Roe v. Wade decision: 600-plus Santa Cruzans gather at courthouse to oppose SCOTUS ruling

People gather outside the county courthouse in Santa Cruz on Friday to protest the decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.
(Giovanni Moujaes / Lookout Santa Cruz)

The nation woke up to a new reality Friday as the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. In Santa Cruz, a progressive county within a sanctuary state, abortion-rights leaders are asking what they can do in this new landscape. The rally at the courthouse is a first step in that process, after the announcement of the decision.

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Hundreds of Santa Cruzans — young and old, men and women — shouted and applauded and held signs with messages denouncing the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade at the Santa Cruz County courthouse Friday afternoon. Over the first half hour of the rally, the crowd has grown from several hundred to nearly 600 by Lookout’s count.

The signs captured the outrage:

  • “End Forced Birth Extremism”
  • “Abort the Supreme Court”
  • “Republicans care about fetuses until they become women”
  • “Ruth Sent Me”
  • “Abort the Court”

“This is an issue that unites people,” but the burden falls on the neediest among us, former Santa Cruz mayor and a local Planned Parenthood founder Cynthia Mathews told the crowd as people assembled soon after 5 p.m. Mathews, Santa Cruz City Councilmember Shebreh Kalantari-Johnson and State Assembly candidate Gail Pellerin had organized the impromptu rally upon hearing the morning’s news.

About a dozen speakers gave brief speeches for the event, which lasted less than an hour. Before the main rally began, beginning around 4:30 p.m., four speakers representing local Democratic Socialist groups spoke.

Then, about 10 other speakers, mostly community leaders, took the stage, some who had fought for abortion rights for more than a half-century — and some who were born into those rights, now about to be taken away in about half of the states.

Gail Michaelis-Ow is among the veterans, and she expressed the widely felt frustration: “I feel completely gutted after 50 years.”

Standing 8-and-a-half months pregnant, Stephanie Barron Lu-Coronado led quiet meditation and asked the crowd to exhale the grief and rage. “I am here as a mom first and foremost and as someone who is incredibly tired,” the executive director of Positive Discipline Community Resources told the crowd.

Scenes from Friday's rally at the Santa Cruz County courthouse
Scenes from Friday’s rally at the Santa Cruz County courthouse.
(Giovanni Moujaes / Lookout Santa Cruz)

As the crowd grew, it appeared to be about 70% women 30% men, with some children taking in the historic protest on their parents’ shoulders.

The word “choice” has become a bitter one in this conflict.

“I just want you to know there is only one choice, and it’s theirs,” midwife Kate Bowen, who has delivered babies for decades, told the rally, saying she had been worried about the permanence of Roe as long as she has worked.

The two-Americas theme, which has emerged so strongly in recent national politics and now is further propelled by this court decision, was sounded by Gail Pellerin, the former Santa Cruz County Clerk now running for a State Assembly seat. “I stand with Planned Parenthood,” her pink T-shirt read.

Scenes from Friday's rally at the Santa Cruz County courthouse
Scenes from Friday’s rally at the Santa Cruz County courthouse.
(Giovanni Moujaes / Lookout Santa Cruz)

“We are living in two Americas. One where abortion is legal and one where the womb is now a crime scene,” she said, standing next to her adult daughter, 24-year-old Emily Chaffin, who wore a black shirt saying “everyone loves someone who had an abortion.”

Pellerin’s solution to the quagmire is a simple one, and a profound one for someone who spent years counting votes as the county’s clerk: “This is not democracy. This is not what 80% of people in this nation want. The best way to fight back is to vote.” She then pushed people to go out and vote in November.

As seen in the video below, Chaffin told the crowd she’s angry and she’s sad.

“I’m sad that this is where our country is today. I’m sad for everyone because the reality is this is a fight no matter what your gender is, no matter what your ethnicity is,” she said. “This is a fight of every single person. If you’re living, if you’re breathing, you’re a fetus. This is the fight.”

Rose Lovell, a family physician at Santa Cruz Community Health Centers, emphasized the importance of thinking about abortion as a human right and not just women’s rights. She also expressed frustration about legislators making decisions about what services she can and can’t provide.

Scenes from Friday's rally at the Santa Cruz County courthouse.
(Giovanni Moujaes / Lookout Santa Cruz)

“I am sick and tired of politicians telling you what I can and cannot do in my own exam room,” she said. “Whether it’s reproductive health care, whether it’s trans care, whether it’s telling me whether I can do my hospice care, whether it’s physician aid in dying, I don’t care — I want them out of my office room.”

Speaking to Lookout before the rally began, Naia Cantor-Baker, a recent Soquel High School graduate, said she ran over to the protest after finishing work at Starbucks. She was shocked by the news.

“I’m feeling really scared about America and the future. We are literally moving backwards,” she said. “When I heard about the leaked decision, I didn’t think it was actually going to happen.”

What she did find encouraging was the level of attendance at the rally.

“It’s really cool how everyone’s here,” she said. “And especially that it’s not just girls, because everyone should be fighting for this.”

Other political leaders in attendance, but who did not speak, included Santa Cruz City Councilmembers Donna Meyers, Justin Cummings and Martine Watkins. County Superintendent of Schools Faris Sabbah was also, and helped organized the technology.

