Anger, outrage, fear, sadness — emotions ran the gamut at Wednesday’s rally for women’s rights outside the Suffolk Supreme Court in Riverhead.
More than 200 people from across the East End and beyond came together on the steps of the courthouse, overflowing onto Griffing Avenue, which Riverhead Police closed to traffic as the crowd swelled.
A dozen speakers spoke at the rally, one of hundreds that have taken place across the country since the U.S. Supreme Court last Friday issued a decision overturning Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court case holding that a woman has a constitutional right to bodily autonomy and laws that banned abortion before the third trimester of pregnancy violated that right.
In Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, authored by Justice Samuel Alito, a 6-3 majority ruled that the right to an abortion is not protected by the U.S. Constitution and the issue is left to the states to determine.
The Dobbs decision set off changes in state laws affecting roughly half the country. Thirteen states with “trigger laws” — laws that were to take effect if Roe v. Wade were struck down — will prohibit abortion within 30 days of the ruling. At least eight states banned abortion the day the ruling was released and several others are expected to soon follow suit. In 20 states, including New York, and in the District of Columbia, abortion remains legal and is expected to remain legal.
Speakers at the Riverhead rally spoke in harsh terms of the impact of the Dobbs ruling, some sharing personal stories and others warning that the decision has far-reaching implications for the future of personal freedom in America.
County Legislator Bridget Fleming, Democratic candidate for Congress in NY-01, spoke to the crowd about the Dobbs concurring opinion written by Justice Clarence Thomas.
“Let me tell you — as a lawyer, as a former criminal prosecutor, I can tell you that is a very frightening opinion, because it includes a promise to go after even more fundamental human rights — the right to contraception, the right to LBGTQ marriage, the right to privacy, the right to love whom you love,” Fleming said.
“And all this is happening in the context of hearings that are revealing a criminal enterprise at the very top of our government, to overturn our government — a criminal enterprise to promote a violent coup,” Fleming said, referring to the House Select Committee hearings on the Jan. 6, 2021 riot at the U.S. Capitol. “Yesterday’s testimony [by former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson] was bone chilling, describing a malicious madman running our country. Three members of this Supreme Court were appointed by that very madman,” Fleming said.
“So listen folks. It is now up to us to reclaim American patriotism. It is up to us to reclaim the promise of the United States of America. America is a land where we value our precious fundamental rights. We are welcoming. We are richly diverse. And we are committed to ensuring that everyone — every one — has full access to the American dream,” Fleming said.
Other speakers called for community organizing, voters registration drives and get-out-the vote movements to elect officials who are committed to protecting women’s rights and LBGTQ rights. Among them was Suffolk County Democratic Chairperson Rich Schaffer.
“This is the moment that we all have to speak up. We have to mobilize,” Schaffer told the crowd. He called on everyone at the rally to speak to 20 friends about the importance of the cause, to recruit people to the fight. “It’s all about being present and adding to the cause,” he said.
Skyler Johnson, Democratic candidate for State Senate in eastern Suffolk’s First Senate District criticized incumbent Sen. Anthony Palumbo’s voting record on women’s rights as a state lawmaker. Palumbo, as a member of the Republican minority in the State Assembly, voted against the Reproductive Health Act and the Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act.
Other speakers included East Hampton Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc, former Riverhead Council Member Catherine Kent, Lauren LaMagna, the public affairs manager at Planned Parenthood Hudson Peconic Action Fund, and rally organizers Kathryn Casey Quigley, Southold Town Democratic Committee chairperson and Gordon Herr, Southampton Democratic Committee chairperson.
“This is an emergency,” Casey Quigley said. “We must treat and respond to it a the absolute urgent crisis that it is, because our democracy is on the line,” she said.
“They are coming for us and for all of it, for power greed and control. And we will not let that happen,” she said.
“This court is illegitimate — from stolen seats, to unacknowledged conflicts of interest, to lying under oath about what they would do. This fanatical, political court has been built by right-wing extremists over decades for the very purpose of denying us our human rights,” Casey Quigley said.
“We need to expand the Court. We need Congress to codify Roe and we need to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment,” she said.
“We must understand that our democracy and our human rights will only be protected, preserved and expanded if we commit to fight for them at every level — from the education of our children … to freedom in our libraries, from civic appointments and trustee elections, to town hall and to the whole of state legislatures and Congress itself,” Casey Quigley said.
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