'We are under attack': Park rally, march address abortion justice post-Roe reversal

Signs - some more graphic than others - were held high, bottles of water consumed and messages addressing what was termed "abortion justice" championed at a Saturday afternoon rally at Everman Park in downtown Abilene.

Crystal White, carrying a small bullhorn, leads the crowd Saturday at the Rally and March for Reproductive Rights in Everman Park.

More than 100 people - women, men and a few children - bunched in the shade offered by trees alongside the city-splitting railroad tracks on a 103-degree day to protest, encourage voter registration and share personal stories.

"As we stand here today, our lives are under attack," said Crystal White, a Ranger resident who organized the rally.  "We no longer have the luxury of sitting around and waiting for them to figure it out. For our elected officials to either save us or condemn us.

"We will get nowhere sitting around, twiddling our thumbs, pondering what men who died 200 years ago would have to say about current events."

Thus, "We have to march, we have to speak, and have to raise our voices," said Elizabeth Smyser, chairwoman of the Taylor County Democratic Party.

"This is the moment to be p---ed off," speaker Brianna Royals said. "We have to fight, nonstop."

Speaker Kevin Smith said he was frustrated that another rally was needed.

"Let's hear it if you're angry," he said.

A roar went up from the crowd.

"We need to come together, work together and fight together to get the rights back that were stolen, for those who will come after us," speaker Gavyn Hardegree said.

Saturday's event on the Fourth of July weekend was intended to hit all three goals set forth by Smyser.

Words often were not minced. And to encourage speakers to be forthright, Smyser asked attendees to repeat "We see you. We love you. We support you."

"Feel free to shout that," she said.

Taking a stand

White admitted she was new to this kind of thing.

Smyser said it was good to see people rise up.

"This is so important and we wouldn't be here today if Crystal didn't put out the call," Smyser told the crowd.. She said people have been looking to someone to lead, and White became that person.

"Thank you, Crystal, for taking that plunge and that first step," Smyser said. "Take a look and see, you are not the only one."

White said she avoided politics because politics leads to government overreach and "stripping our bodily autonomy and medical privacy from our daughters, sisters, wives ... anyone in this state with a uterus. They say in rebuttal to our cause, they didn't ban abortion, they just left it to the states.

"I'm sorry, but you left my humane right of bodily autonomy and constitutional right of medical privacy to (Gov. Greg Abbott)."

Said Royals, "Here we are in the 1950s again, fighting over the rights of our uterus."

Attendees at the Rally and March for Reproductive Rights listen to speakers in Everman Park.

Speaker La'Triva Johnson said "men's opinions on my body are so stupid."

Joining her at the mic was Diamond Olvera, who said not every woman should be a mother, herself included. So, aborting "a couple of cells" is not murder.

Mixing religion and law is not right, other speakers said.

Challenging Justice Samuel Alito's Roe v. Wade comment "that abortion is not deeply rooted in our nation's history and traditions," White said, "You know what is deeply rooted, the First Amendment. Separation of church and state.

'You have no right in establishing laws based on your religion."

That drew hearty applause.

"No matter your faith background or what you believe, today, tomorrow or any day," said Smith, who identifies as a Christian, "our faith doesn't have any hold over the country. Our faith is our own. We do not get to tell anyone what to do with their own bodies."

But, White said, that is happening in Texas.

She said Texas women are better off in a pregnancy-related health crisis traveling to another state for treatment.

"Nurses in all red states fear this is the new normal," she said. "They have no power but to watch, and doctors fear imprisonment."

White said legal matters at hand "in the conflict between pro-life and pro-choice are not morally based or religiously based." It's the educated against the uneducated, she said.

"It is not OK to refuse to adapt to change and learn with our society. There is nothing permanent on this Earth but change."

Time now to vote

White said she never has voted but it's time now.

"We need to get out and vote for the officials that will advocate for our rights and save us no matter what the Supreme Court is doing," she said, her voice rising.

"We need to be safe in the state we lived in. We were born and raised here, most of us, and we have a right to be here. Whatever diversity you hold, you have the right to be in this state.

"This is the United States of America!"

Smyser said that opportunity will come in November and that Democrat Beto O'Rourke is the hope to make a change in Texas.

O'Rourke posters were displayed at the event.

