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Standing on the stage in front of hundreds of people – old and young, singles, families and children – state Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez said, “I needed this today. Did you need this today?”
The crowd answered in the affirmative with a roar.
Less than 12 hours after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, hundreds of people gathered at Tiguex Park, near Old Town, to protest the decision. The “We Won’t Go Back – Bans Off Our Bodies” rally mirrored hundreds of others held across the country as supporters of abortion rights took to the streets. Protests were also held in Las Cruces and Taos.
In Albuquerque, rally-goers waved home-made signs bearing slogans like “aid and abet abortions,” “stand up, fight back” and “legal abortion saves lives.” Others were more crass.
The music was up-beat and defiant – playing hits like “Talkin’ bout a Revolution” and “We Are Family.” The speakers, a mix of politicians, abortion rights advocates and providers, poets and representatives from the Indigenous, Black and Chicano communities were met with frequent cheers, clapping and yells of agreement.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham – wearing “pink for power, baby” – kicked off the event.
“We’ve been doing this for all of our lifetimes,” Lujan Grisham said, “You name an issue about equal rights and we’ve done this before, again and again and again. And I could be mad – OK, I’m really mad. Let the anger motivate you, it’s an anger worth having.”
The crowd seemed energized and indignant throughout the two-hour rally, although it grew somber as a speaker, working for the Southwest Women’s Law Center, recounted a story in which access to an abortion meant the difference between life and death.
“Abortion is not a moral issue for people with disabilities and health concerns,” said Jessica Serrano. “I was on a call yesterday with somebody who found out that someone with a birthing body with one kidney was pregnant and they would die if they continued with the pregnancy. They would die without an abortion.”
Call to action
As soon as local advocates for abortion rights began getting news alerts about the Supreme Court’s decision Friday morning they leapt into action.
Samia Assed, one of the co-organizers with the New Mexico Women’s March, was drinking coffee and reading the news online – planning to have a nice day with her children. Instead, she and others spent the day planning a “rapid response” rally.
“We were expecting it, but it’s still surreal,” Assed said.
Assed, who has been working on civil rights issues for the past 17 years, said while overturning the right to an abortion once seemed “farfetched” it has appeared more and more likely since 2016 when Donald Trump was elected president.
“Abortion rights hits different because it hits a segment of the population that thought this would never be seen again in America,” Assed said. “We thought we had won this since 1973, and it seems like we want to go back to the dark ages.”
Lisa Padilla, the manager of public affairs for Planned Parenthood who also co-chairs the New Mexico Women’s March, said in some ways the news has been energizing. New Mexico lawmakers repealed a state law last year that made it a crime to end a woman’s pregnancy, but the right to an abortion is not enshrined in state law.
“I mean on the one hand it’s devastating to think about having our rights as women taken away,” she said. “On the other hand I think maybe this is what it’s going to take in order to get it codified as a right. And so I’m trying my best to be positive.”
Over at the headquarters of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, activists gathered Friday afternoon to make signs for the night’s rally. The group was going to protest in front of the courthouse but decided to join the protest at Tiguex Park.
Bex Hampton said she and others called in to work and spent the day organizing instead.
“The news is an outrage, it’s an absolute outrage. The Supreme Court is eviscerating abortion rights – that is women’s rights and all people who can have an abortion…,” Hampton said. “For us we’re saying we need to be in the streets right now, building a mass movement to re-secure our rights.”
Show of support
In conversations at Tiguex Park, the rally’s participants expressed strong feelings of anger and sadness about what had brought them there.
For Alix King, the Supreme Court decision was deeply personal. She said when she was 13 – in Texas in 1965 – she almost died from an illegal attempted abortion.
“I just can’t believe the Supreme Court is rolling back constitutional rights,” King said. “That’s historic, that’s terrifying.”
Bonnie Buntjer, who attended the rally with her granddaughter Isa Nellos, said she protested 50 years ago and there was “no way” she thought she’d ever need to protest in support of abortion rights again.
“I feel chills, I’m impressed by how many people are out here,” Nellos said. “I’m also here to support my grandmother and support my own future.”
Izzy Castillo, 13, and Denise Castillo, 12, who attended the rally with their stepfather expressed dismay that they would have less rights than the generations before them.
As dusk fell around 8:30 the rally’s organizers called it a night. The protest had been peaceful – flanked by a group of young men playing basketball on one side and a concert from the Albuquerque Museum on the other.
As many speakers had reiterated – the activists were going to have a long road ahead of them.