'Express it peacefully': Tensions high in Fort Collins after Roe v. Wade overturned

A mix of elation, anger and disbelief converged in Fort Collins on Friday following the U.S. Supreme Court's reversal of Roe v. Wade, the court's landmark 1973 decision that decriminalized abortion nationwide.

About 1,500 abortion-rights protesters chanting familiar slogans like "abortion rights are human rights" and "this is what Democracy looks like" took to the street, shutting down parts of College Avenue on Friday night as they marched against the court's 6-3 decision.

The march of about 600 began at Colorado State University's Oval, growing to a crowd Fort Collins Police Chief Jeff Swoboda estimated to include about 1,500 people as marchers joined the route down Laurel Street to College Avenue and around Old Town Square before funneling into Oak Street Plaza as police vehicles followed behind.

It is unclear why the protest, originally publicized as ending at Old Town Square, changed venues to Oak Street Plaza. A small group of people milled around the square waiting for protesters as a band played religious music.

Several speakers — women and men, cisgender and transgender, young and old, gay and straight — pumped up the crowd, encouraging them to "get mad and stay mad." To get involved and make their voices heard.

One woman said she talked Friday morning to her grandmother who fought for abortion rights in her 20s. "Now it's your guys' turn," she told her granddaughter.

Protesters cheered against the "patriarchy" that they said instills its values on others and for health care workers who provide abortion services in Colorado, where it is legal, and in states where it is not because they believe "abortion rights are human rights."

"You know who won't have any trouble getting an abortion?" one speaker asked. "Rich white women married to senators and those in power," he said.

Fort Collins native Nancy York, 84, said she was there to support women's rights. "Women don't have control over their own bodies and their own selves. It's an affront."

CSU student Jalen Thompson urged people who don't have to worry about getting an abortion to stand alongside those who do, to be supportive and uplifting, and to ensure their rights are protected.

Tensions rise with ruling

Just two hours after the ruling was announced Friday morning, tensions were already high outside of Fort Collins' sole Planned Parenthood location, where police responded to a reported disturbance between an anti-abortion protester and abortion-rights counterprotester on the health center's Shields Street sidewalk.

Several officers responded to the call, which came in at 10:19 a.m., Fort Collins Police Services Officer Brandon Barnes told the Coloradoan. Police left the scene about 10:50 a.m., according to a Coloradoan photojournalist who was on the scene.

Barnes told the Coloradoan later Friday morning that there had been a minor physical disturbance between two protestors, but neither side chose to pursue criminal charges.

"We respect individuals' First Amendment right and ask that they express it peacefully," Barnes said in a text message.

More: What to know about Colorado's abortion laws and those of neighboring states

Planned Parenthood sees protesters after Roe v. Wade overturned

Planned Parenthood saw a growing number of anti-abortion protesters earlier in the day, with just one abortion-rights counterprotester on its Shields Street sidewalk about 9:15 a.m.

“Obviously, we’re very excited because it means less mamas and less babies will lose their lives, but we aren’t out here this morning because of Roe vs. Wade,” anti-abortion protester Kristy Neeley said.

As the Fort Collins coordinator for 40 Days for Life — an international anti-abortion organization — Neeley said a group of anti-abortion protesters is typically outside of the Fort Collins Planned Parenthood every Thursday, Friday and Saturday morning.

Kelly Krapes, of Fort Collins, pickets in front of Planned Parenthood's Fort Collins Health Center on Friday.
Kelly Krapes, of Fort Collins, pickets in front of Planned Parenthood's Fort Collins Health Center on Friday.

“We just want to be the last opportunity of hope for these moms,” she said. “We have a lot of resources — financial support, where they can get diapers, adoption agencies.”

"We are not under some false pretense that all abortions will end (with the reversal of Roe v. Wade)," Neeley added in a statement emailed to the Coloradoan. "We know the real battle is to support and help these women going through crisis pregnancies. They face some pretty tough situations and so we will continue to pray and offer compassionate, loving, last minute hope and help to anyone looking for an alternative."

By 12:30 p.m. Friday, anti-abortion protesters outside Planned Parenthood diminished to a handful of people while the ranks of abortion-rights protesters grew.

Holding signs that read "Her Body, Her Choice!" and "Safe + Legal Abortions = Pro Life," protesters spread out across the sidewalk, with one protester waving a Pride flag in a nearby Shields Street median.

From USA TODAY: Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, eliminating constitutional right to abortion

Supreme Court ruling paves way for U.S. states to ban, restrict abortions

"I never thought this would happen in my lifetime. I think it’s absolutely ridiculous," said Natasha Schwartz, a clinic escort for Planned Parenthood who came out to support the abortion-rights protesters while on her lunch break.

"I studied law and I feel like it’s a waste ... a constitutional right taken away, but also as a woman I just don’t even know what to think because it’s unfair," she said. "The only other thing that is regulated in this country, reproduction-wise, is animals. Animals are property.”

"I’m very thankful I live in a very liberal state," Schwartz added. "But for everyone else who doesn’t, I feel very scared for."

Following Friday's ruling, the Guttmacher Institute estimated that 26 states are certain or likely to ban abortion, according to USA TODAY. As for Colorado's neighboring states, trigger bans are in effect in Wyoming, Utah and the Dakotas.

Nebraska bans most abortions after 20 weeks and has only three providers statewide, according to the institute. Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts has expressed interest in calling a special legislative session for the purpose of banning abortion with no exceptions for rape or incest.

