ASHEVILLE - Western North Carolina residents reacted immediately to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision June 24 to overturn Roe v. Wade, erasing a reproductive right that had been in place for nearly five decades, by gathering at a Democratic rally at Rabbit Rabbit, and then marching to Pack Square and around downtown, including onto I-240.
Many expressed anger at the court's decision and said they felt the traditional democratic system had failed.
Crystal Coffie said her best friend died because of abortion-related complications.
"It's a really charged issue," she said. "It's going to be really hard to find a female that hasn't been impacted."
Coffie was walking from the rally to Pack Square with Corey Biskind and her three children, who said she's showed up for her kids.
"We need to develop communities and networks of support," Biskind said, discussing options outside of voting and peaceful protesting.
"We cannot count on any of the institutions to support us," Biskind said. "And the cops that we keep wanting to give money to, the cops are going to be arresting women, putting them in jail for trying to get an abortion."
While Democrats at Rabbit Rabbit emphasized a need to fill more seats, protesters near the Buncombe County Courthouse called the U.S. Supreme Court "fascist."
Hundreds showed up first at a rally spearheaded by Buncombe County Democrats, elected and hopeful, including Sen. Julie Mayfield, Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer, Planned Parenthood and Buncombe County Commissioner and District 11 Democratic nominee Jasmine Beach Ferrara, who said she had spoken to residents who told her, “I’m so mad I could spit nails.”
"Go vote," was the main theme at Rabbit Rabbit, officials encouraging rally goers to make sure North Carolina's political leadership never had the power to overturn abortion laws.
A more vocal crowd of protesters later marched to Pack Square, where they held signs that read, "Bans of my body" and "Abort the Court," "Freedom = Choice," and "We need to talk about the elephant in the Womb."
"Drink more water and make them regret what they did," yelled 20-year-old Juliette Downing.
Some marchers later entered Interstate 240 West around the downtown area, temporarily closing a portion of the road, the city of Asheville said around 9 p.m. on its Facebook page. A post at 9:15 p.m. said I-240 was open to traffic again.
Biskind said wasn't surprised by the Supreme Court's decision.
"I expected it," she said. "But I'm infuriated. I'm mad that the only suggestions they have for us are to vote or to peacefully protest. That's not enough."
Beach-Ferrara after the rally at Rabbit Rabbit addressed those who didn't think a call to vote was enough.
"I understand why they feel that way," she said. "A fundamental right was just rolled back in our country. And our vote matters more than ever now. We are holding on to a narrow ability to sustain a veto in North Carolina and that's the reason people can access health care and abortion rights."
Cindy Bailey held a sign enumerating the constitutional rights the Supreme Court deprived her of and said she'd be showing up to similar pro-choice actions for 50 years and was there to support young people.
"It affects everybody," she said. "It affects the whole culture."
Jolyne, who did not give their last name and whose pronouns were she and they, held a transgeneder flag at Pack Square Park and said they felt "terrified" at the outlook for trans rights.
They noted Justice Clarence Thomas' indication June 24 that gay marriage rights should be "reconsidered" was terrifying.
"I have a lot of opinions on this, but one of my opinions is that voting is not enough," they said. "We need to affect direct change and people who are in power to not want to significantly change the system. If voting was enough, we would not be in this position."
With chants of "f--- the court!" in the background, Nora Hartlaub, 45, said she believed the court had overstepped its bounds.
"Fascism in the courts is a move toward total authoritarianism over not only my body but also other disadvantaged people within a social structure that historically has propelled systems of inequity and inequality and I'm f---ing done with it."
But she said she believed that there was "hope for this generation. If there isn't then why are we here? What are humans for if you can't have that."
Reaction from Planned Parenthood
Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, which has a health center in Asheville, has been sounding the alarm for months, even before the May leak of the draft opinion brought protests marching through the heart of downtown Asheville.
Jenny Black, president and CEO of PPSA, was quick to remind people that for now, abortion is still legal.
“But this dangerous and chilling decision will have devastating consequences across the South, forcing people to travel hundreds, sometimes thousands, of miles for abortion care or potentially be forced to remain pregnant against their will," Black said in a June 24 news release.
"Our highest priority is making sure our patients can get the care they need. Our health center doors remain open, and we aren’t going anywhere.”
“For Planned Parenthood clinics, we’re preparing for an influx of patients in North Carolina," said Jillian Riley, Planned Parenthood's director of public affairs for the South Atlantic. "We’re extending our clinic hours, we’re expanding our services and we’re training more providers when possible.”
The Planned Parenthood clinic in Asheville is one of nine in North Carolina, and one of 14 abortion providers in the state, Riley said.
Asheville Planned Parenthood: Anti-abortion protesters ramping up clinic demonstrations, Asheville noise complaints show
Abortion rights would not face as immediate a threat in North Carolina as in some other southern states if Roe is ultimately overturned, Riley said.
"I think, just generally, this is a scary and confusing time," she said. "But we are doing everything we can to be able to provide care. I will say that, in states like Texas, where we saw a near-outright abortion ban put in place ... unlike Texas, we have time to prepare (in North Carolina). And we have time to think through our strategy of how we're going to continue keeping our doors open."
“We are ready for an influx of patients when the decision comes down, and we will continue to provide care for our patients and access to abortions," Riley said.
In May, Gov. Roy Cooper vowed to veto any abortion ban bill that comes across his desk from the state legislature, during an Asheville visit shortly after the Supreme Court's draft decision was leaked.
“I will veto those bills, and I believe the legislature will sustain those vetoes. The government should not be in the exam room with a woman and her doctor. And it is a tragedy that this court may absolutely, completely take away a woman’s right to reproductive freedom in all cases," Cooper said in Asheville May 5.
On June 24, shortly after news of the Dobbs case, Cooper issued this statement:
"I will continue to trust women to make their own medical decisions as we fight to keep politicians out of the doctor’s exam room."
Abortion rights in North Carolina have long been challenged. The Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice organization, notes that a patient "must receive state-directed counseling that includes information designed to discourage the patient from having an abortion, and then wait 72 hours before the procedure is provided," that a patient has to undergo an ultrasound before getting an abortion and that abortion "is covered in insurance policies for public employees only in cases of life endangerment, rape or incest."
"This is an unprecedented time," Riley said. "Losing a constitutional right is outrageous, and abortion access in North Carolina is hanging by a thread, and that's just the truth. Our future depends on what happens in our elections this fall. If the Supreme Court gives states the green light to set their own laws around abortions, that means we need to elect state representatives who support abortion access, point blank."
Reporters Sarah Honosky and Ryan Oehrli contributed to this story. Andrew Jones is Buncombe County government and health care reporter for the Asheville Citizen Times, part of the USA TODAY Network. Reach him at @arjonesreports on Facebook and Twitter, 828-226-6203 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Please help support this type of journalism with a subscription to the Citizen Times.
This article originally appeared on Asheville Citizen Times: Asheville protests Roe v. Wade decision, condemn Supreme Court