Some 200 demonstrators and protesters of all ages gathered Sunday by the steps of the Historic Napa County Courthouse for a local Bigger than Roe rally—one of an estimated 180 demonstrations spearheaded by the National Women’s March that took place across the U.S. over the weekend.
The day marked the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision to lend federal protection to abortion rights. Last June, those protections were overturned by the court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling.
In the wake of the Dobbs decision, 13 states have made abortion at all stages illegal, with few exceptions.
The Napa rally, attended by an overwhelmingly female audience, included speeches by Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, D-Winters, and U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson D-St. Helena, as well as health care professionals and students from Vintage High School.
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“We come together on the anniversary of Roe to fight for our rights,” said Aguiar-Curry, who called the Dobbs decision voiding federal abortion protections a “gut punch.”
“Women my age remember all too well the injury and death that resulted from restrictions on abortion before Roe,” she continued, before speaking about the disproportionate risk women of color will face as a result of the reversal of Roe.
Added Thompson, “This has never happened in my lifetime. We have never had rights taken away from us by the Supreme Court. These guys aren’t stopping with a woman’s right to (choose) and you know that.”
Thompson expressed his worries about the rights he said the Supreme Court may take away next, citing same-sex and interracial marriage.
“This is a disaster,” he said before urging the crowd to stay vigilant. “We need to nip this in the bud,” he added, calling on Congress to codify abortion rights.
The hour-long Napa rally was organized by a handful of local groups. One organizer, Lisa Seran, a co-founder of Indivisible Napa, is no stranger to protesting—she was a senior at Lone Mountain College (since acquired by the University of San Francisco) demonstrating against the Vietnam War at the time of the Roe ruling a half-century ago. Upon her graduation, abortion was newly legal on the federal level.
“For the last 50 years, we’ve had a right… Some of us, me for example, have lived without that right, and have spent the last 50 years enjoying that right, and now have had it taken away again,” the 72-year-old Seran said ahead of Sunday’s rally. “We’re going to announce that we’re here, and if you voted against women’s rights in any way, shape or form, we’re going to make sure you don’t get re-elected.”
Senior citizens like Seran are encouraged by, and actively recruiting, younger generations who have never lived without abortion rights to step up and become politically involved. She believes the 2016 election – which carried into the White House Donald Trump, who as president endorsed three Supreme Court justices who voted with the majority in the Dobbs ruling – was a wake-up call and catalyst for many Americans.
Devra Dallman, chair of Health Care for All, said of the commemorative rally: “I think this is bigger than a celebration, though we are here to celebrate. It is the recognition of the Supreme Court’s degradation of women as a whole.”
“It doesn’t hit people until they are actually personally affected,” said Seran. “I am getting too old for this…We need (younger) people to carry those banners and take over for us so we can retire. I’ve been doing this my whole life.”
Sisters Kailey and Gianna Wilkens, 17- and 16-year-old students at Vintage High School, expressed their gratitude for the generations who fought for abortion access in previous decades.
“It’s really heartwarming that to know that they will keep fighting for (our rights) each time (our rights are threatened),” said Kailey Wilkens of the older generations of women in attendance who are no longer of child-bearing age. “There are so many women, and people with reproductive systems out here today protesting for this right.”
The younger Wilkens added that, because she is not yet old enough to vote, protesting and showing up at community rallies are her ways to show support for women’s reproductive rights. “We do still care, and we did appreciate those 49 years… and we will continue to fight for (our rights) when they start to try to take them away,” she said.
Some parents attended the rally with their children. Haley Gill, 30, brought her 3-year-old daughter to the commemoration.
“My daughter deserves to have the same rights I’ve had up until now,” said Gill. She too acknowledged those before her who campaigned for reproductive freedom.
While the great majority of those attending were women, there were some men present.
“I’m here because as a guy, it’s important to learn about the issue,” said 16-year-old Napa High student Andrew Dillon, who said that for males his age, abortion is an issue that is “kind of like an afterthought.”
Organizer Seran was pleased with the turnout and not surprised by the crowd demographics. “The primary activists are retired women,” she said, reasoning that demographic has more time to commit to organizing rallies and protests and also “(has) the most to lose.”
She was also relieved there were no counterprotests near the Napa courthouse, short of a man in a white truck who drove a few laps around the courthouse and yelled profane phrases about women’s rights as he circled around.
Seran said she hopes more young people and men will become involved moving forward before adding, “Our work is not done. And it’s probably never going to be done.”
You can reach Danielle Wilde at 707-256-2212 or firstname.lastname@example.org.