Draft Supreme Court opinion on abortion triggers shock, resolve

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A rally at Parcel 5 on Saturday drew a crowd of hundreds. (Photos by Justin O’Connor)

Sara Hopkins has spent the last 30 years attending rallies in support of abortion rights. Last weekend, she found herself at yet another.

“I think I grew up in a time when this seemed like it couldn’t happen. It’s hard to see rights taken away from people, from women. It feels oppressive and upsetting,” she says.

The rally at Parcel 5 on Saturday drew a crowd of hundreds as speakers responded to the recently leaked draft Supreme Court opinion in the Mississippi case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization revealing the court’s apparent intent to overturn Roe v. Wade.

The event was organized by Planned Parenthood of Central and Western New York with assistance from the office of state Sen. Jeremy Cooney. Speakers included New York State Health Director Mary Bassett; Rep. Joe Morelle, D-NY; and PPCWNY president and CEO Michelle Casey, among others.

There was no counterprotest, except for one person, bullhorn in hand, who accused Democratic officials of being “on the take” and only pretending to defend abortion rights.

To better understand this historic moment, I spoke with Hopkins and several other attendees. All voiced frustration at the draft opinion and said they were fearful about the future of American citizens’ rights, both related to abortion and beyond. Some expressed concerns about the Supreme Court’s accountability and appointment process.

Each interview began with a single question, “What brought you here today?” The responses to this and other questions are edited for clarity.

‘This isn’t just a women’s issue’

As the crowd began to form before the official speeches began, I first spoke with a group of three SUNY Brockport students in their 20s who arrived early.

ROCHESTER BEACON: What brought you here today?

JORDAN WEBBER: Seeing the news about the opinion. I’m not a woman, but seeing the ramifications of what can happen after the decision—saying that these aren’t human rights and privacy is not a constitutional right. It’s not just affecting abortion. It could affect gay marriage or interracial marriage. It’s just stressful.

EMILY KINCADE: I’m also here because of the Supreme Court case opinion being leaked. It just was really disheartening also to see the laws other states are passing without the exceptions for medical cases and rape and incest. There are medical needs for abortion that people don’t recognize and don’t appreciate, and really it should be an accessible option to people that are pregnant.

LYS KIRBY: One thing that really stressed me out is I’ve been seeing all the maps of the states that, if this goes through, abortion will become illegal, and one of those is my home state. It just really scares me to think about the people back there, and also the state that I went to university in. It’s just scary to think all these places aren’t safe, and even though we’re generally safe here, it could also happen to us.

ROCHESTER BEACON: Which states were they?

KIRBY: Wyoming and Missouri. I grew up in Wyoming.

ROCHESTER BEACON: And have you been in contact with people there? Do you know how they’re feeling?

KIRBY: I haven’t talked to many people. I know most of my friends there are stressed about it, already making plans about how to help people get to the states where they can get health care.

KINCADE: When I see the maps I really think about the fact that if you’re down South there’s really no close states near you. You’re traveling hundreds of miles just to get an abortion. That’s not an accessible option. I think of all the young girls down there that wouldn’t have that option, that wouldn’t have the accessibility and the family support to do that. It’s just not an option for them.

ROCHESTER BEACON: How has this colored your opinion of the Supreme Court?

WEBBER: I feel like they kind of lied. A lot of them, when they (were) asked about their opinion about it, they either didn’t answer or said they weren’t going to overturn Roe. I think we’re seeing now that they lied about that. So, if they lied about that, then what else could they be lying about? What could happen to us?

KIRBY: Yep, yeah. Like you were saying, what else are they going to try to take away from us?

ROCHESTER BEACON: There are concerns about how it will impact Obergefell v. Hodges and how it will impact other decisions. What are your thoughts on that?

KINCADE: I’m very concerned about them going after particularly gay marriage, because that was just a Supreme Court case that hasn’t been codified into law yet, so it really is on the chopping board for them to overturn or reevaluate. So I am concerned about that.

KIRBY: On the same topic, with everything going on with trans rights right now, and “Don’t Say Gay.” There’s just so many things.

ROCHESTER BEACON: Do you think it’s a part of a cohesive movement or ideology?

