Abortion rights organizers say they worry about what’s next 2 years after Roe decision

Two years since SCOTUS overturned federal protections for abortion, some voters say issue paramount ahead of November

Congresswoman Lauren Underwood, D-Naperville, speaks to a crowd gathered in downtown DeKalb on Saturday, June 22, 2024, for a Rally for Reproductive Rights. Organizers said the event was held to mark two years since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned federal protections for abortion access, and to help mobilize voters to support pro-abortion candidates ahead of the November election.

DeKALB – Two years after U.S. Supreme Court justices overturned federal abortion protections in Roe v. Wade, some women voters and organizers said they fear what reproductive measures could be targeted next by conservative lawmakers.

Organizers rallied for reproductive rights Saturday in downtown DeKalb. Some said they hope to mobilize voters to support candidates that back abortion rights down the ballot ahead of the November general election.

While abortion remains legal and accessible in Illinois, some attendees said they fear politicians soon could enact restrictions on other forms of reproductive care.

U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood, D-Naperville, urged those in attendance to bring their grievances to the polls in November and vote for candidates who have women’s health needs in mind, calling the work “right now more important than ever.”

“We can’t deny that in last 2 years since the Dobbs decision, well, it’s just been brutal, can we just acknowledge that?” Underwood, a nurse herself, said. “Senseless pain and suffering, chaotic medical emergencies, cruel criminalization of health care providers, more moms dying, threats to contraception and IVF and too much uncertainty around our privacy. Honestly, the last time I felt this angry, I ran for Congress.”

More than 50 people – mostly women – gathered at Peace Corner at First Street and Lincoln Highway for what organizers called a Rally for Reproductive Rights. The demonstration was organized by Responsive Engagement Activating Civic Talent (REACT), and cosponsored by the League of Women Voters of DeKalb County, Safe Passage and the DeKalb Area Women’s Center.

Illinois’ legal abortion status makes it an outlier in Midwestern states. Missouri, Indiana and Kentucky have banned abortion, while Wisconsin has enforced a 22-week abortion ban.

The June 24, 2022, ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization sparked legislative action, protest and numerous lawsuits, placing the issue at the center of politics across the country, The Associated Press reported.

Abortion is now banned at all stages of pregnancy, with limited exceptions, in 14 Republican-controlled states. In three other states, it’s barred after about the first six weeks, which is before many women know they are pregnant. Most Democratic-led states have taken actions to protect abortion rights, and have become sanctuaries for out-of-state patients seeking care.

Genoa-Kingston High School junior Hannah Walker, 16, of Kingston held a sign that said simply, “Again?” as she stood next to her mother, Michelle Walker, 42, whose sign read “Abortion is still health care.” The pair were joined by Jen Barton, 45, of Genoa, gripping a sign that stated, “A public cervix announcement: Our bodies, our choice!”

“Women’s rights are human’s rights,” Hannah Walker said.

It wasn’t the first time the mother and daughter attended public demonstrations to protest the Supreme Court decision.

“I would say we’ve been fighting the patriarchy for 42 years and we’re just tired of being oppressed. And tired of people, especially men, telling us what we can do and can’t do with our bodies,” Michelle Walker said.

Mary Ellen Schaid, executive director of DeKalb-based crisis shelter Safe Passage Inc., said clients who come seeking help from Safe Passage often are women, and many times require maternal care. Schaid said her granddaughter was born with the help of in vitro fertilization, or IVF, a treatment commonly used to help people conceive.

“Many of the women who come to Safe Passage who are victims of domestic violence and come into our shelter are pregnant,” Schaid said. “But many of them it’s too late or they don’t want to get an abortion, and we support them in anything they want to do.”

Schaid said she worries what lawmakers could do to access for medication such as mifepristone and misoprostol, commonly called the abortion pill.

On June 13, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously upheld access to the drug used in the majority of abortions nationwide, although abortion opponents have said the ruling won’t be the last word in the fight over mifepristone, according to the Associated Press. The narrow decision came two years after the high court overturned the nationwide right to abortion. Rather than fully dive into the issue, the high court found that anti-abortion doctors lacked the legal right to sue.

It was a fear that was spoken aloud many times as more women took the microphone: Abortion remains legal in Illinois, but what comes next?

DeKalb resident Laura Vazquez, founder of DeKalb Stands and professor of media and film studies at Northern Illinois University, said she doesn’t want to see lawmakers enforce what she called outdated policy.

“They are taking us back to the 19th century, and we cannot stand idly by and allow that to happen,” Vazquez said. “The war against the women’s rights to choose is ongoing. And sometimes I wanna pull the covers over my head and pretend that it will go away. [...] Why do politicians want so badly to enter our doctors’ offices and our bedrooms?”

– The Associated Press contributed to this report.

This story was updated at 3:32 p.m. June 24, 2024, to correctly spell the first name of Laura Vazquez. This story was updated at 1:40 p.m. June 25, 2024, to update a headline in accordance with Associated Press style guides.

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