Local activist Gloria Nieto told the crowd that she had stage 4 cancer, but would continue this fight among others. Her words may be a good coda for this day in history:

“Be there for each other. Be the community we used to be.”

***

As the rally drew to a close, a different scene of protest erupted, according to several eyewitnesses who spoke with Lookout.

Someone wearing all black with a black bandana across their face approached the courthouse’s flagpole and, with a knife, slashed the rope holding the American flag and two other flags aloft.

The flags fell, and the person grabbed the U.S. flag, spray-painted letters in red on a courthouse window and attempted to flee with the flag. Several in the crowd converged and tussled with the individual, who dropped the flag and escaped the crowd.

About a half-dozen officers of both the Santa Cruz Police Department and the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office quickly arrived and began questioning bystanders and looking for videos of the incident.

As of Friday night, the suspect had not been identified.

Previous update:

Santa Cruzans will speak out against the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade on Friday at 5 p.m. at the Santa Cruz County courthouse. Plans for the rally continue to evolve, organizers including Santa Cruz City Councilmember Shebreh Kalantari-Johnson and longtime Planned Parenthood leader Cynthia Mathews told Lookout.

So far, scheduled speakers include Mathews, a former Santa Cruz mayor; Leslie Conner, CEO of the Santa Cruz Women’s Center; Gail Michaelis-Ow, a Planned Parenthood nurse practitioner; Gloria Nieto, Santa Cruz activist; Stephanie Barron Lu, executive director Positive Discipline Community Resources; and Gail Pellerin, Assembly candidate, and her daughter, Emily Chaffin.

Like millions of people across the country, Santa Cruzans woke up Friday morning to a new reality after the Supreme Court voted to overturn Roe v. Wade — the 1973 decision that effectively legalized abortion.

Local leaders and providers of health services, including Michaelis-Ow, said the decision, while expected, is devastating.

“I feel gutted that we are still having the same conversation about whether or not a woman has a right to control her body, because if you don’t, you can’t control your future,” Michaelis-Ow told Lookout on Friday. “To say that half of this country does not have that right, it’s just mind-boggling. I don’t have the words.”

Michaelis-Ow and Mathews talked to Lookout in March about their early history and struggle to build Planned Parenthood in Santa Cruz.

There is also a gathering at 4:30 p.m., led by community activist Joy Schendledecker. She told Lookout on Friday that the event came out of several members of Democratic Socialists of America and community members seeking a time to grieve and organize.

For Schendledecker, who had an abortion at 19 and has two children, this news hit hard.

“I think about my 19-year-old self, and what if I had not been able to get a safe legal abortion near to where I lived?” says Schendledecker. “And I think about my kids, and what would happen to them if they didn’t have access any longer. My heart breaks for people all over America. It’s frightening.”

In response to the ruling, abortion-rights activists are organizing events from New York to the San Francisco Bay Area to denounce the decision.

As of Friday morning, cities including Santa Cruz, Oakland, Fremont, San Rafael, San Francisco, San Jose and Monterey had planned rallies throughout the weekend at local post offices, plazas and city halls.

The Santa Cruz rally is scheduled for 5 p.m. in front of the Santa Cruz County courthouse, 701 Ocean St.

Local, state public figures react

In a statement, UC Santa Cruz Chancellor Cynthia Larive said the university is “deeply dismayed” with the Supreme Court’s decision.

“Today is a difficult day in a decadeslong movement to protect and advance human and civil rights for all people. It is not the last day in this struggle, though,” Larive said. “We will continue to work and advocate for a more just and equitable future in which individuals are afforded the right to make personal decisions about family, relationships, and bodily autonomy.”

Dawn Addis is a Morro Bay City Councilmember, a Planned Parenthood Central Coast Action Fund board member and co-founder of the 10,000-person Women’s March in San Luis Obispo.

She is also the favorite to become the new District 30 State Assemblymember as she heads to a November runoff against Vicki Nohrden.

“This couldn’t be more devastating,” Addis said in a statement Friday. “I want to let people know that we are in this together and I am committed to action. While abortion remains available to patients on the Central Coast, and in California, we are poised to lose access across 26+ states. These attacks will disproportionately affect communities of color and those with less economic means. We cannot be silent. Make no mistake, we are under attack. This is precisely the time to continue the work. We must make our voices and our votes heard. I will do everything I can to defend the rights of people everywhere to access care.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom: “The Supreme Court has made it clear: They want to strip women of their liberty and let Republican states replace it with mandated birth because the right to choose an abortion is not ‘deeply rooted in history.’ They want to turn back the clock to a time when women had no right to make decisions about their own bodies, when women had to seek care in the shadows and at great danger, when women were not treated as equal citizens under the law. This is another devastating step toward erasing the rights and liberties Americans have fought for on battlefields, in courthouses and in capitols. This is not the America we know — and it’s not the California way.”

Assemblymember Robert Rivas (D-Salinas): “Today’s Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade was appalling and offensive — and it is likely a disturbing harbinger of more rights being stripped away from millions of Americans. While this decision did not come as a surprise, it is still troubling to see the extent to which the right-wing court will go to attack the rights of women and betray their oaths of office.”

Lookout will continue to update coverage throughout the day.

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