More than 1,000 people amassed in Portland Friday in support of abortion rights, chanting “my body, my choice” and “abortion is healthcare” as they marched from Lincoln Park to Portland City Hall.
The event came only hours after the Supreme Court announced it would overturn abortion precedent set by Roe v. Wade. The anger and outrage of that decision was present in the crowd. So was the desire to do everything possible to protect abortion rights in Maine.
Speaking at Portland City Hall after the march, Gov. Janet Mills called the decision a “devastating” opinion that was a “fundamental assault on women’s rights.”
Mills said she remembered a time in Maine when abortion was illegal and women’s reproductive rights were not nearly as protected as they are today.
“It was when an abortion, if you could get one, involved a clandestine arrangement, a dangerous arrangement, in some back alley in Boston or New York City,” Mills said. “It was a time when women’s health was a secondary concern.”
She said that day’s decision would again put numerous women in precarious situations, not stopping abortions but only making them less safe.
Echoing her statement earlier in the day, Mills said she would fight any efforts to undermine abortion rights as long as she was governor. She called for attendees to respond at the ballot box in November by electing pro-choice candidates.
“We must react to this devastating opinion, this radical, extremist decision, without violence, but with our vote,” Mills said. “Make no mistake about it: Roe v. Wade is on the ballot this November.”
Maine Speaker of the House Rep. Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford and Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, also spoke as did medical professionals.
“Today’s ruling is not a surprise … the effects of the decisions coming from this Supreme Court are devastating,” said Dr. Julia McDonald, a family medicine physician who vowed to never stop performing abortions. “Our bodily autonomy, our liberty, our freedom are on the line.”
She said the decision was especially devastating to people of color as well as those more likely to live in poverty or have health risks.
Organized by the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, The We Won’t Go Back Rally + March for Reproductive Freedom began at about 5:30 pm. MC’d by local musician Viva, it drew people of all ages. But the largest group was young men and women who came from all over Portland and beyond.
The Supreme Court announced Friday morning that it ruled in a 5-4 decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that abortion was not a constitutionally-protected right, overturning a precedent set by Roe v. Wade in 1973 and allowing states the option to regulate the practice however they please.
Some states banned abortion shortly after the announcement, while others are expected to pass new laws doing so.
Maine has some of the strongest abortion rights laws in the nation, though that could change if Republicans take control of the Maine Legislature in the upcoming election.
Some attendees acknowledged that Maine was in a better place than many others in the nation. Still, they wanted to come out in force in support of abortion rights on a day in which millions lost that right.
“We have the privilege of having legislation in place to protect ourselves,” said Abby King, 17, of Yarmouth. “But other people in other parts of the country don’t have the same rights as us right now.”
Several brought homemade signs, including angry and sometimes explicit messages leveled at the Supreme Court as well as Maine Sen. Susan Collins.
Clockwise from left: At least 1,000 people protest on the steps of Portland City Hall on Friday, June 24, 2022, after the U.S. Supreme court overturned Roe v. Wade. Protestors called for universal abortion access; Maine Gov. Janet Mills addresses a large crowd on the steps of Portland City Hall on Friday, June 24, 2022, after the U.S. Supreme court overturned Roe v. Wade. Mills and protestors called for universal abortion access; People protesting the decision overturning Roe v. Wade gather on the steps of Portland City Hall on Friday. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN
Collins voted to confirm two of the justices who voted for the overturn, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. However, she voted against appointing Amy Coney Barrett, who also voted to do so.
Many signs referenced the long history of abortion rights and the 49 years since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973.
Though the crowd skewed younger, some who attended — like Mills — could remember a time before Roe v. Wade, where abortion rights were not guaranteed nationwide. That includes Diane Warming, 72, of Portland.
Warming got pregnant while living in Ohio in the early 1970s. At the time, abortion was illegal there, as it was in most of the United States before the Roe decision.
The procedure put her in the hospital, she said, and placed her life at-risk. Now, she fears that such illegal procedures are going to proliferate again in states where abortion is made illegal.
Many called for reform of the court. Nate Adams, 40, of Portland, said that President Joe Biden should expand the court with four new justices so that it can be more in line with public opinion.
“Progressive and even centrist people need to get some representation on the court,” Adams said. “So that we can get a slightly more sane decision than we got today.”
For Terri Coakley of Portland the lack of support system for women who will have abortion access taken from them is what’s most outrageous.
“There’s no socialized healthcare. There’s no paid parental leave. And the Supreme Court is basically telling women that they are now forced to be pregnant,” Coakley said.
Lisa Margulies, 39, of South Portland just had twins back in October. She said the ruling reminded her of what she had gone through in her pregnancy and brought to mind those who would be subject to it unwillingly. She brought a homemade sign that said “twin moms for choice,” written on the back of the cardboard from a Pampers diaper container.
“My pregnancy was really difficult,” Margulies said. “I’m lucky to have these twins, but I can’t imagine making anyone go through that extreme pain and difficulty.”
For many attendees and speakers, their opposition and outrage was not just at the restricting of abortion itself, but the door it could open to overturning other previous Supreme Court decisions, including those protecting contraception, same-sex marriage and consensual sexual activity.
“It’s the first of many dominoes, and that’s the scariest thing,” said Emily Holtzclaw, 41. “It’s chipping away at freedoms continuously.”
Fury at the ruling was strongly present during the protest, coming across in strong and sometimes explicit language by speakers at Portland City Hall.
Many made calls to turn that anger into action through the ballot box for races at the state and municipal level.
“We are furious at our highest court … the fight here and in every local community is incredibly important,” said Portland City Councilor April Fournier.
She went on to emphasize the importance of local races, saying that today’s city councilors and school board members become tomorrow’s legislators and governors.
Others emphasized that the protesters were in solidarity with others around the nation.
“We are not alone. We join two-thirds of Americans who believe in a constitutional right to privacy,” said Ross, who also led a chant of “Maine won’t go back.”
The crowd responded with chants of “November 8.”
“We have to make sure that we work longer and harder with more intention to not let them divide us,” Ross said.
Ross also encouraged protesters to support local abortion funds.
A counter protest could be heard from City Hall, though it wasn’t immediately clear how big the scope was.