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'Bans Off Our Bodies' rally in Downtown Cleveland urges demonstrators to fight for abortion rights

A crowd of mostly women, some wearing pink, carry signs including one reading "We won't go back" with a wire coat hanger.
Gabriel Kramer
Ideastream Public Media
Lenore Robinson, a nurse from Wickliffe, carries a sign with a wire coat hanger, a reminder of a time when abortion was illegal.

Supporters of reproductive rights gathered in Downtown Cleveland Saturday, in anticipation of a decision from the U.S. Supreme Court that could overturn the landmark abortion Roe v. Wade ruling.

Hundreds gathered for the “Bans off Our Bodies” rally at Willard Park, carrying signs reading, “Defend the choice,” “We won’t go back,” and “Abortion is healthcare.”

A crowd of abortion rights supporters at Willard Park in Downtown Cleveland
Gabriel Kramer
Ideastream Public Media
The rally was one of more than 100 demonstrations nationwide on Saturday in support of reproductive rights.

They chanted “We are the power” before speakers including Ohio state Rep. Emilia Sykes urged demonstrators to vote and continue to fight.

“This fight is only just beginning. And we are going to ask you to dig deep. And to dig really, really deep,” Sykes said. “Because the folks who do not want us to be able to say what we want to do in our lives are just as energized as we are, unfortunately.”

Lenore Robinson from Wickliffe stood close to the stage with a sign reading, “We won’t go back.” The sign included a picture of a clothes hanger, a reminder of a time when abortions were illegal.

“I’m a nurse. I’m a grandma. I’m a mom. And I’ve been with women who have had septic abortions, and I’ve been with women who are trying to decide what to do with their bodies. I’m not going to let that ever change,” Robinson said. “I’m here for my daughters, my granddaughters and my granddaughters to be.”

Sam Hunt, Tae'Lor Windham and Janée Kelly carry signs reading, "Stand with Black women"
Gabriel Kramer
Ideastream Public Media
Sam Hunt, Tae'Lor Windham and Janée Kelly came to the march together from Shaker Heights.

Close friends and Shaker Heights residents Sam Hunt, Tae’Lor Windham and Janée Kelly came to the rally together.

“This is honestly a pro-life rally because we care about people living their best lives, not being controlled in their bodies, in their relationships,” Kelly said.

“Here in Cleveland we have the highest infant mortality and birth complications for Black women, so abortion access is health care. It’s important for Black women in our community,” she continued. “To show solidarity and to show up and be in numbers and be another person of color in the crowd is important to me.”

Windham is confident that Ohio lawmakers will make abortion illegal if Roe v. Wade is overturned.

“Ohio is Texas-light. Ohio is going to hell in a handbasket. Ohio is a terrible, terrible place. I can't believe that they're serious about this right now,” Windham said.

All three said they would consider leaving Ohio if abortion laws change in the state.

A leaked draft opinion published by Politico earlier this month suggests the Supreme Court will overturn the 1973 Roe decision. Such a ruling would give states the power to legalize or ban abortions.

In Ohio, the so-called “Heartbeat bill” could go into effect, making it illegal to terminate a pregnancy as early as six weeks, often before women are aware they’re pregnant. Gov. Mike DeWine signed the bill in 2019.

DeWine, a Republican, has said he would sign a total abortion ban bill that would be triggered if Roe is overturned.

“We are a state that has become very red,” said Iris Harvey, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio. “It’s important for us to let Ohioans know that abortion is legal and safe right now and that we want our legislators, we want those people who represent us to represent our will and we believe that abortion is a right and it is a personal choice.”

A demonstrator carries a sign reading, "Abortion is healthcare."
Gabriel Kramer
Ideastream Public Media
A sign at the rally at Willard Park reads, "Abortion is healthcare."

Supporters of reproductive rights hosted more than 100 rallies across the country. Traci Person with Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio was the Cleveland demonstration’s main organizer.

“We have many Ohioans who are champions for us and who are going to get empowered by these rallies so that they know what to do to ensure that we have safe, accessible and affordable abortions here in Ohio,” Person said.

She urged those at the rally to turn out to vote and said she’s confident Ohioans can vote to keep abortion legal in Ohio if Roe is overturned.

“With this leak happening, people are now understanding that their vote is important,” Person said. “Lack of [voting] is putting people in positions who don't care about their concerns or how they want to operate here in the state of Ohio.”

Beulah Osueke with the advocacy organization New Voices for Reproductive Justice was one of the speakers at the rally. She warned that if the right to an abortion is eliminated, it could be an inflection point for eliminating other rights.

“The latest attack on abortion access is just a component of a concerted effort to continue denying marginalized people basic human rights,” Osueke said.

Her colleague, Alana Garrett-Ferguson, believes it would set the tone “to uproot monumental cases” including same sex marriage, interracial marriage and “ones that also involve a woman having the right to privacy.”

Updated: May 14, 2022 at 5:18 PM EDT
Updated: May 14, 2022 at 3:07 PM EDT
Gabriel Kramer is a reporter/producer and the host of “NewsDepth,” Ideastream Public Media's news show for kids.
Annie Wu is the deputy editor of digital content for Ideastream Public Media.