KINCADE: Yeah, it is an overarching opinion of certain political parties and of certain conservative people in general that there are certain things that they’re against, and they don’t recognize that everyone should have that choice. Whether they make it or not for themselves is up to them, but they want to enforce that onto other people, and that’s where I kind of draw the line with it. It’s not within their right to make that decision for everyone. And, for the Supreme Court question, I just think it’s problematic to have people on the court for that long because they really don’t need to be responsible to the wishes of the people. I just question the way we set up the Supreme Court in general, because of the fact that they serve for life terms. They really do not have to answer to what the people want. They can just do whatever they want once they get on the court and then we’re kind of stuck with them for decades to come.

ROCHESTER BEACON: So you think the Supreme Court should be democratized?

KINCADE: I think they should have term limits at the very least. I understand that it was done to prevent political intervention in the court, but I think 10- or 15-year terms is plenty to serve without interference. But I feel like when you’re on there for so many decades, you don’t need to be responsive to the needs of the people anymore. So, I don’t really know how to fix it, but I do think we need some kind of reevaluation of how we run the Supreme Court.

ROCHESTER BEACON: In a similar vein, what do you think about the opinion being leaked early and the implications of that?

KINCADE: As much as I’m happy we know it early before they make the decision, I do think it’s kind of problematic. I do think it needs to be investigated, because obviously that’s not the way it was supposed to be decided and run and that’s now going to influence their decisions going forward. As a privacy concern for people in our government, I do think we need to be careful with what we’re leaking to the media, but I am happy that we were able to find out before they decided it fully.

ROCHESTER BEACON: If you had one message to tell people right now, what would it be?

WEBBER: This is about abortion, but I feel like there’s a lot going on in the country—trans rights, gay rights, Black Lives Matter and everything—and we’re seeing a lot of hate-taking legislation. People thought that gay marriage wouldn’t be overturned, but now we’re seeing that’s a very likely possibility. I think we need to be more active and not escape so much, and think about what’s happening. Not just in your state, but in other places like Texas and Florida and stuff like that.

KINCADE: Just for anyone that is against abortion or gay marriage or really any of the rights we’re fighting for, just recognize and try to recognize within yourself that you can make that decision for yourself, and that doesn’t mean it’s the right decision for every person in the country or the state. You still have the right to choose not to get an abortion for yourself, but to take away that right from everyone is just not fair.

KIRBY: One thing I’ve really been thinking about recently is how important it is that we recognize this isn’t just a women’s issue. … It’s not just women. It’s men, it’s nonbinary people… yeah.

ROCHESTER BEACON: Do you think trans people are being shut out of the conversation?

KIRBY: Oh absolutely. So many things I see are just–

KINCADE: “Abortion rights are women’s rights.”

KIRBY: Yeah, so that definitely makes me feel alienated from the whole conversation, because they’re not thinking about all of us, whether they mean it or not.

‘It’s hard to see rights taken away’

After speaking with the students, I met Hopkins. She was standing near the center of the now-substantial crowd.

ROCHESTER BEACON: What brought you here today?

HOPKINS: Well, I just feel devastated and wanted to see what I can hear here about what things people can do. It’s a sad day.

ROCHESTER BEACON: Can you describe the emotions that you’re feeling and how they’ve developed over time?

HOPKINS: I don’t know if I can. I’ve been to rallies like this for 25, 30 years, and I think I grew up in a time when this seemed like it couldn’t happen. It’s hard to see rights taken away from people, from women. It feels oppressive and upsetting.

ROCHESTER BEACON: When did you start attending these kinds of rallies?

HOPKINS: I mean, before (Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which reaffirmed Roe v. Wade), so you know, the ’80s or ’90s.

ROCHESTER BEACON: Since then, the polarization on this issue has expanded. What was it like before seeing it become such a partisan issue?

HOPKINS: I was born in 1970, so for me it’s always felt like a right. It wasn’t as polarized until probably the ’90s, that’s how it felt to me anyway. So, I don’t know, it feels like an assault on women. That’s how it feels, and I guess it’s felt that way for a long time, but it seemed we had protections that we don’t have anymore and that’s frightening.

ROCHESTER BEACON: And are you from Rochester?

HOPKINS: I live here now. I grew up in Pennsylvania mostly.

ROCHESTER BEACON: What would a message be that you have for others right now?