Listen up, Republicans

Even when the sound system failed temporary while Hardegree was speaking, the event didn't miss a beat.

A pink bull horn was found, and other speakers talked into a cellphone, their talk amplified through a smaller speaker.

Smyser offered some love for Republicans - "sometimes they do good things," she said - though they are in power due to "gerrymandering our state."

"That's not cool," she said. "Guys, we need to be voting. They're acting on behalf of a minority. Not the interest of you and me. What they want."

Smyser scoffed at her county counterpart (Chris Carnohan) for his comment that rapes were of "statistical irrelevance" when it comes to abortion.

"That hit me kind of hard," she said. "Republican friends, if you are in office, you're going to have to talk to us a little differently. We do matter, just as our votes matter.

"Gov. Abbott, you're not going to be sitting there for long."

Hardegree later asked for a show of hands by those who have been sexually assaulted. A good number, if not half, went up.

"Statistically irrelevant, my ass," Hardegree said.

That drew applause.

Hardegree said the battle has been fought before, in the 1960s and the 1970s, but this one will be won, even if "those tasked to the victory look a little different."

"We will get there, nevertheless," she said.

She said the Roe v. Wade decision left embers that will burst in flames of change.

Other issues

Gender issues were discussed, and not just in passing.

Said White, "Gov. Abbott has proceeded to completely spit on our LGBTQ community by creating a GOP filled with stripping their validity of their identities, their marriages and their existences strictly because it goes against his religion."

"We are still fighting and we never give up," Royals said of social justice, women's rights and gender issues.

"We want to make a world where everyone will be OK in, and we don't have to fight. We don't have to argue. The only thing we have to do is love each other."

Speaking of love, at about 5:10 p.m., the wedding party for Melissa Horton and Cole Bruhm walked across the street to the park to take photos by the central fountain. Their blue suits and red dresses contrasted with the colored hair and assortment of body art worn by many protesters.

Rally participants hold signs and wait to march as Melissa Horton walks by in the background wearing her wedding gown Saturday. The bridal party and abortion rights rally amicably shared the space, enabling the bride and groom to make their pictures in the park without incident.

Those at the rally previously were asked to extend courtesy to that group and share the park.

Hardegree, who has lived in Abilene for almost 25 years, said not every person who has a uterus is a woman.

Hardegree identifies as a queer and trans non-binary human.

"Everything feels so hard and heavy right now, but us being here with one another in support of one another, there is a power in that that cannot be explained," Hardegree said. "None of your reaction in the overturning of Roe v. Wade is wrong."

Roe v. Wade, Hardegree said, guaranteed the right to bodily autonomy, a signal to government not to interfere.

The 1973 decision set the stage for rights won by the LGTBQA community.

"There has been an especially deep sense of grief amongst our queer elders," Hardegree said of the recent high court decision.

What they said, on signs and T's

Here are examples of the signs and T-shirt slogans see at the rally, some made by the participants and other signs given out.

"Vaginas brought you into this world and vaginas will vote you out."

"We will not go back," with a drawing of a hanger.

"If man could become pregnant abortion would be a sacrament."

"Girls just want to have fundamental human rights."

"Men of quality support gender equality."

"I survived military rape."

"Women's rights are human rights."

"Mind your own uterus."

"We are not livestock."

"Blood is on your hands," with red dripping from the letters.

"Keep your theocracy off my democracy."

Another T-shirt stated that Black lives matter, as do "women's rights and human rights."

Another sign stated "Come and take it" beside an image of a uterus colored like the state flag.

One sign simply stated: "No sign is big enough."

Royals wore a large white T-shirt with red hand prints in strategic places. On the back was the message "Hands off."

Finally, the march

A march planned for 6 p.m. began closer to 7:45 p.m. with the majority of attendees marching from Everman Park to North Fifth on Cypress Street, then back to the park on Pine Street.

White led the way, leading chants.

A souped-up red vehicle displayed a rainbow flag.

"My body, my choice!" a chant echoed. "My body, my choice!"

With cloud cover, the marchers repeated the route.

Greg Jaklewicz is editor of the Abilene Reporter-News and general columnist. If you appreciate locally driven news, you can support local journalists with a digital subscription to ReporterNews.com

This article originally appeared on Abilene Reporter-News: 'We are under attack': Park rally, march address abortion justice