More than 100 people stood in solidarity with nationwide reproductive rights protests in a UM student-organized rally on the Missoula County Courthouse lawn Saturday.
“There’s been really targeted attacks against birthing people’s bodies, abortions, and reproductive justice that we need to address,” said UM Women’s Resource Resource Center Director Mia McKinney, the organizer of the Missoula rally.
People gathered in cities across the nation to oppose the potential overturning of Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court case that legalized abortion. SCOTUS already voted to sustain a controversial Texas Senate bill that allows civilians to sue actors in abortion procedures. The court will also begin hearing arguments on a Mississippi law that could effectively overturn Roe v. Wade by allowing bans on abortions before a fetus can survive outside of the womb.
McKinney, a UM student, focused her rally in Missoula on three abortion-restricting bills Gov. Gianforte signed in the last legislative session. They were slated to take effect on Oct. 1, but a district judge made the eleventh-hour decision Sept. 30 to halt the bills’ enforcement for ten days to consider a lawsuit challenging their constitutionality levied by Planned Parenthood.
“I was inspired by anger, basically,” McKinney said. “The laws are going to be extremely harmful for our community, so I wanted to set up a place to gather and support one another and make our voices heard.”
McKinney provided sign-making stations and scripts to call Montana federal representatives and Gov. Gianforte at the rally, and attendees chanted phrases like “abortion is health care” and “my body, my choice” in unison for over an hour. The crowd mostly consisted of native Missoula women, some of whom were with their families, and many older women committed to continuing a fight for reproductive justice that they had participated in since before Roe v. Wade.
“My generation was coming into this fight before Roe v. Wade, and women were in back alleys and traveling hundreds of miles just to exercise their rights,” Nina Benjamin, a 65-year-old Missoula native, said. “We’ve been fighting this fight for so long and thought that it was settled. To be fighting again and seeing health care professionals being threatened is just heartbreaking.”
The rally saw some counter protesters when the anti-mask activists that convene by the courthouse every Saturday morning caught wind of the event. Some weekly participants like Ferris Orr engaged in heated discussions with rally attendants, and at one point attempting to shout over the speakers with his megaphone by yelling phrases like “abortion is murder.” Early in the rally, a man on a bike with a “Fuck Biden” flag rode through the crowd and coughed at the protesters.
“The health care of women has turned into a political fight,” Benjamin said. “Anti-abortion people don’t understand that it’s a medical procedure.”
The event ended without incident and with an air of positivity. McKinney and her fellow protesters are disheartened by the circumstances that gathered them together on Saturday, but they were inspired by the community’s support and rallying for reproductive justice, with many of them inclined to share their own abortion experiences and work towards an active future for reproductive justice advocacy.
“I don’t think those old men that are in power will change their minds, but the more people that show up, the better chances we have,” 72-year-old Missoula native Sue Wehmeyer said.