HOPKINS: I think the message is that rights aren’t safe, that civil liberties aren’t safe, that human rights aren’t safe. This is not the end of what the Supreme Court is going to try to do. It’s all on the table. I don’t see that anything is off the table at this point. Once you start to take away rights, it’s all fair game. So, I think the message is don’t be complacent, don’t feel safe, and try to figure out ways to participate.

ROCHESTER BEACON: And how has this colored your opinion of the Supreme Court?

HOPKINS: I mean, they’re an entirely partisan organization. The idea that they are not political is a joke, and it’s been true for a long time.

‘They weren’t telling the truth’

I found Emily Neece, who is 80 years old, near the front of the crowd. Neece spoke with me until the official speeches began.

ROCHESTER BEACON: What brought you here today?

EMILY NEECE: I’m a longtime member of the Planned Parenthood board, I grew up in a time when people had illegal abortions and died, and I’m a Christian but I do not believe in this position that the people who are supposedly called pro-life believe. So, I’m here to protest what I’m afraid the Supreme Court is about to do.

ROCHESTER BEACON: Coming from a Christian perspective, how do you think other Christians oftentimes come to a different view on the issue than the one you hold?

NEECE: They like to think of themselves as pro-life, and they think that anything that, in their opinion, takes away a life should be banned. I can understand how they would feel, and I think it’s confusing to a lot of people. As a Planned Parenthood board member, I know that less than 10 percent of abortions are done after … three months, and the people that we often get are rape victims, incest victims, people who are 12 or 13 or even 11 years old. I know the stories of mothers who discover that their child cannot live outside the womb, and I think they should have the right to have that aborted. To the pro-life people, I would just say, if you are pro-life, why don’t you do something about all the children who are alive now who are in poverty? They don’t want to spend their money on that. They don’t want their taxes to go to that. I think it’s really hypocritical.

ROCHESTER BEACON: Do you think our concept of reproductive rights is too limited, even beyond abortion?

NEECE: That would be a more progressive, and I think Christian, way to spend tax money. If you’re so pro-life, let’s take care of the people who are alive now who are suffering, who are hungry, who are dying for lack of health care, whose parents can’t support them. That’s where I would like to see their support.

ROCHESTER BEACON: How has this characterized your opinion of the Supreme Court, and what are your thoughts on the opinion being leaked?

NEECE: I wish I were surprised, but I’m still horrified. Three, four of the justices were appointed by a president or presidents who got a minority of the popular vote. I worry about our whole election system that can allow that to happen and then this to happen. It’s really frightening, because I think there are real extremists on there now, and I think they lied in the confirmation process. I listened to a lot of those (hearings), and they sat right there and made it sound like they respected precedent, as every other court has always done, and they weren’t telling the truth.

‘Show up. Get loud. Fight back.’

I met Jordan Ratzlaff after the speeches were over.  The 25-year-old only had a moment, as they were on their way out of the event.

ROCHESTER BEACON: What brought you here today?

JORDAN RATZLAFF: That’s such a loaded question. It’s just a need. Abortion is health care, it’s a human right, and we deserve to keep it and to protect Roe v. Wade.

ROCHESTER BEACON: Are you concerned about other implications that may come out of the decision?

RATZLAFF: Absolutely, the whole questioning of the right to privacy and all of those implications are really important, and it’s a domino effect if it keeps going.

ROCHESTER BEACON: What would be your message to people right now?

RATZLAFF: Show up. Get loud. Fight back.

‘I’m overwhelmed with the reality of it all’

Maria Curcio, 61, said she came to the rally with other family members.

ROCHESTER BEACON: What brought you here today?

MARIA CURCIO: I couldn’t believe (it) when I heard about Roe v. Wade and the reality of it being taken away from us. It’s too much sometimes, I’m overwhelmed with the reality of it all. I just can’t believe it, but I see it and I’m devastated. I’m also devastated that there are two sex offenders on the Supreme Court, to be honest with you. I’m out of my mind between Clarence Thomas and (Brett) Kavanaugh. I just think the type of people we’re putting on the Supreme Court is way too biased, and this wouldn’t have happened if we won the election in 2016.

ROCHESTER BEACON: How has this colored your opinion of the Supreme Court?

