People from across the East End and beyond gathered in Riverhead Saturday to support abortion rights, in a “Bans Off Our Bodies” rally organized by local activist groups.
The demonstration outside the State Supreme Courthouse on Griffing Avenue was one of more than 380 rallies that took place in cities and towns across the U.S. yesterday in a national day of action to protest the potential imminent demise of a woman’s constitutionally guaranteed right to an abortion.
The May 2 leak of a draft Supreme Court opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark decision that legalized abortion nationwide, sparked immediate outrage. Spontaneous demonstrations erupted soon after the unprecedented leak.
Yesterday’s protest in Riverhead drew more 200 people, who heard speeches by activists, elected officials and pro-abortion rights candidates, and listened to personal stories told by an abortion provider and a woman impregnated in a forcible rape at age 17 and was faced with the traumatic decision of whether to terminate the pregnancy.
Abigail Hallock of Sag Harbor recalled the depths of her despair in the days following the rape, from which she was already exhibiting symptoms of PTSD. Hallock said was already struggling with mental health issues.
“If I continued the pregnancy, I would have to go off the psych meds that had kept me afloat for six years,” Hallock said. “I knew there was no way in hell I would make it through that pregnancy alive.”
As she agonized over the choice she faced, Hallock said, “The universe made my decision for me. Before I got to make the choice, I suffered a miscarriage.”
Hallock, now 19, told the crowd if she had to make a choice, she would have chosen her mental health. “What’s the sense of bringing a child into this world if it costs me my mental health?”
Suffolk County legislators Bridget Fleming and Kara Hahn, who are both seeking the Democratic nomination in the First Congressional District, and Southold Town Trustee Liz Gillooly addressed the crowd, as did Democratic State Senate candidate Skyler Johnson and former Riverhead Town Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith.
“Abortion is a woman’s right, a right to make that decision with her own conscience, a right to control her own body,” Fleming said. The leaked Supreme Court opinion, authored for the majority by conservative Justice Samuel Alito, would dismantle the constitutional protections recognized a half-century ago in Roe v. Wade, she said. “We won’t go back,” Fleming said. The crowd responded, chanting “We won’t go back” along with the legislator.
Hahn told the protesters she is angry about the attack on women’s reproductive rights. Seventy-five percent of Americans support a woman’s right to choose, Hahn said. “We will not back down from this fight.”
Kathy Casey Quigley, Southold Democratic Committee chairperson and one of the organizers of the event told the crowd it is more important than ever to elect candidates who support reproductive freedom to offices at every level of government.
State senate candidate Johnson said if Roe v. Wade is overturned, 26 states are likely to ban abortion. “New York must be a beacon of reproductive care. We must provide a haven for people in states who have outlawed reproductive care.”
Gillooly warned that elected state officials representing the local area and the Republican designee for governor, NY-01 Rep. Lee Zeldin are opposed to abortion rights and would roll back protections in New York if given the opportunity.
Zeldin has cosponsored the “Life at Conception Act,” which declares that the right to life guaranteed by the Constitution is vested at the moment of conception. He also cosponsored the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” which would prohibit performing an abortion where the fetus is 20 weeks post-fertilization.
Republican State Senator Anthony Palumbo voted against New York’s “Reproductive Health Act” as a member of the Assembly in 2019. The act, passed on the 46th anniversary of Roe v. Wade codified the tenets of the landmark decision in state law, amending the Public Health Law to make it legal for a licensed health care practitioner to perform an abortion for a patient within 24 weeks from the commencement of pregnancy, or if there is “an absence of fetal viability” or the abortion is “necessary to protect the patient’s life or health,” and removing references to abortion from the state Penal Law.
Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio (R-Baiting Hollow), who took office in January 2021, is opposed to abortion except when necessary to save the mother’s life. She voted last month against a bill that would authorize the state health commissioner to study the unmet health needs facing pregnant women and the impact of “limited service pregnancy centers” — such as the AAA Pregnancy Options office opened in Riverhead by Life Center of Long Island several years ago — on the ability of women to obtain accurate, non-coercive health care information and access to a comprehensive range of reproductive and sexual health care services. The bill passed the Assembly along party lines and is pending in the Senate.
Quigley read a statement from Tijuana Fulford, founder of The Butterfly Effect Project, an organization dedicated to empowering girls in underserved communities, who could not attend yesterday’s demonstration.
“Our bodies belong to us,” Fulford said. “We do not need allies. We need champions. We need champions to ensure that our rights are protected… I will stand not just for my daughters and their daughters, but your daughters and their daughters,” she said.
“We need people to know that by taking our right to choose, by taking our voice, you are erasing us as a person, as a mother, as a sister, as a wife, as a partner, as a friend, as a human. This is a decision that no man, no outsider, no government should make or want to make,” Fulford said.
Judi Gardner of Melville was seated on the courthouse steps listening to the speakers, holding a sign in her lap with the message “We Won’t Go Back,” and shaking her head.
“I’m 75 years old. I saw what it was like before. We won’t go back,” Gardner said. “I’ve been carrying this sign for far too long.”
At the rally’s conclusion, the crowd marched down Griffing Avenue to Main Street, then walked east on Main Street and north on Roanoke Avenue to Second Street, returning to Griffing Avenue, where the rally began. A cacophony of blaring horns sounded by passing motorists greeted the marchers, who in return cheered their supporters.
National polling consistently shows Americans overwhelmingly oppose overturning Roe v. Wade, with less than one-third of respondents supporting overturning the decision — including in polling done after the draft leaked.
RiverheadLOCAL photos by Tanya Zaleski and Denise Civiletti
Editor’s note: This article has been amended to correct a misspelling of Liz Gillooly’s surname.
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