ST. CLOUD ― About 100 people gathered on the granite steps of the Stearns County Courthouse Friday evening to protest the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, which protected the right to an abortion.
Emotions ranged from anger and despair to outrage and determination as local Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party candidates and others took the microphone to voice support for reproductive rights, share their own stories of abortion and abuse and call for grassroots action. Organizers also set up a tent and put up posters to register attendees to vote.
Among the speakers were Alissa Brickman, Melissa Bromenschenkel, Andrea Robinson's campaign manager, Chantal Oechsle, Tina Barak and Seal Dwyer, who are running for Senate and House of Representative seats in District 13, St. Cloud School Board, Stearns County Commissioner and the St. Cloud City Council.
Other residents spoke to the crowd about how they didn't know how to explain to their young daughters what the Roe v. Wade reversal means for their future, and said the verdict is more about power and control of women than protecting unborn children.
Justice Clarence Thomas' opinion in the ruling also sparked fear among protestors that bans on contraception and same-sex marriage may soon follow suit. Thomas wrote, "In future cases, we should reconsider all of this Court's substantive due process precedents," including Griswold v. Connecticut (regarding contraception), Lawrence v. Texas (making same-sex sexual activity legal) and Obergefell v. Hodges (the right to marry a person of the same sex).
"I am angry. In fact, I am furious. It feels like we are going backwards," Brickman said. As a Christian she criticized the Republican Party for using religion "as a barrier for science, reason and even compassion."
"They have lost sight of the living beings their God has loved from their first breath. The moment that living beings become, that is when we are alive. This is about control. This decision will not end abortion, which is not even their goal. We all know this right?" she said. "This is about dismantling rights. Abortion is just the beginning. No wealthy individual will ever be denied this freedom. Forced birth is intentionally designed to disproportionately affect those who live in poverty. The lasting effects of this red lining will put our [Black, Indigenous and people of color] neighbors in the most danger. Now more than ever, we need representatives that will say Black lives matter."
Local DFL candidates vowed to fight for reproductive rights and said they need volunteers to help canvass and register people in St. Cloud to vote. Dwyer said they showed up to speak at the rally despite others who told them not to speak on the issue because "it's too political."
"If people don't vote for me because I'm roaring, at least y'all will know I got your back," Dwyer said. "We all marched together, we are the majority. It's time to not be afraid. It's time to stand up. It's time to shut them down. It's time to use their tactics against them. Because being polite ain't working y'all. Being kind, finding ways, working across the aisle, it's ... not working. They took our rights. I'm running for office and they're telling me I'm not a full citizen with rights to my body."
'This is a basic human rights issue'
Casey Midgley, a 40-year-old from Richmond, said when she went to get an abortion at age 19 in California, she was spit on, had urine thrown at her and was pelted with small rocks as she walked into the clinic.
Midgley said when her 13-year-old daughter Ainsley got her period, "she very worryingly asked me, 'Are they going to flip the decision? Because I'm scared of getting raped and having to have the baby.'"
Ainsley doesn't like boys, so having her ask that at age 12 was jarring, Midgley said. As someone with a variety of medical issues, including cancer which resulted in her uterus being removed, Ainsley told Midgley, "I'm so glad that you had cancer and that they took your uterus out so I don't have to worry that you'll die" if you got pregnant.
"If I got pregnant, I would die. And I'm the one that's advocating for those kids. That's multiple lives ruined. Every single one of you that's had an abortion or needed one ― think about your ripples," she said. "The ripples of that are astounding. One abortion. I saved a friend's life that is here because I was still alive. Would my friends still be here, would my beautiful children still be here? The ripples, we have no idea of seeing how far they go. But it's healthcare."
Then, pointing to members of the crowd, she said, "We need you, we need you, and we need you, and we need you. This is not acceptable and you all have to fight."
Julianna Hansen, a 30-year-old from Cold Spring, said the Roe reversal was "absolutely insane" and said it is taking away women's rights.
"It makes me sad and angry. Because being a poor college student, I went to Planned Parenthood to use contraceptives. And now just thinking of that as a possibility in the future that young woman won't have," Hansen said. "I was on the phone earlier talking to my girl friend about how people probably won't go out and get as messed up because they're scared to have sex without that. Is that what's going to happen? Or are there going to be more rapes happening instead?"
St. Cloud State University history professor Mark Jaede, 66, said he wanted to go to the protest because he has two children in their 20s and "this is a basic human rights issue."
"The government has no right to make decisions about women's bodies. It's an outrage to me. It's a fundamental assault on human rights to take control of people's bodies away from them," he said. "I'm a Christian. I don't see this banning of abortions as a Christian act at all. I see it as a violation of the commandment to love one's neighbor as oneself."
Oliver Warren, a 30-year-old transgender man from St. Cloud, said he wanted to get a hysterotomy years ago because carrying a pregnancy was not only incredibly dysphoric but also life-threatening due to a plethora of health problems. Under Georgia law he couldn't, because he was born biologically female and was under the age of 26.
He said knowing his young daughter has some health risks also, he's scared of losing her to childbirth because some politicians haven't accounted for nuance in abortion bans and would force her to carry a pregnancy to term regardless.
"They're telling us that we don't matter because we are different from them and what they think is normal," Warren said. "Well, I'm not normal, and I don't want to be."
Becca Most is a cities reporter with the St. Cloud Times. Reach her at 320-241-8213 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @becca_most.
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This article originally appeared on St. Cloud Times: People gather in St. Cloud to protest Roe v. Wade reversal