CURCIO: I’m scared that they’re not going to have the impartiality any longer. I’m so afraid that we are being too polarized as a community, that the Supreme Court isn’t going to have the power that they have anymore, and we’re being pushed into two directions now. You are either left or right and there is no in between, there’s no gray, and I think as a group of people we need to be kinder to one another and understand that there are people that feel differently than we do that we can still love and care for. I think that the media is forcing people—not just the media but the way we’ve become, I think Trump did it basically—in either this direction or that direction. We’re too tribal, we just need to show some kindness to everyone.

ROCHESTER BEACON: Do you remember a time when the issue of abortion and the political dynamic in the country more broadly was less partisan and less polarized?

CURCIO: Yeah. I’m 61 years old. I grew up in the ’60s, so it was never like this. It did start with the news. You only had one guy who read the news and that was it. You didn’t have 20 different opinions in every other direction, and there were people who could get along. You could have Republicans and Democrats at the same party and it wouldn’t be a problem, you know? I definitely remember that. Was it easier? Was it better? I don’t totally know. I think it was better, to be honest with you. People need to have some professionalism and reach across the aisle and reach across and learn how to be kind to the other party and listen to them.

ROCHESTER BEACON: What does bipartisanship like that look like in the context of the abortion debate? How would you like to see this debate being framed, both politically and in the culture more generally? What does it look like for people to come together?

CURCIO: It would be kind of nice to see Joe Biden invite everybody from both sides together to talk and say, “How can we respect each other?” Especially, he’s a Catholic and I’m Catholic. Invite everybody together. The leaders that are in Washington and our own leaders right now, they need to show the world and the rest of the people of this country how to reach across. They need to do it. They need to extend a hand, invite the other side into the White House, and talk about it. Show that you’re willing to do it. I voted for Bernie (Sanders), I’m a Bernie supporter, and I’m very impressed with what I saw Bernie do when he was running. He was the only one who went on FOX News, he’s the only one who reached out, so that’s the sort of thing I’d like to see in Washington and Albany.

ROCHESTER BEACON: Are you planning on attending next weekend’s rally and similar events in the future?

CURCIO: I will attend. I will be here for every single one of them if I have to. I wish I could get in a car and go to Washington right now. Whatever needs to be signed, whatever needs to be done, I believe we can change it. I don’t believe it’s done. I’m hoping we can stop this, but the people have got to do it.

‘It’s over for me and the Democrats’

As the crowd thinned after the event, I noticed a woman with a bullhorn was counterprotesting opposite the stage. While there was no pro-life counterprotest, she was speaking against the Democratic Party, particularly the Democratic politicians who were at the rally. Eve declined to give her last name, 

ROCHESTER BEACON: What brought you here today?

EVE: Fuck them. That’s my quote.

ROCHESTER BEACON: Can you elaborate on that? What do you think about this event being organized with help from Jeremy Cooney’s office and presenting so many Democratic Party politicians?

EVE: I devotedly helped them in every capacity. Canvassing, money, giving my time, giving my energy and my trust in them, and they lost over and over and over again. It’s not a pattern of weakness, it’s a pattern of purposeful ignorance and loss. They’re on the take, and the only thing that is going to stop that is socialism. If it’s democratic socialism, Bernie style AOC socialism that we can bring to the fore here, that’s fine and I’ll take it for now. We need to move actually to the left in this country. Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi and a lot of the other Democrats are getting behind people who are not pro-choice.

To me, Roe v. Wade, that’s it. Once you don’t have the right to privacy over your own body, you don’t have any rights in this nation. They can walk right up in your bedroom and tell you, “don’t have this kind of sex.” They’re taking IUDs away from women in Louisiana. They don’t want us to have birth control, they don’t want us to have abortions, but do they provide child care? Do they provide food stamps? Do they expand Medicare to everyone? No. We don’t have health care in this country. A woman could die on the table having a c-section or a breached birth, and Black women are the most likely to die in this nation. 

They’re also the most likely to work tirelessly volunteering for the Democratic Party, so when they stop volunteering, that’s when they’re going to stand up and listen. Do you think they want to pay those women to do all of that extra labor that they’re doing? No way. So, if you look down and you see Black hands in front of you, I want you to remember Black hands built this nation and built that party. Democratic women built that house, left-leaning women built that house, and now they don’t want us to even live here. They said “thank you for your service, now get the hell out.”