Abortion is legal in Colorado

Colorado is one of seven states without any restrictions on when a pregnancy can be terminated.

In March, the Colorado legislature passed the Reproductive Health Equity Act that codified reproductive rights, including abortion, into state law.

The protections have made Colorado an oasis of sorts for people seeking abortions from surrounding states that have more restrictive or no access, including Texas, Oklahoma, Wyoming and Nebraska.

More: What to know about Colorado's abortion laws and those of neighboring states

Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains has already seen an influx of patients and is anticipating an even larger surge.

"We already see patients from every state," Jack Teter, regional director of government affairs for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, told reporters at a press briefing Friday. "We are furious, devastated and determined. I'm most angry because of who will pay the price," including young people, people of color, undocumented residents, and those living in rural communities "where the post-Roe world has already been their reality" for decades.

Due to the influx of out-of-state patients, wait times for appointments are now averaging two to three weeks and will likely increase, Teter said.

"As a woman, as a Black woman, as someone who is younger than the (1973) Roe v. Wade decision, who has lived my whole life knowing" the right to seek an abortion "was mine and my decision alone, it feels like an injury,"  said Shara Smith of the Interfaith Alliance in Colorado.

Teter said Colorado has seen an "enormous increase" in the number of Texas patients, many of whom drive through the night with "sleepy kids in the backseat" to seek abortion care. "Now 26 additional states will be joining Texas within weeks or days."

Dr. Kristina Tocce. vice president and medical director of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, told the Coloradoan in an interview the Supreme Court decision "will directly affect the facility in Fort Collins," which has been ramping up for months in anticipation of the Supreme Court's decision.

"Agency-wide we have been striving to increase access ... and now there is even more motivation to continue that progress," she said. "Today reminds us we are all moving forward as fast as humanly possible because here we are, a surreal time has turned real."

Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, which includes Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and southern Nevada, has seen 1,700 patients from Texas alone since Sept. 1 when the state banned most abortions, Tocce said.

"That's just one state ... those are formidable numbers," she said. "And, as fast as we are working to increase services that are available, we know there will be patients who we are simply not able to accommodate, and that's really hard as a provider to know patients may be forced to continue their pregnancies."

Fight over abortion rights will continue

Brittany Vessely, executive director of the Colorado Catholic Conference, said the organization was celebrating “a major victory for life” that could lead to increased efforts to tighten Colorado laws.

“For sure, it’s going to step up efforts another notch. There are many states that are extreme on abortion rights like Colorado and many states that are going to protect life,” she said. “You can’t have a nation that’s half pro-life and half abortion rights.”

Colorado Catholic Conference is part of Pro-Life Colorado, a coalition of 21 groups that act as a unified voice, and “will be much more active” in working toward restricting access to abortions in Colorado, Vessely said.

Archbishop Samuel Aquila of the Archdiocese of Denver praised the Supreme Court's decision Friday, calling Roe v. Wade “a dark cloud over our country” that “has played a role in tens of millions of pre-born babies dying. In this life, we will never know the unrepeatable gifts they would have brought to our families, communities, and world.”

For those same 50 years Roe v. Wade was the law of the land, he said in a statement, millions of Catholics have worked to promote a culture of life “and for an end to the evil that is abortion. With that said, we acknowledge that the work continues, especially here in Colorado. While precious lives will no doubt be saved because of this decision, in states like ours, the abortion industry and many lawmakers are increasing their efforts to promote Colorado as an 'abortion destination.' "

The church must also increase its support for the archdioceses and parish ministries that offer care for women, their babies and their families and make Catholic parishes welcoming places for ”women facing challenging pregnancies or who find it difficult to care for their children after birth,” the archbishop said in his statement.

“The work ahead of us here in Colorado will continue to be challenging but we are reminded today that nothing will be impossible for God.”

The Colorado Reproductive Health Rights and Justice Coalition said in a statement that "abortion is still legal in Colorado, and our movement is stronger than ever."

“Coloradans know that everyone deserves access to abortion care when they need it, on a timeline of their choosing, and in a community and environment that they trust. As representatives of the vast majority of Coloradans who support reproductive health care access, we will never back down.”

Across the country: Supreme Court ruling triggers maze of state abortion laws

Cobalt Advocates, a Colorado abortion-rights group, said the ruling, while shocking to some, “is sadly not a surprise to those of us who have repeatedly fought off attacks on abortion rights here in Colorado."

“This ruling is what we predicted and what we feared,” the nonprofit said in a statement. “And it is why we passed the Reproductive Health Equity Act this year, guaranteeing the fundamental right to abortion access in Colorado law.

The fight to protect abortion rights in Colorado isn’t over, Cobalt Advocates said. “It’s a sad day,” but the fight is just beginning “and we here in Colorado will be leading the way on abortion access, just as we did in 1967 and 1973.”

The Reproductive Health Equity Act “is not enough,” the group said in its statement. “This year in the midterms our 175,000 members statewide will hold accountable those legislators who did not support abortion access. And in 2024, we will go to the ballot to enshrine the right to abortion in the Colorado Constitution.”

Pat Ferrier is a senior reporter covering business, health care and growth issues in Northern Colorado. Contact her at patferrier@coloradoan.com. Please support her work and that of other Coloradoan journalists by purchasing a subscription today.

This article originally appeared on Fort Collins Coloradoan: Tensions high in Fort Collins as Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade