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'Devastating': Charlottesville area responds to end of Roe v. Wade

Charlottesville residents took to the street Friday night to protest the U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning nearly 50 years of legal abortion.

The decision also threatens to overturn decades of Supreme Court decisions based on the idea of unenumerated rights, including the right to contraception, privacy and even gay marriage.

Friday’s decision was foreshadowed last month when a draft opinion was leaked, which galvanized local supporters of abortion access. They rallied on the Downtown Mall, held forums and donated to the local abortion fund.

The same thing happened Friday as demonstrators protested the decision.

Whole Woman’s Health, which operates one of the two abortion clinics in Charlottesville, said in a statement Friday was “a dark day.”

“Devastation and outrage don’t even begin to explain how we feel – but we’re prepared,” the organization said, offering resources on how to find an abortion appointment in states where the procedure is legal.

Tannis Fuller and the team at the Blue Ridge Abortion Fund were helping a person seeking abortion find a hotel room when the Supreme Court handed its decision Friday striking down the Constitutional right to the procedure.

“It feels a little surreal that we’re booking a hotel room as what — 13 states? — immediately lost access to abortion,” said Fuller, who is the executive director of the abortion fund.

Founded in 1989, the abortion fund helps people seeking abortion care by providing funds for the procedure and associated costs as well as support. In recent years, the fund has been building up staff in order to better demand for its service and to prepare for a post-Roe v. Wade world.

“This is devastating. … I don’t even have words for what the Supreme Court is doing,” Fuller said, adding that the decision won’t have immediate effects on the area. “Nothing about the work that we do changes. That just gets harder.”

Charlottesville has two of the state’s 16 abortion clinics, and Friday’s decision isn’t expected to immediately affect those clinics because the right to an abortion is protected in state law. Currently, a woman can have an abortion up to the 25th week of pregnancy. However, abortion providers in the state are expecting an increase in people seeking care as other states impose restrictions.

“Our black, brown, indigenous and queer communities are going to feel this much worse than any of our white middle-class communities are,” Fuller said. “Centering their experiences and their expertise will be the path forward.”

Zyahna Bryant, a local activist and University of Virginia student, made a similar point on social media Friday.

“If history has taught us anything, it is that poor, Black, Latinx, and Indigenous people will suffer the most from Roe v. Wade being overturned. We must name that,” she wrote in a tweet.

More than 200 people gathered in front of the Charlottesville federal courthouse Friday, holding signs urging the legalization of abortion and declaring “no uterus, no say.” Standing on the sidewalk that wraps around the courthouse, they chanted, “our bodies, my choice.”

The first demonstration kicked off at 5 p.m. and a second was planned for 7:30 p.m. Cars in support blared their horns as they drove through intersection in front of the courthouse, though some argued with demonstrators.

“I’m coming out here because I want to raise awareness of the availability of abortion in Virginia. It’s still legal here. And I also want to be public and loud about my support for abortion access for everyone,” said Deborah, who declined to give her last name. “I appreciate people showing up in community saying the word abortion and being very abortion-forward about their support and their anger, frankly, about this ruling.”

Deborah said she expected the decision, but it still affected her.

“I felt you know, really scared for people who had abortion appointments today in those states where they weren’t going to be able to get them. And then I felt determined to help people in Virginia for as long as we can.”

Jenna, who attend the rally with her dog and also declined to give her full name, said she showed up because she wanted the rights to her body.

“I knew that it was coming but I was hoping that it would be reversed from the protests that have been happening since the since a week of the draft,” she said. “And of course, my hopes are dashed with the news and I was in tears. I wanted to make my voice heard. With the election coming up, I want changes to be made to restore my rights.”

Around 7:45 p.m., Anna, one of the rally’s organizers, led the group in a series of chants and encouraged donations to the Blue Ridge Abortion Fund and Oshun’s Hands, a Black reproductive justice collective.

“I wore black today because it’s a funeral for the patriarchy,” Anna said. “… We’re not going to take it anymore.”

In between the demonstrations, area lawmakers and candidates running for office addressed a crowd in front of the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center as part of a fundraising for the Charlottesville Democratic Party.

“Abortion is legal in Virginia,” Del. Sally Hudson, D-Charlottesville, said on Twitter shortly after the decision was released. “Abortion will stay legal in Virginia so long as we remember that abortion rights are always on the ballot in Virginia.”

Hudson has previously said that she was concerned about the Supreme Court striking down its 1992 decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey that prohibited states from placing significant obstacles in the path of a pregnant person seeking an abortion.

The majority opinion from Justice Samuel Alito did strike down Casey in addition to Roe v. Wade.

Hudson said in May that if that happened, the state’s executive branch could add more steps or regulations. In recent years, Virginia Democrats have worked to expand access to abortion, including allowing a woman to consult with a provider online and receive medication in the mail.

“There’s no law protecting that,” Hudson said. “The General Assembly on its own can’t continue to protect that kind of access, which makes a huge deal for a lot of patients to get abortion care at the time when it is safest and most convenient and most private.”

Many supported the court’s decision. Liberty University President Jerry Prevo said in a statement released Friday that the decision was a “monumental step” toward protecting life.

“I am proud that we are now officially training the first post Roe-v-Wade generation of leaders who will be champions for Christ to continue to advocate for the life of mothers and their unborn babies,” Prevo said.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin said in a statement Friday that he has asked a group of lawmakers to bring together other legislators and advocates to make a plan for next steps when the legislature returns in January.

“The truth is, Virginians want fewer abortions, not more abortions,” he said. “We can build a bipartisan consensus on protecting the life of unborn children, especially when they begin to feel pain in the womb, and importantly supporting mothers and families who choose life.”

In comments to the Washington Post, Youngkin said he would seek a ban on abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy, though he supported exceptions in cases of rape, incest or where the pregnant person’s life is at risk.

Gavin Oxley, who served as president of the University of Virginia’s chapter of Future Medical Professionals for Life prior to his graduation, said abortion should never have been considered a Constitutional right.

Fuller said that in her view, the decision will affect a person’s ability to make legally protected decisions about their pregnancies. She expects to see investigations of miscarriages and stillbirths as law enforcement seeks to curb self-managed abortions.

“Your ability to access abortion legally also protects us from increased state scrutiny of pregnancy outcomes,” she said. “This opens up folks who are pregnant or who may become pregnant to a level of criminalization that we have not, maybe, ever seen.”

Fuller also takes issue with the idea of exceptions for some pregnancies.

“It perpetuates the idea that some abortions are more valuable than others, and all abortions are valuable,” she said. “Anyone who needs access to abortion should be able to access an abortion, and we shouldn’t have to provide that our autonomy has been violated by someone else in order to be able to access this health care.”

Daily Progress intern Filip Timotija contributed to this report.


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