Hundreds Gather to Protest at Hinds Plaza On “Bans Off Our Bodies Day of Action”
By Donald Gilpin
The pouring rain did not deter them or dampen their enthusiasm as more than 500 demonstrators gathered at Hinds Plaza in downtown Princeton on Saturday, May 14, to support abortion rights and protest in response to a leaked Supreme Court draft decision that would overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that legalized abortion in all 50 states.
One of more than 380 demonstrations taking place throughout the country, Saturday’s “Bans Off Our Bodies Day of Action” rally in Princeton, organized by the Planned Parenthood Action Fund of New Jersey (PPAFNJ), featured more than a dozen speakers — politicians, community leaders, activists, reproductive health providers — and drew abortion rights supporters from across the state.
Emphasizing how access to reproductive health care can impact lives, the speakers called on legislators to take action to protect and expand access to abortion care.
The block of Witherspoon Street alongside Hinds Plaza was closed to traffic for the duration of the event, as demonstrators spilled out into the street. Many carried homemade signs bearing a variety of messages such as: “Abortion is health care,” “Abortion is a human right,” “Protect American women’s rights,” “This is government-sponsored misogyny,” “Vote as if your rights depended on it,” and, even more creatively, ”Our wombs have more regulations than your guns,” and “Keep politics out of my uterus.”
Members of the crowd were eager to voice their concerns. “If you can’t control your reproduction — if you can’t control your body, you can’t control your life, and that’s the most basic thing,” said Jackie Syrop from Lawrenceville. “It’s all about controlling women. I’m tired of seeing this. I was around in ’71 and ’72 when people were talking about this. I thought maybe it was over then.”
Emilia DiSanto from Princeton weighed in, “I can’t believe we’re here again. It’s shocking, and this is just the beginning to other bans. The hypocrisy is what really gets to me. We don’t have good health care. We don’t have good child care. And then you’re going to ban abortion? It’s unconscionable. We’re not moving forward. We’re moving backwards in so many areas in this country. It worries me and frightens me and saddens me.”
Isabel Kentengian of Lawrenceville expressed her fear of increasing social control and more encroachments on individual privacy. “I’m concerned about the erosion of the right to privacy, which can lead us to some dangerous things in the future like surveillance.”
She continued, “It’s particularly galling that right now we are facing a formula shortage, and yet they’re talking about having more children who are unwanted. This is a much larger fight than this one thing. It’s about social control.”
Rigel Lroy, a college student from South Brunswick, stated, “I’m here to show my support and stand alongside those who are fighting for their reproductive rights.” He explained, “I’ve grown up in a very progressive environment. I’ve always been surrounded by lots of people talking about lots of ideas. I’ve also grown up in a world where Roe v. Wade has been established and set in stone, although now I guess it’s pretty evident that it isn’t.”
Two young women from Hackettstown also spoke up. “I’m here because five people should not get to decide for millions,” said Katherine Matthews, supported by a loud “Yeah!” from her surrounding group of friends. Rowan Cort added, “I’m here to support women and their right to choose and their access to needed health care. I think this is very important for all women and it’s all about bodily autonomy.”
Featured speakers at the podium in front of the Princeton Public Library included Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman and Assemblyperson Sadaf Jaffer, as well as local leaders the Rev. Robert Moore, executive director of the Coalition for Peace Action, and Robt Seda-Schreiber, chief activist of the Bayard Rustin Center for Social Justice.
“The power is in the hands of the collective,” Watson Coleman told the spirited crowd. “We, the people, have to stand up whenever our rights are being threatened. We are not going to allow this. Together we can do anything. Nothing will stop us.”
As the rain increased, she continued, “A little rain won’t stop me from standing up for reproductive freedom. We will not stand idly by as five justices try to force their extreme ideology on an entire country. Bodily autonomy is a right. Period.”
Describing the recent leaked draft Supreme Court decision as evidence of “a crisis moment for abortion access,” Kaitlyn Wojtowicz, PPAFNJ vice president of public affairs, has warned of the consequences of overturning Roe v. Wade.
Though abortion will still be legal in New Jersey, “The consequences of this impending Supreme Court decision will be swift and devastating for communities nationwide,” she wrote. “Overturning Roe means 26 states could swiftly move to ban abortion — including 13 states with laws that could immediately go into effect. That means in half the country, people will no longer have power over their own bodies and their own lives.”