Hundreds gathered in downtown San Luis Obispo on Tuesday evening to demand a stop to laws that restrict or ban a woman’s right to have an abortion.
The “Stop the Bans” rally, part of a nationwide movement hosted locally by Women’s March SLO, called for a fierce defense of abortion rights in the U.S., legalized in the 1973 Supreme Court case, Roe v. Wade.
Several states, including Alabama, Missouri, Georgia and Mississippi, recently have passed laws restricting abortion.
One activist, Linda Seeley, 74, told The Tribune she helped a friend get an abortion in a backroom doctor’s office in Cleveland in 1966, when abortion was illegal in the U.S. The botched operation left her friend bleeding and needing emergency medical care.
“She didn’t die, but her reproductive organs were damaged and she lost her ability to have a child after that,” Seeley said. “She was 21 at the time. I fought for abortion before. And I will fight again.”
Alabama has passed legislation to nearly prohibit abortions altogether, while several other states have passed laws banning abortion after the heartbeats of a baby can be detected — as early as six weeks into the pregnancy. None of the new laws have taken effect.
The wave of new restrictive legislation is expected to face lengthy court battles and eventually reach the Supreme Court for consideration by a bench that includes its latest appointee, Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who many believe could shift the balance on abortion rights.
In California, women currently have a right to an abortion until 24 weeks into their pregnancy.
“These abortion bans are getting really personal,” said Hannah Yaron, a 19-year-old Cal Poly student from Los Angeles. “I have never known anyone personally who has had an abortion, but I believe women aren’t being treated equally (with the passage of the laws). We’re going backwards, not forwards.”
An estimated 400 people gathered in front of the San Luis Obispo Superior Court, many clutching signs that included messages such as “No Uterus, No Opinion” and “Old White Men, Hands Off.” One man chanted “get a vasectomy.”
Heated verbal exchanges also took place between the crowd and Danny Ehinger, of Paso Robles, who shouted out comments in support of his pro-life stance, accusing the activists of supporting a position of murder.
“They’re marching to have it legal to kill children,” said Ehinger, a member of the Abolitionist Society of SLO County, a pro-life group, and a Christian. “We want equal rights for all humans.”
At one point, three SLO police officers stepped between Ehinger and the protestors, and several pro-choice activists engaged the man in debate about his position.
Advocates for restrictive measures on abortion, including religious groups, believe a human life begins at conception and becomes a person, therefore deserves a right to life.
The National Right to Life organization issued a tweet Tuesday, stating in part: “We will be making sure people are aware of how human beings develop in the womb. The very people these groups do not care for.”
Members of the rally included women who shared first-person accounts of their experiences — and why they believe permissive abortion policy is necessary.
Protesters called for a continued women’s right to choose whether to terminate a pregnancy, including “safe, legal and affordable abortion and birth control for all people, regardless of income, location or education,” according to the Women’s March SLO Facebook page.
The shared personal stories were a continuation of a similar online campaign, titled “#YouKnowMe,” in which women across the nation have shared accounts of their lives and how abortion rights have helped and affected their life experiences.
“This is about control,” said Seeley, a midwife of 35 years. “This is about the patriarchy and controlling women.”
In Alabama, a doctor who performs an abortion could face up to 99 years in prison if the new law is ultimately enacted. The law that wouldn’t allow for abortion even in the case of rape or incest are controversial, dividing even staunch conservatives on the issue.
President Donald Trump issued a tweet on Saturday, stating: “As most people know, and for those who would like to know, I am strongly Pro-Life, with the three exceptions — Rape, Incest and protecting the Life of the mother — the same position taken by Ronald Reagan.”
Groups that supported the rally included: Cal Poly Planned Parenthood, Planned Parenthood Central Coast, SLO County Progressives, San Luis Obispo SLO County Democratic Party and Together We Will San Luis Obispo.