Islanders promptly mobilized on Tuesday following the leak of a Supreme Court draft document that indicates a majority vote in favor of overturning the 1973 decision Roe v. Wade.
In the span of just a few hours, word spread like wildfire, and — without much notice at all — dozens of Vineyarders drew up signs and headed to the Edgartown courthouse to rally in support of women’s reproductive rights, and to express their dismay for the encroachment on women’s bodies on behalf of the U.S. government.
Scattered among the crowd were signs that read, “Don’t give up the abortion right our mothers fought for,” and “For the sake of our daughters, keep it legal”; they highlighted part of the essence of what has been a half-century-long battle.
The Supreme Court’s 1973 decision, and its subsequent Planned Parenthood v. Casey 1992 decision, upholding Roe v. Wade, marked monumental shifts in the country’s ethos, legally protecting the rights of women who choose to undergo abortion procedures.
The draft document, reportedly written by Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, and endorsed by four others, is an insight into the extremes of right-leaning ideologies currently circulating at the apex of the country’s justice system.
In the event of the revocation of Roe v. Wade, the federal ban of safe and legal abortions would wreak havoc on the country’s already lacking healthcare system, in addition to knowingly risking the lives of women who choose not to bring a fetus to full term. Additionally, according to a study conducted by the University of California, San Francisco, detailing the detrimental effects of denying women the right to abortions, women who have forced births are more likely to raise their child as a single parent, stay in contact with a violent partner, and experience financial hardship and insecurity.
As passersby honked support for the crowd, punctuated with an array of homemade signs, hugs were had and tears were shed, in a weighty, collective acknowledgement of what is at stake.
Bob Laskowski of Oak Bluffs, a physician, spoke of one of his obstetric professors in medical school, and how he won’t forget hearing him relate his experiences when abortion was still illegal. “It was horrible to hear,” he said. “[They were] terrible tragedies. We don’t want to go back there … abortion services are an important part of healthcare.”
Laskowski, present next to his wife Kathy, expressed his grave concern upon the release of the document: “It’s anti-women and it’s oppressive. It’s an invasion of privacy.”
Parents of four and grandparents of four, the Laskowskis said they’ve made it a point to participate in events like this after seeing the shifting political climate upon the election of President Donald Trump in 2016.
Referring to right-wing opinion on abortion — ubiquitous propaganda visuals of fetuses, meant to shock — Bob Laskowski said it is merely a “manipulation of emotion.”
Holding up a sign that read, “We will not go back,” Donna Blackburn, a self-styled “child of the ’60s,” told The Times that despite growing up in an era known for its political and social demonstrations, “I’ve never been in a protest before, but this is so very important.”
Blackburn said that her “nightmare is [women resorting back to] coat hangers and backroom abortions,” recalling friends that “were seriously damaged by backstreet abortions.”
Referring to her sign, Blackburn said, “This would be an awful thing for women’s care,” adding that some may not realize that “Roe v. Wade is not just about abortion. It’s also about prenatal care, birth control, and [women’s health]. My belief is that everything should be considered, and abortion should be the last thing considered, but it should always be on the table,” she said. “It’s very important that that be available.”
Islander Emily Avakian got emotional when talking about bringing her 1-year-old son, Hugh, to the rally. “It’s hard,” she said through tears, “I can’t believe he’s going to grow up in a world like this,” at a time, she added, “when women’s rights are being taken away.”
Avakian expressed her concerns about Hugh’s future, “especially being a boy,” she said. “I want him to know this is important.” She added there is a profound responsibility of raising a boy in the midst of such societal precariousness, including having “conversations about consent and respecting partners.”
“We’re really lucky to live in Massachusetts,” said Avakian, “but not everyone is that lucky.”
Dawn McLaughlin was met with endless praise as she held her sign, which read, “I had a legal abortion and thrived to become a great mom, friend, wife, etc.” Met with comments by other demonstrators about how shame plays such a role in abortion discussions, McLaughlin said, “It’s amazing, when you share your story, how many other people will share [theirs].”
Erin Estrella, a clinical social worker, stood with her 2-year-old daughter Vivienne, who held up a small sign saying “Resist.”
Estrella told The Times that although she often brings her 10-year-old son to demonstrations and rallies, this is her first time bringing Vivienne. “It’s time,” she said proudly; ”she has to be out here.”
Carla Cooper of Indivisible Martha’s Vineyard, a grassroots movement with the aim of helping guide political and social progress, took to a megaphone to address the crowd. “I think all of us know someone who, or we ourselves, have an abortion story, maybe even from the ‘before times,’’’ she said, referring to abortion practices prior to the Roe v. Wade decision. On the consequences overturning could have, Cooper said, “a 10-year-old victim of rape would be forced to give birth.”
“This is America,” Cooper said, reiterating the barbarity of a pre–Roe v. Wade women’s health system. “This is America in 2022.”
Cooper, advocating for putting more pressure on elected officials, said to the crowd, “We elected a Democratic Senate, we elected a Democratic Congress, we elected a Democratic president, but that is not enough.”