Hundreds of people gathered on Saturday at the corner of Princess and 3rd Street in downtown Wilmington, joining a nationwide protest in support of women’s reproductive rights and access to abortion.
Sporting placards with illustrations of female reproductive organs and wearing pink cat ears, the crowd cheered as speakers addressed reproductive issues such as abortion rights and access to birth control. The march precedes the start of a new term for the U.S. Supreme Court, which could determine the fate of the landmark Roe v. Wade of 1973 which protected the rights of women to abortion.
“Despite all the catastrophic problems in our country, the mere problem of controlling women over reproduction as if we were cattle never seems to lose interest among the old wealthy conservative white men and women who still are. locked up with their chains, âWomen Organizing said. for Wilmington founder Lynn Shoemaker. âWomen are not property. We can make our own choices.
Speakers from across the community attended the event, including school board members, state lawmakers, representatives from Planned Parenthood and other activists. Many have spoken of abortion bills passing through states like Texas and Florida that would severely limit a woman’s ability to have an abortion.
Others shared their stories of abortion and sexual assault. Speaker Jenny Mansour shared stories growing up and throughout her time at college where she and her friends “became a statistic,” adding to that of one in six American women who will experience sexual assault during of his life. She said that not being able to abort a pregnancy caused by rape or incest is “devastation that I don’t want to face.”
âIn all of these stories, a man chose what happened to women’s bodies,â Mansour said. “This abortion law says that a woman should not be able to choose what happens to her body, yet a man who rapes a woman chooses what happens to a woman’s body.”
President Nora O’Brien spoke about her story of having an illegal abortion in the 1960s when she was a 20-year-old woman. She described extreme pain, then continued to bleed for several days before seeing a gynecologist. When she told the gynecologist what had happened, he kicked her out of his office.
A colleague later found her passed out on a bathroom floor and helped her access a doctor who would treat her. She said the doctor described her as “very, very lucky”.
Four years later, Roe v. Wade gave women the right to access safe and legal abortions.
âI’m sharing my story because we just can never go back,â O’Brien told the crowd as they cheered him on.
She and other speakers called for safe access to reproductive health care, because banning legal abortion will not stop women from doing what they need to do to take care of themselves and of their family.
Host Lily Nicole recognized the intersectionality of issues for women, the LGBT community and people of color. Other speakers also recognized many of these intersectionalities.
Judy Justice, Women Organizing for Wilmington Woman of the Year 2019 and a member of the New Hanover Board of Education, announced the Women of the Year 2020 and 2021 that had not previously been announced publicly due to the COVID-19 pandemic . Sonya Patrick, Southeastern Regional Director of the National Black Leadership Caucus, was named the 2020 Woman of the Year and Deborah Maxwell, NAACP Chairperson for New Hanover County, was named the 2021 Woman of the Year.
Groups like the New Hanover Democratic Party and the League of Women Voters set up information booths throughout the event, as did the Women Organizing for Wilmington group, which hosted the event. Volunteers distributed placards and flyers to protesters.
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Rebecca Zumpe, a Women Organizing for Wilmington volunteer, worked on a collage with artwork created by a protester from hangers and t-shirts. She wrapped paper around hangers so people could draw and write. As a licensed mental health counselor with a focus on women’s health, she said it was important for her to volunteer for the protest.
She stated that the potential for Roe v. Wade to meet his fate in the months to come is terrifying.
âI get very emotional,â Zumpe said. âWomen have gone too far to take a step back. ”
Emma McLaughlin and Grace Kromke, both students at Hoggard High School, also attended the march and brought hand-made signs. They are co-chairs of the Girls Learn International club in Hoggard, where they have discussed women’s rights and access to abortion over the past year. McLaughlin said the march was a good opportunity for them to become more involved in activism.
They said that while some people are not as open to the idea of ââfeminism, many in their school have been very open to the work their club does, such as organizing menstrual drug drives.
âEspecially growing up in the south, I think people consider abortion rights and menstrual rights and things like that taboo,â Kromke said. unsafe abortions.
McLaughlin added that the club is focused on educating women and that not having access to an abortion when needed could impact a woman’s ability to continue with her education.
The event ended with a walk in the city center and an after party in Bottega, with live music and food trucks.
âYour presence hereâ¦ means that a woman has transformed you,â Nicole told the crowd at the protest. “A woman is the reason you are here.”
Journalist Sydney Hoover can be reached at 910-343-2339 or [email protected]