ATHENS — Two protests were held Friday evening in Uptown Athens, after the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case was issued earlier in the day.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on June 24 that “The Constitution does not confer a right to abortion; Roe and Casey are overruled; and the authority to regulate abortion is returned to the people and their elected representatives.”
About 160 people attended the later protest, which started with a march from Vernon L. Alden Library on the Ohio University campus to the Athens County Courthouse and concluded with a march down Court Street.
Some signs read “Our bodies, our choice,” “We dissent” and “My body is not a political playground.”
Protesters represented a wide swath of the community — men and women of all ages, children, college students and members of the LGBTQ+ community.
“We knew this was coming, but it still feels like a punch in the gut,” said one protester while the 6 p.m. rally was heading down Park Place to Court Street.
While the protest was stopped at the courthouse, many passersby in vehicles honked their horns in support of the rally.
Sam Jones, of Athens, noted President Joe Biden posted on Twitter about his dismay of the Supreme Court decision.
“I am so sick of sitting and watching someone who has been practically in the Oval Office for three terms, that is 10 years, but has feed us the same bulls*** as Republicans,” Jones said. “If you support us, Joe, you will codify abortion rights into law. Stop relying on Supreme Court decisions. It’s a stacked court. This is not a theocracy. Let us have our godd*** bodies back.”
Patty Stokes and Andrea Reik, both of Athens, said people must vote to get pro-choice candidates elected to office.
“If you’re registered, at least go talk to someone who isn’t,” Stokes said. “It’s about showing up.”
They, and others, encouraged people to donate to pro-choice groups and organizations that help people get access to abortions.
Reik, who organized the 5 p.m. protest, talked at the 6 p.m. one, noting that people need to pay attention to the elections at the national and state level. One Ohio bill in particular she noted was House Bill 258, which if passed, would prohibit abortion if the unborn fetus has a detectable heartbeat and create the Joint Legislative Committee on Adoption Promotion and Support.
“You need to pay attention in the Ohio State House,” she said. “There are some horrible things happening there right now.”
She noted that people need to call lawmakers and write to local media.
“I have daughters that are your age,” she said addressing the college-aged people protesting. “We have to stand up and keep fighting back and get involved with the election.”
Stokes noted that changing the law back may take time. She suggested people talk with their friends in other states where it is unsafe for them to have an abortion.
“We must resolve to keep each other safe and do our best to limit the damage,” she said of the Supreme Court decision.
Others told their own personal stories as well as those of friends and family members who have had abortions.
The protest was peaceful and no counterprotests occurred. Attempts to reach out to abortion opponents were unsuccessful.
Before Friday’s ruling, Ohio did not ban most abortions until the 22nd week of pregnancy; after that they’re allowed only to save a patient’s life or when their health is seriously compromised, according to the Associated Press. But the state imposes a host of restrictions, including parental consent for minors, a required ultrasound, and in-person counseling followed by a 24-hour waiting period. Abortions are prohibited for the reason of a fetal Down syndrome diagnosis.
Ohio also limits the public funding of abortions to cases of rape, incest or endangerment of the patient’s life. It limits public employees’ abortion-related insurance coverage and coverage through health plans offered in the Affordable Care Act health exchange to those same scenarios. Clinics providing abortions must comply with a host of regulations.
A ban on most abortions at the first detectable fetal heartbeat became the law in Ohio hours after the ruling. Enforcement of Ohio’s 2019 “heartbeat” ban had been on hold for nearly three years under a federal court injunction. The state attorney general, Republican Dave Yost, asked for that to be dissolved because of the high court’s ruling, and U.S. Judge Michael Barrett agreed hours later.
Two trigger bills were on hold in the Legislature as on Saturday, but the Associated Press says a key legislative leader has said he anticipates needing to write new legislation after the decision is reversed that more carefully reflects the actual ruling. That all but certainly would not happen until lawmakers return to the capital after the November election.
Nicole Bowman-Layton is a staff writer with The Athens Messenger.