Marisa Sullivan never imagined this is a world she’d be living in.
The 36-year-old Jackson native said she comes from a long line of suffragettes who grew up discussing back alley abortions at the dinner table. But those were history lessons, not reality.
“This is horrific,” Sullivan said of Friday’s Supreme Court ruling to overturn Roe v. Wade and undo 50 years of precedent providing legal protections for abortions.
“A grouping of cells now has more value than I do,” she said.
Sullivan joined hundreds of Jackson residents who flooded Town Square on Friday, fueled by frustration over the U.S. Supreme Court’s highly anticipated and astonishing decision. The “Bans Off Our Bodies” protest was organized by Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains and Chelsea’s Fund, a Wyoming nonprofit that supports abortion access with information and funding.
At the northeast antler arch, diagonally across from the main protest, tourists were still trying to take pictures. When they asked two demonstrators to move out of the way, the advocates asked for a donation to Chelsea’s Fund. The visitor dug up a dollar, and the demonstrators obliged.
Bearing signs like “Pregnancy begins with a penis. Regulate that,” and “Let’s talk about the elephant in the womb,” many abortion rights advocates, including men, said they felt conservative male wishes were getting more protection than female bodies. Others said guns seem to have more rights than women.
One woman in a crimson “Handmaid’s Tale” cloak held a sign saying, “We are not obligated to bear your children.”
More than anything the demonstration was a chance to show solidarity. Virginia Hamilton, 26, made posters with her colleagues and said she was grateful for the large turnout, which signified to her that “no one is alone in this situation.”
“It was a very touching event. And unfortunate that it had to happen to begin with,” she said.
Many demonstrators said during the rally and afterward that they plan to support women who need to cross state lines for an abortion.
Gov. Mark Gordon is expected to certify Wyoming’s trigger ban in the next 30 days, which will make providing abortions a felony punishable by up to 14 years in prison and will force the state’s lone clinic to stop offering the procedure.
“It was down the street if you needed it. And it’s not anymore,” lamented Jenna Martin, who brought her two black Labs to the rally. One pup’s sign said: “Paws off my mom’s body.” The other: “Marching for Bitches.”
Because of similar trigger laws in Idaho and Utah, the closest abortion clinic to Jackson will be more than a six-hour drive: Billings, Montana, Steamboat Springs, Colorado, or Ontario, Oregon.
Wellspring Health Access was set to open a new abortion clinic in Casper this month but the building was damaged by a suspected arson attack weeks before opening.
For some of the women who showed up Friday, terminating a pregnancy wasn’t just a political hypothetical.
Eleven years ago Sullivan got an abortion in Oregon. She was 24 at the time, in an unstable relationship and not prepared to be a mother.
“There’s an aspect of regret for sure,” she said.
But mostly, she is grateful the procedure was available.
“This is more about the circumstances that we can then give to the children and ourselves, and how much of a life will we be able to give them?” Sullivan said. “Children are incredibly expensive. And if you don’t even have your life together, which is where I was at, how can you provide for somebody else?”
She thinks of her niece, who had a baby at 15 and is still “constantly struggling” to make ends meet in a state where the lack of resources makes it harder to raise a family. Sullivan was leading a chant with her friend Madison Rose Ostergren and holding her sign, “This is not a moment, it’s a movement,” when two women who looked to be in their 70s or 80s approached.
“We looked at each other and we made a point of saying: ‘We see what you did. We know how you suffered. We’re not going back,’” Sullivan said. “It broke my heart.”
Martin, 29, said the emotions hit her on the ride home. Not long ago, she was in Austin, protesting at the capital building while Texas implemented its own abortion ban. That felt “preventative,” like change was still possible, she said.
But even as legal battles pop up to challenge the Roe v. Wade reversal, or suspend state bans, Martin said it seems like the fight is already over.
“It feels kind of like we’re living in a nightmare,” she said.
After a brief emotional boost of like-minded rallying Friday, Martin got in her car and cried.
She’s married, but doesn’t want kids. It would be a high-risk pregnancy because of some underlying health conditions. Since the Supreme Court decision, she said, her husband has discussed getting a vasectomy. At least he has a choice, Martin said, while “I don’t have rights anymore.”
But as a reasonably well-off Jackson resident, Martin does have options that many poorer families lack. The Supreme Court ruling is expected to disproportionately affect minority women who already face limited access to health care.
There is also concern for LGBTQ+ minorities after Justice Clarence Thomas questioned rulings that currently protect contraception, same-sex relationships and same-sex marriage in his concurring opinion with the Supreme Court’s conservative majority.