'We Are Not Going Back'

Humboldt County reacts to End of Roe v. Wade

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Hundreds gathered in Humboldt County to protest the U.S. Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade, joining hundreds of thousands across the nation in decrying the ruling that abruptly ended nearly five decades of constitutional protection.

Until June 24, the 1973 landmark case was widely considered settled legal precedent grounded in the fundamental right to privacy afforded by the U.S. Constitution.

While safe and legal access to abortion remains secure in California, the decision now places control over one of the nation's most divisive issues back in the hands of state lawmakers, who can now determine a woman's ability to terminate a pregnancy.

That, according to Planned Parenthood Northern California, threatens "the right to safe and accessible abortion for millions of people nationwide" and will result "in over half our country's states moving to wipe out abortion access."

Carol Sher, one of the hundreds who attended a June 24 community protest at the Humboldt County Courthouse with Clergy for Choice, said she found the court's decision "outrageous."

"I can't believe they will give an 18-year-old an AR-15 and they will take away women's rights over their own bodies," she said. "It's not about life, it's about power over women."

Also protesting was Cynthia Packar, a retired registered nurse who's lived in the area since the 1970s, said she expects a lot of "gray-haired women" will be out demonstrating "because we remember what it was like before abortion was available — the women dying, the women bleeding."

"Stopping legalized abortion doesn't stop abortion, it just stops safe abortion," she said. "And it was a sad day for women when this decision came down."

A sole counter protester wearing a "Make America Pro-Life Again" stood across the street.

"I think it's a wonderful day. It's progress for America to take that step towards protecting innocent human life, and this is, it's kinda a big deal," said Roger Rees, a deputy district attorney who said he was there in his capacity as a community member.

North Coast representatives also weighed in on the decision, which had been widely anticipated following a leak of the draft opinion in May, with Congressman Jared Huffman describing the court majority as "extreme" and "out of touch."

"A cascade of dire consequences and restrictions will now sweep across the country, falling hardest on those who already face the most barriers to care: Black and Brown women, folks who can't afford care, young people and LGBTQ people, and women suffering domestic violence are now all at the highest risk," Huffman said, vowing to keep fighting in Congress to restore reproductive healthcare rights.

California voters will also decide in November whether to codify the right to access abortion and contraception in the state Constitution with an amendment that will be on the upcoming election's ballot.

State Sen. Mike McGuire said he was "livid" and state Assemblymember Jim Wood described June 24 as "a very dark day in America."

Two days after the opinion came out, a second protest took place at the Arcata Plaza, with a few speakers, including Councilmember Meredith Matthews, one of the organizers, describing the impact the decision had on them, as well as calling for people to make sure they know where candidates stand on this issue and other fundamental rights.

Matthews took a moment to encourage young people, especially, to get involved in their communities, to vote and to run for office, pledging her help to anyone who was interested. "You have a voice," she said. "Please use it."

The crowd of about 150 then moved to the eastern corners of the square, holding signs with messages including, "I'm Not Ovary-Acting," "No Forced Birth" and "Women's Liberation Now," receiving mostly positive responses from passing drivers, many of whom honked and fist pumped their approval, a few blowing kisses.

Eureka residents Amber Pawloski and Michelle Huckaby stood next to each other, at times finishing each other's sentences as they explained their need to stand up against the stripping away of women's reproductive rights and to stand up in solidarity with women in other parts of the country who no longer have the same protections available in places like California.

"We are doing this for others," Pawloski said.

"Government should not be regulating our bodies," Huckaby said. "It's our choice. We have more regulations on our bodies than guns. It's ridiculous. We are mad. ... We are not going back."

"This is just the beginning," Huckaby added. "What we want to know is, what's next?"

Kimberly Wear (she/her) is the digital editor at the Journal. Reach her at 442-1400, extension 323, or Follow her on Twitter @kimberly_wear.

Ryan Hutson (she/her) is a freelance journalist based in Humboldt County.

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