Bellingham joins national #StopTheBans on abortion rally

Tessa Mathis, 33, holds her two-year-old daughter, Mariah, at the Stop the Ban Rally at City Hall on Tuesday, May 21. Mathis said she brought her three children to impress upon them, as the next generation, the importance of fighting for their rights. // Photo by Hailey Hoffman

By Emily Feek

Participants in a #StopTheBans on abortion rally organized outside Bellingham City Hall Tuesday, May 21, protesting the recent sweep of abortion bans passed by several states.

The Bellingham rally was part of a nationwide event with more than 280 protests in 49 states and Washington D.C., according to the #StopTheBans webpage.

The rally was organized in response to recent abortion legislation, including Alabama House Bill 314, or The Alabama Human Life Protection Act. The bill bans abortion during all trimesters of a pregnancy, making no exceptions for rape or incest, according to House Bill 314. The bill was signed by Gov. Kay Ivey on Wednesday, May 15, according to an article by The New York Times on Thursday, May 16.

Indivisible Bellingham, NARAL Pro-Choice Washington, Mt. Baker Planned Parenthood and the Riveters Collective all collaborated to sponsor and host the event.

The rally was organized in a matter of days, Indivisible Bellingham co-leader Doug Brown said. Brown found out about the nationwide rally on Thursday, giving the sponsors about five days to organize it.

Jessica Hay, manager of public affairs for Mt. Baker Planned Parenthood, emceed the rally and emphasized the importance of access to abortion as a crucial element of reproductive healthcare.

“We’re lifting up across the country how harmful and dangerous these bans are,” Hay said.

Brown said while the rally was an initial response to the issue, changing policy is a lengthy process and more organizing is yet to come.

“With all rallies, the main thing is to get together, and bond, and feel like you’re not alone,” Brown said. “We’ve been feeling this way for a long time. I was doing this when I was in college.”

Although there are currently no bans in place in Washington state, Hay said advocating for a person’s right to abortion is still necessary. If the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade is overturned, people in 20 states would immediately lose access to abortion, and 25 million people wouldn’t have access to a safe, legal abortion, Hay said.

“We’ll be forced back to the dark ages,” Hay said. “I’m hoping that we can build momentum for the long haul. This is not a fight that’s going away today, but we are ready to fight with everything we have.”

A protester with “Women’s Rights” painted across her cheeks stands in solidarity at the Stop the Ban Rally at City Hall on Tuesday, May 21. // Photo by Hailey Hoffman

The rally featured a number of community speakers, including Mayor Kelli Linville, Sen. Liz Lovelett of the 40th District, Rep. Sharon Shewmake of the 42nd District and Wink Wink owner Jenn Mason.

In addition to Mt. Baker Planned Parenthood, a representative of the Washington NARAL affiliate, NARAL Pro-Choice Washington, was also present. Morgan Steele Dykeman, legislative affairs manager with NARAL Pro-Choice Washington, spoke at the rally.

She acknowledged that although Washington allows for legal abortion, those rights were fought for and require protection.

“I don’t have to tell you that we still have work to do,” Steele Dykeman said. “We need to fight tooth and nail to expand access in every county in Washington state.”

The state legislators present echoed this idea, and Lovelett promised to fight to protect reproductive rights.

“We will be taking your voices back to Olympia to make sure that Washington doesn’t turn back the clock on women, on trans people, on immigrants,” Lovelett said.

Despite being signed by Gov. Ivey, Alabama’s legislation will not go into effect until six months after it was passed, according to House Bill 314. The bill may be taken to court before then.

According to House Bill 314, the only exception for terminating pregnancy occurs when someone faces a medical emergency as defined by the bill.

Under Alabama’s ban, women would not be prosecuted for having abortions, but doctors performing abortions would be held liable. Performing an abortion would be a felony, according to House Bill 314.

Arkansas and Utah both passed bills that would prohibit abortion after the middle of the second trimester, around 18 weeks, according to a Friday, May 17, New York Times article.

Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri and Ohio passed legislation commonly known as a heartbeat bill. These bills ban abortion after the first 6-8 weeks of a pregnancy, when a fetal heartbeat can be detected.

Legislation preventing abortion after six weeks violates the Supreme Court’s decision handed down in Roe v. Wade, which states abortion is legal until the point of viability, according to a Friday, May 17, New York Times article.

A fetus is typically considered viable between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy. Viability refers to the point at which a fetus could live outside of a mother’s uterus, according to a 2015 article by the Washington Post.

Protestors at the rally made it clear they would not stand for the implementation of abortion restrictions and bans like Alabama’s. The rally drew participants of all ages, including Western students like Erin Montgomery, who volunteers with Planned Parenthood and is the coordinator for Western’s Planned Parenthood Generation club.

“We’ll be fighting in the courts and in the streets to make sure these bans never go into effect,” Montgomery said.

Montgomery added the support and engagement at the rally was important to the cause.

“I was really impressed with the turnout,” she said. “I love this community. These abortion bans feel so far away … but they’re still close to home. It’s important we don’t become complacent in a state where we have our rights secured.”

The turnout included city officials, including members of the Bellingham City Council and a number of activists.

Alyce Werkema, 81, attended the rally wearing a “pussy hat.”

“I’ve seen situations that were just absolutely complicated for pregnancy,” Werkema said. “Sometimes, abortion is the responsible choice.”

Werkema has been involved in activism dating back to the first Earth Day in 1970 and now works with the Lynden Democrats, she said.

Washington legislation allows for access to safe and legal abortions, but legislation to abolish abortion was introduced in the 2019 legislative session.

The bill, House Bill 2154, was introduced on March 21 and referred to the committee on Health Care and Wellness, but did not progress further, according to the Washington State Legislature website.

Mayor Linville announced that another rally will be held on June 1, organized by local students. NARAL is looking to organize a community meeting within two weeks of the Tuesday, May 21, rally to discuss the ways that barriers to reproductive rights manifest within the local community, Steele Dykeman said.

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