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Louisville activists join nationwide protests over abortion rights

Abortion rights protesters in downtown Louisville on May 4, 2022.
Abortion rights protesters in downtown Louisville on May 4, 2022.

Abortion rights activists rallied on the steps of Metro Hall in downtown Louisville on Wednesday as a second day of protests erupted across the country following theleaked draft decision from the U.S. Supreme Court that would overturn Roe v. Wade

Hundreds joined in the refrain “My body, my choice,” between speeches from activists about the future of abortion access, the power of collective action and their desire to resist a system they worry will strip abortion access in Kentucky.

“Any gender that finds themselves needing an abortion should be able to get one without the government regulating that,” said protester Sam Brenzel, who made her own signs for the occasion including one reading “my uterus, my rules.”

With only four days until the Kentucky Derby, Louisville’s downtown was buzzing with tourists as protesters stopped traffic to march through the streets. Demonstrators walked to the riverside, past the Fest-a-Ville at  Waterfront Park and then blocked traffic on Main Street while marching past a bar district popular with out-of-town visitors.

Many carried signs with images of wombs and coat hangers saying “We will not go back,” referring to the unsafe abortion practices that were prevalent before the landmark 1973 decision, which guaranteed access to abortion. One woman simply held a wire coat hanger aloft as she marched.

The Party for Socialism and Liberation organized Wednesday’s event in Louisville in conjunction with rallies held across the country over the last two days, including in Indianapolis, New York City and Minneapolis

“The situation is dire,” said Erika Sommer, a member of the Party for Socialism and Liberation. “People with uteruses in Kentucky are not looking forward to having a situation where abortion is going to be essentially illegal, not just in Kentucky but in nearly all of the surrounding states.”

Sommer laid blame on both major political parties, but singled out Democrats for failing to codify abortion rights into federal law while controlling both Congress and the White House.

“It’s understandable for people to feel sort of hopeless in this time, because for so long so many of us have put our hopes into people that have let us down,” she said.

Kentucky Abortion laws

Kentucky is one of 13 statesthat would ban abortion immediately if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe. That’s because of a so-called “trigger law” the state legislature passed back in 2019.

Jackie McGranahan, a policy strategist with the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky,  said an abortion ban in the state would have the greatest impacts on people who can’t afford to travel to other states for the procedure.

“For lower-income Kentuckians, or people who are under 18, this becomes very imperative and extremely dangerous because access to abortion becomes almost impossible,” McGranahan said.

Tennessee and Missouri have similar trigger laws, while Indiana, Ohio and West Virginia are poised to restrict abortion access even further, depending on the high court’s ruling. 

This year Kentucky’s Republican-controlled legislature passed House Bill 3, which bans abortions after 15 weeks, restricts abortion medication and places added restrictions on minors seeking abortions.

The bill became law on April 13 after the legislature voted to override Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s veto. A federal judge has issued a restraining order blocking it from taking effect following a lawsuit from Planned Parenthood — one of two abortion providers in the state.

But for the moment, abortions remain legal in Kentucky. There are only two providers in Kentucky. Both are in Louisville.

No exceptions

Neither House Bill 3, nor Kentucky’s trigger law make exceptions for rape or incest.

That’s especially egregious to protester Summer Dickerson, who runs a ministry for human trafficking survivors called Women of the Well.

Dickerson said she is a survivor of human trafficking and had an abortion after she was raped. Had she taken the pregnancy to term, Dickerson worried the child would have been sold into trafficking.

“My child would have been abused and sold,” Dickerson said. “And so in my mind I was protecting my child.”

Ryan Van Velzer is the Kentucky Public Radio Managing Editor. Email Ryan at rvanvelzer@lpm.org.