Abortion rights supporters gather in the Valley after Supreme Court overrules Roe v. Wade
YOUNGSTOWN — As news about the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade came Friday morning, the Steel Valley Reproductive Justice Coalition organized an afternoon rally in protest, which garnered a crowd of about 200.
Passers-by in cars and on foot, many of whom honked and yelled in agreement, heard chants such as “2-4-6-8, We won’t be forced to procreate” and “Bans off our bodies.”
The crowd gathered 5 p.m. Friday at Market and Federal streets downtown. The group held their signs to anyone who would look, and several people took turns speaking through a bullhorn. Erica Putro with SVRJC started off by leading the crowd in chants.
“What has not been overturned today is our commitment and responsibility to fight for reproductive rights,” she said.
Several local political leaders also spoke, including State Rep. Michele Lepore-Hagan, D-Youngstown; Robert Hagan, a Democrat who has served in the Ohio House and Senate and is running for the Ohio Senate; and Bria Bennett of Warren, a Democrat running in the primary for Ohio’s 64th House District.
“If a woman gives birth and has a boy, he now has more rights than she does,” Lepore-Hagan said.
Several others spoke up to share their stories of abortion. One woman said she had an abortion as a teenager and always has been ashamed, but felt supported Friday.
Another said her mother had an ectopic pregnancy and said without abortion, she would not have a mother today.
Another found out she had HIV and was pregnant on the same day. She had an abortion so her child would not have to struggle with the virus as she does.
Cody Clark also spoke. As a transgender man, he thinks the discussion of trans health care, including the right to abortion, often is left out of mainstream discourse. He felt not only angry at the Supreme Court and the government, but he also was angered because he feels the same people are always the ones having the conversation about abortion, and that does not include trans people.
“I wanted to make sure there is someone here representing trans youth, especially trans youth of color,” Clark said. “‘Hands off women’s bodies’ is great, of course, but what about those of us who have a uterus and identify as a man?”
People of diverse backgrounds attended the rally, including several Republicans. Sean Cornelius of Youngstown said he is frustrated that his party is so focused on ensuring that life is created but does not seem to care what happens to that life after birth.
He said he is worried his party will continue to chip away at rights, and it will not stop with abortion.
In the wake of the decision, Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican who is pro-life, gave a speech urging Ohioans to be respectful to each other, regardless of their views on the issue. He also made a call to work to address lowering the infant mortality rate and improve housing and mental health services.
“As the issue of abortion returns to the states, how we debate it is so very important,” DeWine said. “It is going to be very easy to let this debate get rough and tough, and there certainly is nothing wrong with spirited debate. However, we must do it in a way that recognizes smart, sincere, dedicated and caring people can have very, very different and equally heartfelt views.”
In the same speech, he announced $1 billion will be invested to provide prenatal care, parenting classes, mentoring, education and nutrition assistance to pregnant mothers and their families. He said he will be working with the General Assembly to address these issues. The governor said he also will work to increase awareness about adoption.
In a debate about children that can be hard to talk to them about, one mother, Erin Pandone of Youngstown, brought her son Saige Valdez to Friday’s rally after her childhood best friend, Rebecca Davis, urged her to go. Pandone said she had an honest conversation with her 13-year-old about why they were coming: to support women’s autonomy over their bodies.
She said she has told her son that women fought so long not to be treated like property and that it is important to stand up for them whenever he can.
Davis, who also is a mother, has had similar conversations with her children. She has told her son that women always have the final say over their bodies, and she has had to tell her daughters to protect themselves as a precaution.
Both mothers said it is important to have conversations with children about difficult topics. Pandone told Ethan was urged by doctors to have an abortion because she was not married. She now is glad she didn’t, but said in a different circumstance she might have had to and that would have been her decision.
Several groups of recent high school graduates attended the rally and said they were devastated by the decision, but had hope for the future. “Seeing what my generation did with Black Lives Matter, I know we can change things going forward,” said Isabella Larose, who just graduated from Austintown Fitch High School.
Others were not as hopeful that a change back in their favor would come swiftly but said they are determined not to quit.