'I had that freedom': Rally for reproductive rights brings hundreds to Cuyahoga Falls

·6 min read
Hundreds gather Tuesday at the Rally for Reproductive Justice at the Cuyahoga Falls Pavilion and Amphitheater.
Hundreds gather Tuesday at the Rally for Reproductive Justice at the Cuyahoga Falls Pavilion and Amphitheater.

Sunlight reflected off a silver canister in the hands of Cuyahoga Falls School Board Member Alecia Coco. Her hands shook and tears swelled in her eyes.

A chorus of abortion rights protesters in front of her shouted a mixed melody in outrage; "my body, my choice," "abort the court" and "we won't go back."

Hundreds of people traveled to the Cuyahoga Falls Downtown Amphitheater from around Ohio Tuesday night to join a rally for reproductive rights after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last week.

Abortion in Ohio: Advocates gather to mourn Roe v. Wade loss, ponder next steps

Onstage, as the crowd grew silent, Coco shared her story: "Thirteen years ago this month, I had an abortion."

The crowd moved to Broad Boulevard to vocalize their stance during the Rally for Reproductive Justice at the Cuyahoga Falls Pavilion and Amphitheater on Tuesday.
The crowd moved to Broad Boulevard to vocalize their stance during the Rally for Reproductive Justice at the Cuyahoga Falls Pavilion and Amphitheater on Tuesday.

When Coco was 17 weeks pregnant, her water broke. The doctor said the majority of amniotic fluid was gone, but her son still had a heartbeat. She said she decided to continue with the pregnancy. She recalled laying on a towel as she described amniotic fluid "pouring out of her."

New law explained: What to know about Ohio's 6-week abortion ban

Over the course of two weeks and multiple appointments, she said the emotional weight and the risk of infection became too heavy to bear.

"At 19 weeks and 6 days gestation, my son, who I’m holding in my hands tonight, was aborted," she told the crowd as she lifted the small canister holding her son's ashes above her head.

Kenyona Sunny Matthews, left, comforts Alecia Coco, a Cuyahoga Falls School Board member and mother of four children as Coco tells her experience of choosing to have an abortion as she speaks during the Rally for Reproductive Justice at the Cuyahoga Falls Pavilion and Amphitheater on Tuesday.
Kenyona Sunny Matthews, left, comforts Alecia Coco, a Cuyahoga Falls School Board member and mother of four children as Coco tells her experience of choosing to have an abortion as she speaks during the Rally for Reproductive Justice at the Cuyahoga Falls Pavilion and Amphitheater on Tuesday.

Coco and her husband were excited for the pregnancy. A crib was already built, and the nursery was set up at home. Now, she said she would have had the abortion earlier if she could do it all over again.

"If I had the choice, I wouldn’t have waited those two weeks," she said. "I put my life and the futures of my children and my family at risk by doing so."

Rally organizers embraced her in support as the crowd cheered her on.

"I’m so thankful for a doctor that looked at me that day and asked, 'what do you want to do?'" she said. "He had that freedom. I had that freedom."

More: Their pregnancies fall just outside Ohio’s new six week abortion ban. What do they do now?

Nikki Bartel of Barberton paints during the Rally for Reproductive Justice at the Cuyahoga Falls Pavilion and Amphitheater on Tuesday.
Nikki Bartel of Barberton paints during the Rally for Reproductive Justice at the Cuyahoga Falls Pavilion and Amphitheater on Tuesday.

Anti-abortion protesters weigh in

As more people came forward to share their stories, a man, surrounded by abortion rights activists, held up a small blue sign, reading: “What if you were aborted?”

18-year-old Lee was one of four anti-abortion protesters at the rally. He did not want to share his last name.

“I just don’t agree with all factors of abortion,” he said.

Lee said he does not support “late-term abortions,” or abortions obtained at or after 21 weeks of pregnancy. While talking about his opinion, a protester stole his poster, ripped it and sprinkled it on top of his head.

Jeanna Miller of Akron and her daughter Rory, 2, participate in the Rally for Reproductive Justice at the Cuyahoga Falls Pavilion and Amphitheater on Tuesday.
Jeanna Miller of Akron and her daughter Rory, 2, participate in the Rally for Reproductive Justice at the Cuyahoga Falls Pavilion and Amphitheater on Tuesday.

“As soon as you're against people, they hate you,” he said. “They don’t ask you why you’re against it.

At that moment, Kent resident and abortion rights protester Chloe Goodell engaged in a discussion with Lee.

“These abortions that you are against are necessities, they aren’t exactly wanted,” she told Lee. “If you think abortion should be allowed at any circumstance, you are pro-choice.”

A large crowd participates in the Rally for Reproductive Justice at the Cuyahoga Falls Pavilion and Amphitheater on Tuesday.
A large crowd participates in the Rally for Reproductive Justice at the Cuyahoga Falls Pavilion and Amphitheater on Tuesday.

Goodell discussed the rarity of late-term abortions and said in many cases they are performed to save the life of the pregnant patient. The majority of abortions take place early during pregnancy, according to the CDC. In 2019, 92.7% of abortions were performed at or before 13 weeks’ gestation.