ROCHESTER BEACON: Do you think the Democratic Party’s conception of reproductive rights is too limited?

EVE: They don’t have a policy on that that is even close to what it should be. There’s the internet now, I don’t know if they know this, but we can see what they got going on in the Netherlands and Canada and places where women are treated like human beings. You know, every single mother is a woman with at least 1+ jobs, and one of them she’s doing for free. They pay you in France to stay home and mother a child. They pay you in Germany. In some countries they give you a whole kit that comes with your new baby. We don’t even get maternity leave guaranteed to us. This country, if it wants to call itself a country, it missed the mark. That’s what I thought being a country meant, that you take care of your people. It’s over, and it’s over for me and the Democrats. They won’t see another dime out of me.

ROCHESTER BEACON: And what do you think of the event here today? Are you confident in the potential of this?

EVE: No. I came over here and they’re still “pussy-hatting,” pardon my French. I guess that’s what it is. They’re still dancing. They’re still pretending like, you know, “I’m just going to shut my brain off and go to the next Marvel movie” because it’s better to live in a fantasy land than it  is to live in reality. And the reality is that we just lost the only thing that made us officially human, our bodily autonomy. Chuck Schumer is going to try and pretend like, “Oh, it’ll be alright in New York.” What about my sisters in Alabama and Mississippi and Arkansas and places where they already had no rights? It’s just getting worse for them. So, what I say is, you can lie to my face for only so long, Chuck, before I’m just going to say I want a divorce. Promises, promises, promises. 

The only thing he seems to care about is giving foreign aid to an apartheid state and giving more bombs to the nations that we’re using to wage a proxy war with Russia. I care about Ukraine, I care about Palestine, I care about Yemen, I care about what’s happening in Syria, I care about all that, but those are our foreign wars. We started all that stuff. So, yeah, pay for that, but you need to bring some of that gold home back to our people. 

Where the hell did we go wrong in this nation where the most beautiful thing in the world, having a child, is so expensive and so dangerous that no normal person my age would dare to do it, except by accident? And that’s what they’re trying to force, and they won’t get that, they’ll just get dead women, because we’re not going barefoot when a box of cereal is $6. They want the man to go out and get the bread and bring it home, 2.5 kids, and picket fences. All that shit’s too expensive. You can’t actually have that unless you have the infrastructure to support that. Well, they took that away because they let the managerial class strip labor of all of its rights. They did that since LBJ, Reagan. Reagan was the worst, and I hear a lot of Democrats pretending like Ronald Reagan is still Saint Reagan. He ain’t your friend, that’s my opinion.

Justin O’Connor is a Rochester Beacon intern. He is a student at the University of Rochester.

One thought on “Draft Supreme Court opinion on abortion triggers shock, resolve

  1. Its a shame people are urged to get emotional about this. For all of the hoopla, we don’t know that this is or will be the final SCOTUS opinion, its very possible that the final opinion will differ with what was leaked. I try to take the emotion of it by looking at it from a purely legal perspective. Lets face it, there is no right to a medical procedure (abortion) in our Federal law, just as there is no right to Cable TV. However, there IS in New York State, when the Dems got control of the NYS Senate, they passed the “Reproductive Health Act” which has very few restrictions on abortion, including partial birth, and the Senators passed it with great fanfare breaking out in applause after doing so. If this leak happens to resemble the SCOTUS final opinion, it protects the Albany law.

    By comparison, there is a explicit right for a citizen to own a firearm in the Constitution, and cases are brought frequently to over turn/ restrict it, I never hear a peep of concern out of these emotional activists about it.

    If this is the decision, it does give rights to the people via their state legislatures . If you think some legislature in a remote state is going to decide against your will, you can get involved with that process. You can lobby, demonstrate, protest, and otherwise engage in political activism. I prefer that process to 9 Judges that I basically have little influence on .

    This is the problem when a Court makes laws (which is Congress’ Job) . I don’t agree with the President, but he has finally woken up that if there is to be a Federal right to a medical procedure, a law needs to be passed by Congress.

    My only question is , if this issue is sooo critical to the Nation, why didn’t he advocate passing a law during his decades in the Federal Government (The secret is to the extent he had a view while Senator, he voted to add restrictions to abortion during his career) , which allows me to conclude this isn’t about conviction , its about politics…..

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