaza where an array of speakers expressed support for abortion rights and warned of losing them. A handful of anonymous letters telling personal stories about abortions dangled from a clothesline strung up on the Plaza.
“(I was) 24 and on a date when I was drugged and raped,” one read. “My parents paid for an abortion in Japan in 1966!”
And another: “I was single and had a boyfriend, but my family is Catholic. I moved out of home for the most part, then I got pregnant. I was afraid to tell my family. I knew, especially, that my mother would be so ashamed of me. We have a large family and the shame would follow me for the rest of my life. I got an abortion and was grateful, but my religion has kept me from telling them the truth.”
Amid cheering and chants, state Rep. Pam Marsh, D-Ashland, stepped up to speak. She challenged the crowd to take action in what she called the beginning of a “contentious fight. … This is not about standing up, it’s about being fearless and telling our stories.”
Marsh said the most important thing to do right now is to vote.
“In 2017, the Oregon legislature passed reproductive legislation, making Oregon the most protected in any of the 50 states in our reproductive models,” she said. “When we passed that landmark legislation, we did that without a single Republican vote and the bill was signed by a Democratic Governor.”
Marsh warned of a future where those hard-won victories might disappear.
“The Oregon legislature has passed tremendous legislation in the past five years. If we loose that (Democratic) majority, all that work is done and all that ability to protect abortion providers is over.”
Marsh said “opening up your pocketbooks” to organizations like Planned Parenthood and Pro Choice Oregan will be crucial in the next year.
Ashland Mayor Julie Akins used a megaphone to tell the crowd she has been waking up “mad as hell” every morning since hearing about the leaked Supreme Court draft.
“We’ve tried being polite, we’ve reached across the aisle, are you done being polite? These are our rights, if we lose these, we may lose more, because women’s rights are human rights. We can’t take for granted that our rights in Oregon will be protected. We’re gonna have to protect these rights, by voting … we’re done letting the 30% control our lives.”
Denise Krause, who is running as a Democrat against incumbent Rick Dyer, a Republican, for Jackson County commissioner, said a repeal of abortion rights is an assault on our bodies, and personal decisions that would drastically affect the rest of our lives should not be put in the hands of politicians.
“I was 9 years old when Roe v. Wade passed,” Krause told the crowd. “My contemporaries and I were fortunate enough to grow up in a world where abortion was available to us and that it would remain available to us throughout our reproductive years. It’s very difficult for me to stand here today and imagine a world where women would not be allowed to make such important decisions about their own bodies.”
Joe Yetter, who came to the rally from Azalea in Douglas County, is a doctor running in the Democratic primary in Oregon’s 2nd Congressional District. He said he hopes for a very ambitious outcome for women’s rights eventually.
“I think this leak by the Supreme court is going to codify two things,” he said. “The desire to codify Roe into law and enshrining the right of women to choose into the constitution as part of an equal rights amendment.”
During the speeches, protestors lined the street and waved signs or greetings at passing cars. A police officer kept an eye on the street, but there were no signs of a conflicts reported, just supportive horn honking and hand waving.
The local event was co-sponsored by Women’s March Southern Oregon, Planned Parenthood, ORD2 Indivisible and the RV Pepper Shakers.
Art Van Kraft is an artist living in Ashland and a former broadcast journalist and news director of a Los Angeles-area National Public Radio affiliate. Email him at email@example.com.