Demonstrators back abortion rights

CASPER — Between Veteran’s Park and the Healing Park on Conwell, a crowd filled the sidewalk. They were protesting on Saturday the recently leaked U.S. Supreme Court draft opinion, which shows that the justices seem poised to overturn Roe v. Wade this summer. 

Around 200 abortion rights demonstrators — children, parents, grandparents, students and friends — clutched cardboard signs and poster boards with slogans including “I marched for this 50 years ago,” “Stop the madness” and “Whose rights will be next?” 

As they walked, they chanted “My body, my choice.” When they arrived at Conwell Street, they chanted, “Hey hey, ho ho, the patriarchy has got to go.”

Some had protested for abortion rights decades ago, before protections under Roe existed. Some were looking toward their own futures, concerned about how a reversal could impact them — particularly in Wyoming, which has an abortion trigger ban in place. 

Casper joined cities across the country with protests mirroring the “Bans off our Bodies” demonstration in Washington, D.C. The day of demonstration was coordinated by organizations like Planned Parenthood, UltraViolet, Women’s March and MoveOn. 

The Casper protest was organized by a group of about 20 local volunteers, many of whom also sit on the advisory committee for a clinic that plans to provide abortion services as well as family planning and other medical care when it opens in Casper next month. 

In Wyoming, there were also rallies Saturday in Cheyenne and Lander. Smaller demonstrations also took place in Lander and Laramie soon after news of Roe’s potential reversal broke earlier this month.

Most demonstrators didn’t seem surprised by the implications of the leaked draft opinion, which shows that justices seem poised to overturn Roe. 

Carolyn Logan, who remembers the first Roe decision, said she thought of that possibility back in 2016. 

“I began to think that it would be a likelihood when Trump was elected,” she said. 

Logan was standing with her small, white dog on a street corner at the intersection of Poplar Street and CY Avenue before the march. She was there with about 20 other people, about half of whom had gathered on the opposite corner. She was glad at least that there were people who were willing to come out and protest for abortion rights, she said. 

Even though protections around abortion access under Roe v. Wade have been around since 1973, making them seem permanent, they have always been somewhat precarious. States across the nation have chipped away at abortion rights over the years, making the service almost inaccessible to some. 

Texas passed a law earlier this year, for example, that bans abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy. 

Many rural states, like Wyoming, just don’t have many abortion services in the first place. People in Wyoming already travel out of state to access abortion, given there is only one clinic in Jackson that now offers the service. 

Many of the older protesters said they were angry to find themselves advocating again for rights they thought had been won back in 1973. 

“This whole thing is crazy,” said Casper resident and Navy veteran Janiece Dunlap, who marched in pro-abortion rights protests in Los Angeles and Cleveland half a century ago. 

She sat in a camp chair at Poplar and CY intersection earlier in the day, a female gender symbol painted in red on her cheek, holding a sign across her lap. Her granddaughter Aurora Heuer stood behind her. 

She said she “was enraged” when she learned about the leaked Supreme Court draft opinion last week. 

“It’s about more than just abortion,” she said. 

Even though the Roe v. Wade decision is supposed to only affect abortion rights, people have said previously and throughout the demonstration that they’re concerned a reversal of Roe would create precedent for the erosion of other rights — like those around marriage and contraception. 

Heuer had a sign with hearts and a coat hanger drawn on it in colored marker. A number of demonstrators throughout the day were carrying signs illustrated with coat hangers, which has emerged as a symbol of dangerous abortions performed when access to abortion services is limited or illegal. 

Jodi May, Heuer’s aunt, was also sitting in a camp chair on the same street corner. She was “just appalled” when she heard about the leaked opinion last week, she said. 

“My main opinion is that body autonomy is black and white,” she said. 

Though she wasn’t completely surprised at the leaked draft, Michaela Wallace said she felt shocked that “this is actually happening.” 

While the leaked opinion is not final, and an official decision is not expected to be released until June, most protesters said it made them certain Roe would be overturned. 

And the possible reversal of Roe coincides with a turn toward restricting abortion rights within Wyoming. 

Within 35 days of a Roe reversal, Wyoming would likely enact a ban on abortions in the state. 

Kimberly Holloway, a family law attorney who also sits on the steering committee for the abortion clinic that’s set to open in June in Casper, has lived in Wyoming long enough to see the changes that have led to the state’s recent passage of its abortion trigger ban law. Over the past 18 years, she said the state has gotten “way more Republican, way more radical.” 

People of all ages turned out for the demonstration. Many of the younger demonstrators — college and high school students, early professionals — said they were frustrated that a handful of people could make such a big decision on abortion rights that would impact so many people. 

Three high school students stood at the edge of the sidewalk in front of Veteran’s Park, holding signs, at times raising their voices in unison, shouting “My body, my choice!” 

They expressed frustration at the fact that the Wyoming Legislature, which is majority male, had the power to pass the abortion trigger ban law. 

“Men make all the choices,” one of the students said. “They’re putting their laws on our bodies,” said another. 

All three said that, if they had the choice, they would leave Wyoming. 

State Rep. Pat Sweeney, R-Casper, railed against elected officials while speaking to the crowd at Healing Park. 

“We old grumpy men, white men, I just don’t think a lot of times we get it,” he said. “After all, we are the Equality State. And we forget about that a lot of times in the Legislature in my opinion.” 

There were several people at the demonstration representing transgender individuals. They passing around an email list to share information about transgender health. 

