Defend Roe rally draws hundreds of abortion-rights demonstrators to Oregon State Capitol

Virginia Barreda
Salem Statesman Journal

Around 400 community members gathered Sunday at the Oregon State Capitol and marched through downtown Salem to denounce the potential overturning of federal abortion protections.

Salem joined dozens of similar events hosted in capital cities across the United States, marking the end of weeklong nationwide protests to defend abortion rights. The event is the second annual Defend Roe rally, organized by Pro-Choice with Heart, an organization that says it fights for reproductive rights.

The rallies are a response to a leaked draft opinion of an abortion case that revealed the U.S. Supreme Court may be on the verge of overturning the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that established a constitutional right to abortion.

"Roe was egregiously wrong from the start," Associate Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the leaked draft, which the high court later confirmed was authentic. "We hold that Roe and Casey must be overruled."

Under the draft opinion, the issue of abortion would be left to individual states.

Community members march in defense of abortion rights during the Defend Roe rally on Sunday in Salem.

Alicia Baker said she was disgusted, but not surprised to hear about the leaked document.

"I just needed to get out and do something about it," Baker said.

Last weekend, more than 100 people gathered at Riverfront Park in Salem to protest the possible overturning of federal abortion protections. A small fire ignited last Sunday during a suspected break-in attempt at the Oregon Right to Life office in Keizer.

On Sunday, community members of all ages congregated around noon at the Capitol Mall amid overcast skies and rain, holding signs including "Bans off our bodies" and "Our bodies our choice" and waving at passing cars. A few individuals shared stories about experiences with abortion and thoughts before demonstrators began a march through downtown Salem.

Rory Phillips wears body paint in defense of abortion rights during the Defend Roe rally on Sunday at the Oregon State Capitol in Salem.

Oregon has laws in place that would allow abortions to continue legally. But many other states, including neighboring Idaho, have laws that would make abortions illegal if the federal protection is struck down.

The Associated Press reported about half of U.S. states are expected to ban abortion if Roe falls, according to the abortion-rights think tank Guttmacher Institute. Twenty-two states, largely in the South and Midwest, already have total or near-total bans on the books. Aside from Texas, all are now blocked because of Roe.

About a dozen other states have trigger laws that would immediately ban abortion if Roe is overturned and would presumably go into effect if the Supreme Court majority votes for the draft in late June or early July.

The Oregon Legislature enacted a number of laws securing access to abortions, including the Reproductive Health Equity Act in 2017, which codified the protections of Roe v. Wade in Oregon law. There are no significant restrictions on abortions in Oregon that are seen in other states, such as waiting periods or mandatory parental involvement.

Caitlyn Olsen holds a sign in defense of abortion rights during the Defend Roe rally on Sunday at the Oregon State Capitol in Salem.

Despite its protective laws, Baker said she still worries about the effects a potential ban could have on Oregon and the rest of the country.

"I really hope that we can vote to keep a person here who will protect women's rights," Baker said. "Although we have many protections here in Oregon for women to get an abortion, that could change overnight and that is terrifying. It makes me shake."

Baker said she became passionate about supporting reproductive rights after her sister went through an experience where she needed to have an abortion. If abortions had been illegal in her sister's state of residence, and she hadn't been able to have the procedure, "she would have died," Baker said.

"If my daughter was ever put in a situation where she needed one and she couldn't have one ... it's terrifying," Baker said. "It's none of our business why somebody needs one. If they need one, they should be able to go get one.

"I am making sure I'm doing everything in my power to keep the women of Oregon safe and fighting for those across the U.S.," she said.

Misha the duck gathers with other community members in defense of abortion rights during the Defend Roe rally on Sunday at the Oregon State Capitol in Salem.

Several demonstrators said they couldn't believe abortion rights are still an issue in the U.S.

"I lived the day that Roe versus Wade was passed and the day that safety of abortions was a reality," Dana Bliss, of Salem, said.

Bliss said as someone who has participated in multiple protests, including the war in Vietnam and equal rights amendment marches, the court's leaked draft opinion is a step in the wrong direction.

"I had so much hope and my hope has been pretty shattered the last few years for people of color, for people of sexual orientation, for young women," she said. "I'm just so scared for our country."

USA Today reporter John Fritze, Statesman Journal reporters Dianne Lugo and Connor Radnovich, and the Associated Press contributed to this story.

Virginia Barreda is the breaking news and public safety reporter for the Statesman Journal. She can be reached at 503-399-6657 or at vbarreda@statesmanjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter at @vbarreda2