Nearly a thousand individuals assembled outside Bellingham City Hall to fight for abortion rights on Oct. 2, hoisting picket signs and raising their voices. The event fostered rowdy opposition from about 20 counter-protestors, compromising the crowd’s ability to safely march through the streets, but it didn’t stop ralliers from making their voices heard.
Local activist Jessica Demorest, in partnership with Indivisible Bellingham and other local activist groups, hosted the rally in response to the recent abortion ban in Texas that went into effect this September.
Nationwide outcry emanated from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to sign into law a measure that prohibits abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy and allows for almost any private citizen to sue abortion providers.
“It's disappointing to be defending something that we felt we have already fought for,” said Marsha Thompson, a caregiver at Delta Developmental who was in attendance at the rally.
Still, ralliers showed no sign of fatigue, as the turnout more than quadrupled the estimated 200 attendees that Indivisible Bellingham anticipated.
“I hope that they will see that women are not going to slide backwards in their rights,” said Rainbow Medicine Walker, an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation and ceremonial leader who also attended the rally. “We are going to move forward, and the ground that we gained is not going to be undone.”
The rally took place alongside 600 or more Women’s Marches across all 50 states and was specified as an Abortion Rights Rally in solidarity with all of those who can give birth, not just cisgendered women. Demorest hopes the rally will advocate for and represent BIPOC women, those who can give birth and don’t identify as women, and the LGBTQ2SIA+ community.
Speakers and performers all stressed the importance of the right to an abortion, such as Shovia Muchirawehondo, who spoke about ending the days of unsafe abortions. 16-year-old Paloma Jose-Day advocated for thorough sex-education and abortion clinic accessibility nationwide, and the Raging Grannies brought a humorous tone with song.
“I have younger sisters, and I have a niece, and I don't want them to grow up in a world without healthcare,” said Sierra Johnson, rally attendant and Holly Community Services employee. “I don't want them to have to fight for this just like we're having to fight for it again.”
Some younger members of the Bellingham community are already joining the fight for their rights, like 16-year-old Stacy Newstead.
“If I was to get pregnant, I wouldn’t want to be forced to have a baby and raise it on my own because some sexist people said that it's against their religion and that they don't like it,” Newstead said.
For many, this fight is not just about rights. Johnson said she had scarring on her uterus.
“That means if I got pregnant, it would most likely kill me. So having health care for me is literally life and death,” Johnson said.
High stakes come in many forms for those who can give birth, said Kevin Leja, co-leader for Indivisible Bellingham.
“If abortion is outlawed, it's not going to stop abortion, abortions will still take place and it's going to affect poor women in that state,” he said. “They have no resources, and so what are they going to do? Some will elect to have a child eventually, but others will elect not to and possibly do something dangerous.”
Though they were standing up for abortion rights nationally, many at the rally felt well protected in Bellingham and in Washington.
“I moved here specifically from a Midwest state to be safer and have my rights more protected,” said Johnson. “So I feel a lot safer here than I do elsewhere, but it's not safe anywhere until our rights are constitutional.”
Leja said he feels confident abortion rights aren’t going anywhere in the Pacific Northwest.
“I think women and anyone who can give birth in Washington have protections that they've been given by the people of Washington and also by the Supreme Court,” Leja said. “But we need to be mindful.”
In the “deep blue” state of Washington, abortion rights are still opposed by some, and the shouts of counter-protestors threatened to disrupt the rally several times. Abortion rights attendees chanted over the counter-protestors who’d armed themselves with megaphones, eventually crowding them off the City Hall lawn.
“I believe that this rally here is a celebration of death and destruction,” said Carolyn, a middle-aged supporter of 40 Days for Life who didn’t provide her last name. “It's a culture of darkness. It's a breakdown of humanity and of the family, and so I'm here to stand for life.”
Carolyn is a mother of eight and a grandmother to two.
“I am so thankful that I chose life,” she said. Carolyn became a mother as a teenager and claimed that people attempted to coerce her into getting an abortion.
“I was praising God,” she said in response to Abbott’s abortion ban. “I was so thankful that there is a state who's willing to stand for life and stand for the truth.”
Demorest led the abortion rights participants in chants to keep the momentum of their rally moving and encouraged protestors “to not engage.”
“Don't talk to them, just ignore them,” she said. “If they were to come over and start anything, then we just have to get the police involved.”
Near the end of the rally, police told Demorest not to take to the streets for safety concerns due to the lack of barriers and abundance of counter-protestors. The only police officer stationed at the rally told The Front that they needed more officers present to seal off the streets.
Demorest informed the crowd that the rally would not take to the streets and instead punctuated the event with chants of “Pro-choice united, and we’ll never be defeated,” “Right to Life, your name’s a lie, you don’t care if people die,” and “Our body, our choice,” among many others.
Demorest urged the crowd to make their voices heard despite their limitations both at the rally and beyond it.
“Bystanders on the fence can be really dangerous to a movement,” she said. “Not being a part of it is what's allowing the elite to strip away our rights. I want them to feel motivated by our participation in this to stand up for what's right.”
Indivisible Bellingham has hosted around 20 different marches, Leja said, and was created in response to the inauguration of Donald Trump. They tabled at the Abortion Rights Rally and advertised the actions page on their website allowing visitors to donate, get informed and support organizations doing the ground level work to protect abortion rights throughout the U.S. and the Southeast.
On Oct. 6, four days after the march, a small number of anti-abortion protesters from Tiny Heartbeat Ministries held a demonstration in Western Washington University’s Red Square. The protesters carried graphic signs depicting what they claimed were aborted fetuses. They were quickly met with a crowd of students who organized to counter-protest with their own signs. You can read more about the event on The Front’s website.
Editors note: (Oct. 8) The lead photo caption was updated to better reflect the organizers of the rally.
Kai is a senior at Western and has decided to finish his undergrad journey with News/Editorial Journalism. His focus is on social issues and is committed to the people within these stories.