Many protesters brought their children, from toddlers to teenagers. 

Brandy Robinson said it’s important for her to teach her 11-year-old son, Shiloh, to support women’s rights. 

“He’s gonna grow up to be a man,” she said, “and it’s important to have a lot of men and women on the same side of this.” 

Amy Dickerson brought her 4-year-old daughter along for the rally, hoping to set an example for her. 

“There’s the things that affect me, and then there’s things that are going to affect her generation,” she said. “I have a female daughter that I care about.” 

Organizer Holly Thompson said she was happy to see how many young people showed up for the event. 

“At the Women’s March and other rallies, you see a lot of the same faces,” she said. “I’m ready to pass the torch ... to do what I can to bring up the next generation.” 

Around 200 people attended the protest at its peak. They lined Second Street upon arriving at Healing Park, holding signs and chanting as cars passed by. Most drivers who interacted with protesters were showing support, giving a few honks or leaning out a window to give a thumbs up or cheer. 

While a smaller  group was posted at the Poplar Street and CY Avenue intersection earlier in the day, at least two vehicles drove past blowing exhaust on protesters. 

Amanda Lancaster, an attorney who lives in Jackson, stood on Second Street after the march, with her baby swaddled on her stomach. She said the decision to come to the event took “not even a second thought.” 

“It’s definitely emotional,” she said. “I’ve had some moments, looking at different people’s signs, where I just kind of tear up a little bit.” 

Dee Gould, who came with her great-niece, said she’s been protesting for abortion rights for almost 50 years. She held a sign that read, “My arms hurt from holding this sign since the 1970s.” 

“This is ridiculous. This is ridiculous that we’re doing this,” she said. “This shouldn’t even be happening right now. And it might not be happening.” 

Gould’s great-niece, Diamond Hett, said she left her son at home for the protest just in case things escalated as they did when she participated in the Casper march in response to George Floyd’s murder in 2020. But the day stayed peaceful. 

The founder of a women’s health and abortion clinic coming to Casper next month, Julie Burkhart, spoke as the rally’s keynote speaker. 

“I think it just really helped further enforce that this is a community that’s not rejecting us,” Burkhart said after the rally. “And these are the people who turned out. There are people who support us that didn’t turn out.” 

A couple of counter protestors initially showed up when demonstrators were marching from Veterans Park to Healing Park. 

Mike Pyatt, a former Mills city council member, stood on the sidewalk close to the street with one other counter protester. Pyatt was holding a small cork board. Two photos of aborted fetuses were pinned to it. Later on, he said one of the abortion rights demonstrators tore one of the photos off of the cork board, saying that the photos weren’t real. It’s not clear whether or not the photos were genuine. 

“We want to be the voice for the unborn,” Pyatt said. 

He said that, as a Christian, he feels he has an obligation to “defend the most vulnerable.” 

Others at the demonstration said abortion restrictions would hit the most vulnerable the hardest. 

Archie Pettry, a counselor who works with underserved adults and kids, said that the “people who are going to be hurt are the people who are poor, who are underserved.” 

There were a few other counter protesters who arrived when protesters was sitting on the grass, gathered around the gazebo to listen to speakers. One was holding a poster, also showing photos of aborted fetuses. 

Pyatt said that some of the demonstrators had asked them to leave. 

On Poplar and CY, Diamond Hett held a sign for drivers to read: “Whose rights will be next?” 

While the first thing on most minds was abortion rights, many attendees brought up concerns over the “slippery slope” they said could result from Roe being overturned. Because Roe protects abortion rights based on a right to privacy in healthcare, legal experts say the revocation of that right could lead to pushes to reverse landmark decisions on gay and interracial marriage, limit access to contraception or even criminalize homosexual sex.

Protesters said that Wyoming’s trigger ban is hypocritical for a state whose residents value freedom so highly.

Several attendees also mentioned recent controversies over masks, COVID-19 vaccines and gun ownership, which brought the question of personal choice to the fore.

“People want the choice to not get their COVID vaccine, they want the choice to have their guns,” said Jill Felbeck-Jones. “We want the choice to speak to our doctor about a medical procedure.”

Paige Hebert, walking from Veterans Park to Healing Park, also said she would be disappointed to see the choice over abortion go away in Wyoming, considering the state is, in her opinion, “one of the few places where people have choices.” 

“It would definitely make me a little less proud to be a Wyomingite if I weren’t able to choose,” she said.

Rion Brownfield, who was at Healing Park with his camera, documenting the demonstration, said he would see the reversal of Roe as a “stepping stone” to other restrictions around marriage and reproductive health care.

“We’ve already taken all these steps, why are we going back again?” he questioned.

Riata Little Walker spoke to the crowd about her decision to have an abortion for medical reasons, after finding out her unborn daughter was sick. She said she’s been made to feel like she couldn’t grieve her baby because she made the choice to terminate the pregnancy. 

“It’s easy to say, ‘I’ll never have an abortion’ until you find yourself in the impossible situation. And then you’re glad you have choices,” she said. 

Earlier in the day, she stood on the corner of Poplar and CY, holding a sign that said “Abortion: never an easy choice, sometimes the best choice, always a woman’s choice.” 

She said some people aren’t ever going to change their minds on abortion. But it’s worth trying to set politics aside and find common ground, she said.

 “If you have the time to really talk to somebody about it,” she said, “and just have a real conversation as an American and as a human being, then more people get it.”