“Thank you for educating me,” Lee said. “I didn’t know that.”

More: Akron celebrates, mourns the end of constitutional right to abortion

At the back of the amphitheater site, anti-abortion protester Rita Vitale sat with her arms crossed as security volunteers suggested she leave.

"I am not here to support this rally," she said.

Vitale is an Neonatal Intensive Care Unit nurse at Akron Children's Hospital. She often protests at the Northeast Ohio Women's Center, the only abortion clinic in the Greater Akron area.

The crowd moved to Broad Boulevard to vocalize their stance during the Rally for Reproductive Justice at the Cuyahoga Falls Pavilion and Amphitheater on Tuesday.
The crowd moved to Broad Boulevard to vocalize their stance during the Rally for Reproductive Justice at the Cuyahoga Falls Pavilion and Amphitheater on Tuesday.

More: With Roe v. Wade overturned, Ohio abortion clinics sue to restore access to abortions

Vitale recognized patients have died from pregnancy, but said pregnant people "should be brave, and give the child a chance to walk this earth even if it might be hard."

Jennifer Quellhorst is also a nurse and has been practicing 24 years. She said she wants her daughters to have the same rights she had when she was their age.

"Even though I'm at the age where reproduction doesn't matter to me anymore, it is still their right," she said. "I've seen enough people young people who have tried to take their own life. I don't want this to be because of an abortion gone wrong."

Emilia Strong Sykes, currently the Minority Leader in the Ohio House of Representative and is running for Ohio's 13th District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, speaks during the Rally for Reproductive Justice at the Cuyahoga Falls Pavilion and Amphitheater on Tuesday.
Emilia Strong Sykes, currently the Minority Leader in the Ohio House of Representative and is running for Ohio's 13th District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, speaks during the Rally for Reproductive Justice at the Cuyahoga Falls Pavilion and Amphitheater on Tuesday.

Concern for marginalized communities

Jahmai Townsend, who is Black and lesbian, said she was concerned for marginalized communities after the Supreme Court's ruling.

Black women are three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than white women, according to the CDC.

"The Black community is already looked down upon," she said. "Black people being forced to have these children and people can't take care of them...people are just going to look at us and think that we're even worse now."

More: Abortion in Ohio: Advocates gather to mourn Roe v. Wade loss, ponder next steps

Scenes from the Rally for Reproductive Justice at the Cuyahoga Falls Pavilion and Amphitheater on Tuesday.
Scenes from the Rally for Reproductive Justice at the Cuyahoga Falls Pavilion and Amphitheater on Tuesday.

Andrea Austin, who is a bisexual transgender woman, said Roe v. Wade overturned will start a domino effect for other rulings to be overturned.

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in a concurring opinion said the Supreme Court should review its 2015 decision legalizing same-sex marriage, a 2003 decision striking down laws criminalizing gay sex and a 1965 decision declaring that married couples have a right to use contraception.

"It has the implication of setting a precedent for ignoring previous court rulings, and trying to overturn other court rulings that the judges on the court now don't like," she said.

Daniell Thornton and her five-month-old daughter participate in the Rally for Reproductive Justice at the Cuyahoga Falls Pavilion and Amphitheater on Tuesday.
Daniell Thornton and her five-month-old daughter participate in the Rally for Reproductive Justice at the Cuyahoga Falls Pavilion and Amphitheater on Tuesday.

Abortion rights advocates give insight

As speakers, including Summit County Council Member Erin Dickinson, called on those in attendance to vote and contact legislators to codify Roe v. Wade into federal law, protesters moved from the amphitheater to the intersection of Front St. and Broad Boulevard to protest late into the night.

Cars honked driving through the intersection as as each corner overflowed with protesters chanting in outrage.

Cuyahoga Falls residents Tiffany Rivera and her 8-year-old daughter Khloe also came to the rally with homemade signs. Tiffany said on the way to the rally they talked about the importance of standing up for their rights. She said she felt like guns had more rights than women.

Eight-year-old Khloe Rivera attends the Rally for Reproductive Justice with her mother Tiffany Rivera at the Cuyahoga Falls Pavilion and Amphitheater on Tuesday.
Eight-year-old Khloe Rivera attends the Rally for Reproductive Justice with her mother Tiffany Rivera at the Cuyahoga Falls Pavilion and Amphitheater on Tuesday.

"As a girl, I just hope that one day I have as many rights as a gun," Khloe read from her posters. "Girls just want to have fundamental rights."

With her five-month-old daughter clasped to her chest with a carrier, Daniell Thornton spoke quietly about the abortion she had when she was 18.

"I don't usually talk about it, but I think it's important to now," she said. "My boyfriend at the time threatened to kick me out. I don’t know what would have happened if I didn’t have the choice to get an abortion."

Reporter Molly Walsh can be reached at mwalsh@gannett.com 

This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Hundreds protest in Cuyahoga Falls after Roe v. Wade is overturned