Demonstrators shine lights and wave signs in Portland's Monument Square on Sunday night, marking the 50th anniversary of the landmark Roe v. Wade decision guaranteeing women a federal right to abortion. The ruling was overturned in 2022. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

PORTLAND, Maine — More than a hundred people braved a light snowfall in Monument Square Sunday night, holding signs and lights, marking the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision. The 1973 ruling, which guaranteed women the federal right to seek an abortion, was overturned last year.

The event, organized by the city’s Planned Parenthood chapter, was pro-choice and a defiant, rather than somber, affair. Participants lined both sides of Congress Street, waving at cars and cheering with every honking agreement.

Demonstrators shine lights and wave signs in Portland’s Monument Square on Sunday night, marking the 50th anniversary of the landmark Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision in 1973 guaranteeing women a federal right to abortion. The ruling was overturned in 2022. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

One woman held a homemade sign reading, “Keep your mitts off my lady bits.” Another sign, painted in large silver letters and lit by dozens of tiny holiday lights read, “50 years Roe.”

Cathy Walter of Gorham led a series of chants with a bullhorn and said she was glad the event was upbeat.

“We want the world to know we support abortion as a human right,” Walter said. “We are out here to show love and support for our fellow human beings.”

Neighbors Wendi Verrill and Laura Huff traveled from Westbrook to hold signs, standing beside each other in the square. The pair said the snow and cold didn’t bother them.

“I’m tired, sure,” Huff said between chants,”but I’m fired up.”

LumenArrt, part of ​​the Maine Union of Visual Artist’s Rapid Response Team, projected pro-choice images and slogans on the square’s Civil War monument, as well as on the Portland Public Library across the street.

Westbrook neighbors Wendi Verrill (left) and Laura Huff take part in a vigil in Portland’s Monument Square on Sunday night, marking the 50th anniversary of the landmark Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision in 1973 guaranteeing women a federal right to abortion. The ruling was overturned in 2022. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

One slide read, “If it’s not your body, it’s not your decision.” A different slide used familiar imagery from the popular dystopian novel “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

On Tuesday, Gov. Janet Mills proposed expanding abortion access in Maine, including allowing late term abortions when doctors deem them medically necessary. The change would further loosen the state’s already liberal abortion statutes. Here, the procedure is legal until fetal viability, usually at 24 weeks, or afterward when it is necessary to protect the life or the health of the mother.

Maine polls high as an abortion rights state. A 2014 Pew Research Center poll found 64 percent support for abortion rights in all, or most, circumstances. Only five states measured higher.

Of course, it’s not universally popular. Bishop Robert Deeley of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, which covers all of Maine, castigated Mills and her proposals in a statement last week. Deeley used some of the strongest words the church has yet aimed at Maine policymakers in a decade or more on a social issue.

“It is beyond troubling to see how denying the existence of a human life has become so casual for this governor and members of the Legislature,” he said.

Cathy Walter of Gorham (left) leads a chant, while Sara Verhaeghe (top right) grabs a sign from a Planned Parenthood volunteer and Kate Retherford (from left) Gracie Canon, Anne Rutherford and Dahlia Verrill take part in a raucous vigil in Portland’s Monument Square on Sunday night. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

Those in Portland’s Monument Square Sunday night were of a different opinion.

A group of high school sophomores from Falmouth traded good-natured chants with a similar cadre across Congress Street. One of them, Dahlia Verrill, said she and her friends felt it was important to come into town on a school night and take part in the demonstration.

“I feel like we have to fight for our rights, now, while we’re still young,” Verrill said, “so that someday, when we’re older, we can get them back.”

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Troy R. Bennett

Troy R. Bennett is a Buxton native and longtime Portland resident whose photojournalism has appeared in media outlets all over the world.