Protestors turn out in Pittsboro to fight for reproductive rights

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PITTSBORO — Carol Goettman has been fighting for reproductive rights since the 1970s. She was at the march in Washington in support of passing Roe v. Wade when it originally passed in 1973.

Now, donning a gold coat hanger necklace, the 87-year-old is in Pittsboro protesting what she believes was a giant step backward for the country.

“We’re still needing to march for this, which is very depressing,” Goettman said. “A lot of us at my retirement community are very upset about this.”

Last Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled to overturn the very cause Goettman once marched for — Roe v. Wade. The decision gives the choice of abortion access back to the states; about half are expected to ban abortion altogether.

North Carolina is not one of those states because State Republicans do not have a supermajority to override a veto from Gov. Roy Cooper.

Regardless of state politics, protestors, including Goettman, gathered around the Historic Courthouse in Pittsboro Monday afternoon to express their frustration at the ruling.

“It’s so depressing to think that a fertilized egg has more rights than a woman,” Goettman said. “I feel so strongly about this issue. This has been closest to my heart for most of my adult life. I haven’t had an abortion but I have two daughters and four granddaughters and I want them and their progeny to have the same rights that I enjoyed.”

She said she believes the necklace she wears has become a symbol of the harms of unsafe abortions, and the damages of patriarchal decisions that strip women of their liberties.

Goettman was joined by about 80 other people of all ages who wrapped themselves around the courthouse Monday holding signs in support of reproductive rights. Some read “Same crap, different century,” “Stop the war on women” and “Abortion rights are human rights.” All the while, cars honked in support as they circled the roundabout.

The protest featured speeches from several youth organizers along with Pittsboro Mayor Cindy Perry. As Perry spoke, she held her own sign that read “My arms are tired from holding this sign since the 1960s.”

“Yes my arms are tired, I’ve been here before,” Perry told the crowd. The mayor recalled her own experience with reproductive rights when her college roommate needed an abortion. “It was the saddest and most awful experience she ever went through, but I’m so thankful she had a right to make that decision with her own body.”

Perry said she fears the decision to overturn Roe v. Wade is just the first domino to fall. She said she believes this decision opens the door to other attacks on women’s rights like access to contraception.

“This is not a solitary decision,” Perry said. “This is the beginning of the end of women’s rights.”

Other local elected officials, including Chatham County Commissioners Karen Howard and Diana Hales, were also in attendance. Hales said there’s limited action the local government can take to protect abortion rights, but she showed up because she believes this is an important cause.

“It’s been 50 years since I became involved in activism and we’re back where we were,” Hales said. “Legislators, predominantly white men, regulating female bodies. This is not about equality, it’s purely about control.”

Hales said the best thing that could be done to protect reproductive rights on a state and national level is to elect Democrats to the State House of Representatives, Senate and more.

According to the Associated Press, N.C. Republican leaders Tim Moore and Phil Burger plan on taking up a 20-week abortion ban in the upcoming long session. Moore and Burger said “we stand ready to take the necessary steps” to restore the 20-week limit — likely through filing their own request to lift an injunction blocking the law’s enforcement.

“We have to change the composition of the legislature because they will make the rules,” Hales said. “I’m a Democrat and I’m going to work my best to ensure the best outcomes in November across the state.”

Hales said despite the deflation of this decision, she was encouraged that this protest was organized by young people.

One of the co-organizers of the protest, Valerie Scull, 19, said she was pleasantly surprised and encouraged at the turnout and support received for the protest.

“This is a show of passion for reproductive rights,” Scull said in her remarks to the crowd. “It’s so empowering to see so much drive for change.”

Other protestors handed out resources about reproductive rights, including how to order abortion pills, donate to local abortion funds or find a local abortion clinic. One of the people handing out the literature was Xena Gray.

“Overturning Roe sets a really dangerous precedent,” Gray said. “You need to read up and think really hard about the future you want to create. There are a lot of people saying the youngest bloc doesn’t show up to the polls, but we need to keep up this momentum in November or the Republicans are going to wait us out.”

Gray, 21, has been organizing protests across the Triangle including leading a march in Cary over the weekend. She said she’s been inspired by all the young people who have set up protests across North Carolina.

“It’s not just me, it’s not just your daughter, this issue impacts everyone,” Gray said. “One in four women have had an abortion and if you think you don’t know one, it’s because they aren’t comfortable telling you.”

A peer-reviewed study published in 2017 by the Guttmacher Institute — the leading reproductive health research organization — estimated that in 2014, some 23.7 percent of girls and women in the United States had undergone at least one abortion between the ages of 15 and 44.

Gray said she believes N.C. will become a battleground state in the upcoming election, which is likely to place abortion rights front and center. She said despite her qualms with the Democratic party and its failure to codify Roe v. Wade into law in previous years, she believes voting blue is still the best action every person can take to fight for abortion rights.

Reporter Ben Rappaport can be reached at or on Twitter @b_rappaport.


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