Lisa Roarke stood at the front of the Town Square crowd Tuesday holding a sign in each hand.
One had the more straightforward message: “Abortion is healthcare.” The other displayed a more tongue-in-cheek slogan: “Mamas don’t let your babies grow up to marry Republican congressmen.”
Close to 50 people gathered to protest the recent abortion bans in Mississippi and Alabama. The Stop the Bans protest was organized by Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains and Chelsea’s Fund, and was part of the National Day of Action to Stop the Bans happening across the United States.
Roarke heard about the protest the night before and knew she had to show her support, even though it meant missing a meeting at work. For Roarke the protest hit especially close to home because — when she was 17 — she chose to have an abortion.
“I couldn’t have a baby for many reasons, among them health reasons,” she said.
Thirteen years later she stands by her decision and has become a more staunch abortion-rights advocate. Being vocal about this issue, however, attracted some hostility from passersby.
“We’ve had men come by and yell at us,” she said. “One man said, ‘It’s not your choice.’”
Most of the response to the protest, however, was positive. Throughout the protest, people in passing cars honked in solidarity and expressed support for the protestors.
“This is awesome that people have come out and we have all these women from all different ages, from all different kinds of backgrounds and financial groups,” Roarke said. “Some could be Democratic, some could be Republican, it doesn’t matter. Everyone’s standing in unison on this.”
Protest attendees ranged in age from retired community members to a 1-year-old baby. Ragan Jolly brought her son, Peter Freeburg, to the protest, his stroller decorated with abortion-rights slogans.
“I love babies, but I don’t want someone to tell me that I have to gestate for 40 weeks,” she said. “This is the biggest thing I’ve ever done, and it requires all of my attention, all of my energy. It’s transformative. But I don’t think you can demand that anyone do this just as a consequence of sex.”
The two protest organizers — Katie Holmes, the community and donor relations officer for the state of Wyoming for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, and Caitlin Shea, the vice president and Jackson representative of the Chelsea’s Fund nonprofit — started planning after they heard about the national day of action.
“I’m so psyched that a lot of people were able to come out last minute,” Holmes said. “We need to stand up, we need to say, ‘Enough’ and show that our town is behind stopping these bans that are happening.
“And, quite honestly, our state is also struggling with specific health care laws.”
This past legislative session, Holmes and other activists went to Cheyenne to lobby against two bills in the Wyoming Legislature — House Bill 103 and House Bill 140 — which aimed to increase legal regulations for abortion.
House Bill 140, which ultimately did not pass, would have mandated that physicians wait at least 48 hours after a woman requested an abortion before performing one, except in a medical emergency. House Bill 103 will be signed into law by the governor effective July 1, and establishes additional requirements for abortion reporting by physicians.
Requirements include documentation of race, ethnicity and marital status of the pregnant woman, the kind of procedure done, the gestational age and length and weight of the “aborted fetus or embryo.” The bill also calls for electronic reporting and fining physicians who do not comply $1,000 or more. Physicians who fail to comply are subject to disciplinary action by the Wyoming Board of Medicine.
Critics of the bill, like Holmes, argue it could dissuade physicians from providing abortions to people who need them and creates unnecessary barriers to abortion access.
“We see them slowly chipping away at some of our rights here, and the rights of our providers,” Holmes said. “That’s the first step in getting some of those bigger, scarier bans and restrictions passed.”
For Holmes those “bigger and scarier bans” could mean something as significant as overturning Roe v. Wade in the U.S. Supreme Court.
“I think we all need to be a little bit worried,” Holmes said. “I think the intentions behind setting some of these laws are not necessarily for the health of women or for children.”
Shea, who is a nurse practitioner, considers abortion a health care choice that should be decided by a pregnant woman and her health care provider.
“It’s part of reproductive health care,” Shea said. “It shouldn’t be thought of in any other way.”