PORTSMOUTH — Michelle Anderson tried Friday to explain to her 6-year-old daughter, Claire, about life in a post-Roe v. Wade world.
“We explained it in age-appropriate terms that it was a loss of rights for only a certain part of our population,” said Anderson, a Portsmouth resident. “I was disappointed, sad and felt kind of hopeless."
Hours later, on Friday evening, Anderson and her daughter stood in Market Square in the city's downtown, rallying for abortion rights.
Hundreds of people took to Market Square to protest the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to end 49 years of abortion as a constitutional right. Drivers along Congress Street honked in support of the rally’s attendees, many of whom held homemade signs in support of abortion rights.
The "Bans Off Our Bodies" event was one of many across New Hampshire, including Dover and Exeter on the Seacoast. Speakers in Portsmouth noted the multiple generations of women in attendance. A show of hands revealed many participants were alive before abortion was legalized nationwide, and they have returned to fight for abortion access for a young generation. Abortion remains legal in New Hampshire until 24 weeks of pregnancy, though more than 20 states are expected to ban it entirely.
'This is a dark day': Seacoast, NH and Maine leaders react to Roe v. Wade being overturned
Wearing a white shirt emblazoned with “1973,” the year Roe v. Wade was decided, New Hampshire Women’s Foundation Chief Executive Officer Tanna Clews spoke about the decision’s impact on different age groups of women.
“We were born into an era where Roe was a given,” Clews said of her generation. “And now you have these young people here who quite frankly are coming into adulthood looking at less access to safe reproductive and sexual health care. What are they going to do about it? What are we all going to do about it? So I really do think that it is an awakening for this next generation of activists.”
Eighteen-year-old twins Lane and Rory Joslin stood near a bus stop at Friday’s “Ban Off Our Bodies” rally.
The erasure of Roe v. Wade and of “privacy rights” are inspiring Rory Joslin to take action by voting, attending more rallies in the future and spreading awareness on social media.
“It’s a lot of younger people here,” he said. “Knowing that we are coming together to fight this is super empowering.”
Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-New Hampshire, who faces a reelection battle this year, said reproductive rights are on the ballot, in addition to “the full freedom and inclusion of women” in the United States.
“As devastating as today is, as hard as today is, let's all dig down and find what motivates us, which is our understanding that in the Live Free or Die State we believe everybody is free — and that includes women,” Hassan said.
Portsmouth Assistant Mayor Joanna Kelley said she believes the Supreme Court will not stop at dismantling Roe v. Wade.
“This is our country. They do not get to tell us what we get to do with our bodies. They do not get to tell us who we marry, who we love and who we are,” Kelley said.
The overturning of Roe v. Wade has the biggest impact on lower-income women and people of color without easier access to contraception.
Asking for crowd members born after Roe v. Wade was established to raise their hands, Kelley said the younger generation will be elected to office and write pro-abortion rights legislation.
“Get angry, get educated and wear it like a badge of honor,” she told the crowd.
Dover abortion rights rally at Henry Law Park
DOVER — “Abortion is a human right —fight, fight, fight!” This chant echoed through a passionate crowd of hundreds along with the music of the Leftist Marching Band at the “Bans Off Our Bodies” rally Friday night at Henry Law Park.
“We knew that this day was coming for a long time,” said Josie Pinto, founder and executive director of the Reproductive Freedom Fund of New Hampshire. “I think in a lot of ways, I was maybe logically prepared but not emotionally. And I just can't stop thinking about the half of the country right now that just had their rights stripped from them fully.”
Quincy Abramson, executive director of the New Hampshire Youth Movement, spoke about the impact of Roe v. Wade being overturned.
“I think we're seeing the results of a really antiquated system that should no longer exist, because it's clearly not doing what it's meant to do, which is represent the people of this country," Abramson said. "We are not going to stand for this. It will result in people getting hurt, it will result in people staying with abusive partners, it will result in people committing suicide, it will result in people dying from pregnancies that were not viable, and survivors of sexual assault having to carry their rapist’s baby to term. All of those things are exactly why I'm here.”
Rochester City Councilor Ashley Desrochers shared her reaction to the news.
“My body started to hurt. I couldn't speak. There wasn't anything left. I didn't have anything to say. And then I started to cry,” she said, speaking in her role with the activist group 603 Forward. "It's OK to be angry. I did it. I got really angry. But do something with that energy, because if you hold it in, it will eat you alive.”
Dover City Councilor Linnea Nemeth also urged activism.
“I want everyone to know that it's important for them to hold their elected officials accountable,” Nemeth said. “This impacts your every day. This impacts everyone's future.”
Opposite the large crowd of pro-abortion rights attendees was a smaller group of people who oppose abortion, including Phyllis Woods, a Dover resident and former Republican state representative. She shared her reaction to the Supreme Court decision.
“I was delighted because I believe that it was wrongly decided in the first place,” Woods said. “Sure enough now, people have multiple, multiple abortions. I do believe all life is precious. I thought it should have been a problem for feminists back then, and it should have been all along, because half the babies we're aborting are women."
— Rhianwen Watkins of the Granite State News Collaborative reported from Dover.
Exeter abortion rights rally at Town Hall
EXETER — “I believe that abortion is healthcare,” said Kari Stephens, who attended the "Bans Off Our Bodies Rally in front of Town Hall Friday evening. “Abortion is an act of self-determination, self-determination is a human right.”
Stephens said she was a teenage mom and had her first child at the age of 16. Years later, she was faced with a nightmare most parents dare not to think about — losing a baby.
She was pregnant again six months after, but due to financial status among many others, Stephens made a decision on Nov. 11, 1991, in Merrillville, Indiana, to have an abortion.
“It was decided with my medical professionals that I shouldn’t continue that pregnancy,” she said. “I had just buried a baby, I was in no way of shape or form to carry a pregnancy at that point.”
In Exeter, hundreds of community members gathered at Town Hall in fight for the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. Signs were held and drivers passing by honked horns in support.
Liz Canada, an advocacy manager for Planned Parenthood New Hampshire Action Fund, said the organization has been preparing for this day ever since the Supreme Court took up the case last fall.
“We knew based on the composition of the court what was to come,” said Canada. “We have been preparing for this decision for months if not years. People are rightfully outraged, they’re really angry. The Supreme Court has taken away people’s power over their own body.”
The Rev. Heidi Heath, a local minister, said there are two core values to being a Christian: love your neighbor and protect the vulnerable.
“This decision by the Supreme Court today takes a direct hit on both of those things,” Heath said. “Reality is the majority of the world’s religious traditions support safe and legal abortion. So often we hear a different story from religious voices — but we’re stretching the autonomy of others is not about God.”
As a mother, Linda Morrison said, she felt “devastated for her daughter and all the young ladies” when the news broke Friday morning. She said overturning Roe v. Wade is a backwards move by the Supreme Court.
“Men have been in power since colonial times,” Morrison said, referring to laws made by men to women. “Women have been struggling from the time we have started the United States of America — struggling for a right to vote, struggling for equal pay — because most people in power are men.”
Morrison said the court's decision will force women to abort unwanted pregnancies unsafely, putting their lives at risk.
— Aqeel Hisham of Seacoastonline reported from Exeter.
This article originally appeared on Portsmouth Herald: NH Bans Off Our Bodies rally in Portsmouth, Dover, Exeter urge action