Thousands of Utahns gathered at the Capitol steps Friday evening in protest of the U.S. Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade, which sent the power to regulate abortions back to individual states — and triggered a Utah law that now bans almost all abortions in the Beehive State.
For some, it was an unbelievable moment. They had been young women when Roe v. Wade was decided, and never thought they would see those protections they fought for rolled back.
Even though she knew this was a possibility, 67-year-old Gail Biedermann, of Salt Lake City, said “it still was a gut punch” to read the Supreme Court’s decision Friday morning. Biedermann was in high school when Roe passed.
Judith Christensen was 29 when Roe v. Wade was decided back in 1972.
Her first reaction when the news broke was “anger and rage.”
”It’s so discouraging that we don’t move forward, we move backward — what does that say?” Judith said during a rally at Washington Square Park before protestors marched to the Capitol. “I couldn’t believe it was really going to happen. So when it really happened, it was devastating.”
Judith’s niece, Marin Christensen, said the decision has opened up a new depth of fear for her generation who “didn’t go through this fight.”
“We’re very naive to it, that this can actually happen in our country, and now we’re getting a taste,” Marin Christensen said. “And we’re like. ‘Now what can we do? When our state government, too, just released all these statements saying they support it? So what’s our next step?”
Judith said the next step is educating people to make them less afraid of abortion rights, or “whatever it is that makes them want to cling to something so outdated and archaic.”
”I personally feel that voting comes after action — you know, you make enough action, there has to be a ballot order or put on the ballot,” Judith said. “You have to start making noise and getting people involved, and I want to know how to do that… It’s happening so rapidly. I actually think this will be overturned again, and maybe a better law will be written – probably not that long from now.”
At the Capitol, Michelle Brown, leader of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women+ of Utah, said it was hard but important for her to be at the rally. Brown said she thought about the history of forced sterilization of Indigenous people, and how their bodily autonomy was taken away.
”Tomorrow,” Brown told the crowd, “let’s wake up and let’s get to work.”
Speakers at the rally talked about how marginalized people have faced attacks on their bodies since the creation of the U.S., and how they will face the brunt of the Supreme Court’s abortion ruling.
Rev. Monica Dobbins, of First Unitarian Church in Salt Lake City, told the crowd, “Banning abortion is against my religion.”
Ailyn Gamez, 18, of Salt Lake City, stood on the steps of the Capitol, holding a sign that read, “Our government is bold enough to force you to have a kid but too weak to ensure they make it to recess alive” — referring to the shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, that killed 19 students and two teachers.
Gamez’s mother came to the U.S. from Mexico, she said, to have freedom and choices. Her mother helped make her sign for the rally, she said.
Deja Gaston spoke at Planned Parenthood’s rally on May 14, which was spurred by the Supreme Court’s draft opinion on Roe leaked in early May. Gaston is an organizer with the Salt Lake City Party for Socialism & Liberation, and said the most important thing people can do is to take to the streets, like they did Friday.
”Historically speaking, we always talk about how Roe was won, and it was won through struggle,” Gaston said. “And that was won through millions of working women taking the streets and fighting back — but also not just mobilizing. The other side of that is to organize … reaching out to the different sectors that you belong in and educate people on an interpersonal level.”
With the sadness, anger and strife that comes with Roe’s reversal, Gaston urges people not to get lost in their despair. And to remember that if lawmakers were truly pro-life, they would enact legislation expanding childcare access and healthcare for transgender youth.
”What really we need to do is not fall into passivity, we need to be active, we have to continue to really push back and really fight back against this,” Gaston said. “Politicians from both the Republicans and Democrats are failing us in a lot of ways. And if they really wanted to do something, if they were pro-life, they would enact things that better the conditions for our class.”
Utah is one of 13 states that passed a trigger law in case of the court’s reversal, a law which was passed in 2020. SB174, which went into effect Friday evening, now bans almost all abortions in the Beehive State.
There are limited circumstances where the procedure is allowed, such as being “necessary to avert death” of the mother, or if two physicians concur that the fetus has a defect that is “uniformly diagnosable and uniformly lethal.” It also allows abortion in pregnancy caused by rape or incest, but requires a physician to verify that the rape or incest has been reported to law enforcement or proper authorities.
The crowd on Friday booed Utah’s trigger law, and one speaker called for state lawmakers to overturn the law.
Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, said she felt empowered by the rally at the Capitol Friday. For her, the decision to have an abortion shouldn’t be made by a legislative body, the Supreme Court or a religious institution. Instead, it’s a choice between that person and their health care provider.
With Utah’s trigger law, Romero said she is concerned about it will affect marginalized communities. She thinks about a rally she attended in Ogden, where a man showed her a relative’s death certificate, who had an abortion before it was legal. She lost her life, and her children lost their mother.
”People need to remember that this is not just about the person who gets the abortion,” Romero said. “It’s about their families and their community, as well.”
David Turok, an OB-GYN in Salt Lake City, said Friday’s decision will not end abortion.
“People will be resourceful and will change, as people will not have access to safe and legal abortion, said Turok, who added he was not speaking on behalf of his employers. “And there will be damage. There will be harm. People will suffer as a result of this.”
But, Turok said, “people are not going to stand for this.”
“We can call out the hatred and hypocrisy,” he said. “But really, we will go much further by calling people in to the common missions of human decency, autonomy and the need to respect people to be able to make their own best personal decisions.”
Nearly all of those who attended Friday’s rally at the Capitol decried the Supreme Court’s decision. Pro-Life Utah plans to rally in support of the court’s ruling at the same location next Saturday.