PROVIDENCE — Speakers before a large, responsive, mostly peaceful crowd voiced anger and resolve at a rally at the Rhode Island State House Friday night, on the day the U.S. Supreme Court ended 50 years of constitutional protection for abortion, overturning Roe v. Wade in a 5-to-4 decision.
Organized and hosted by the Womxn Project HQ, the Women’s Fund of Rhode Island, and their partners, the gathering at the State House filled the plaza and lasted well past sunset. Approximately 500-600 people attended the rally, according to the Rhode Island State Police.
Jennifer Rourke, a Womxn Project board member, said she is furious at the high court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. She said she is concerned for her son, who is gay, and his hope to be able to marry one day, and said she is also concerned about the potential impact of the court’s decision on her interracial marriage. She is Black, Puerto Rican and white, while her husband is Irish and German.
“We warned you about Roe, y’all are just starting to listen,” Rourke said. “We told y’all they are gonna come for Marriage Equality, they are gonna come for this. And the right for me to love my husband.”
Rourke demanded the R.I. General Assembly reconvene in a special session to take up and pass the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act, and called for Governor Daniel J. McKee to hold off signing the $13.6 billion budget the Assembly just passed until legislators return to the State House and pass the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act.
McKee has said he supported the EACA, which would have allowed Medicaid coverage of abortions in Rhode Island. And Lieutenant Governor Sabina Matos advocated for it. But it wasn’t voted on during the General Assembly session that ended Thursday night. Nor did McKee include it in his budget.
Advocates are calling on @GovDanMcKee to include Medicaid coverage for abortion services in his budget, which he’s supposed to sign next week, by projecting it across the Rhode Island State House amid the U.S. Supreme Court overturning #RoeVWade today. pic.twitter.com/DzuW3YSv0B— Alexa Gagosz (@AlexaGagosz) June 25, 2022
Rhode Island passed the Reproductive Privacy Act in 2019, protecting the right to an abortion in the state. Many Rhode Island politicians and reproductive health advocates say Rhode Island should have done more to protect abortion access.
Some at the State House were wearing collars reminiscent of those worn by the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a champion for women’s rights and reproductive rights. Others were wearing red and black in solidarity with abortion rights. Many expressed disappointment in the US Supreme Court ruling.
“If they can overturn Roe v. Wade, what else can they overturn? Rules about interracial marriage? About gay marriage?” asked Daria-Lyric Montaquila of Providence, wearing a red T-shirt that read “Act Today to Protect Tomorrow.”
“Anything is possible and that’s a little scary.”
The event was mostly peaceful, though a lone counter-protester drew police attention, and a man and a woman were later arrested and charged with disorderly conduct.
Here’s what it was like during the demonstration.
Michael Dami, of North Providence, outside the Rhode Island State House. He told me his first protest was in 2017 during the Women’s March in DC. When asked why he felt compelled to march, “I have a daughter. Why are men older than me making decisions for her and my wife?” pic.twitter.com/e5oidMCcbV— Alexa Gagosz (@AlexaGagosz) June 24, 2022
The State House Plaza is filled as the rally starts to get under way.
“This is not just about access to reproduction rights, they’re after all of us,” the Rev. Dr. Donnie Anderson said.
“SCOTUS do your best, but this is one old queer woman who is going nowhere!”
“We will never stop,” she said, encouraging the crowd in a call and response. “Are you fired up?! Are you ready to go?”
Weayonnoh Nelson-Davies, the director of the @EconProgressRI, said that “five people decided 50 years” of the freedom to choose.— Alexa Gagosz (@AlexaGagosz) June 25, 2022
She is calling for a special session at the Rhode Island State House to pass the EACA.
“We can no longer afford to stand by.” pic.twitter.com/lrmShxJIjD
“Today, I am deeply troubled,” said Weayonnoh Nelson-Davies, the director of the Economic Progress RI, “Rhode Island leaders…. Where is the urgency to respond?”
Dr. Mark Ryan, who works at R.I. Hospital and Brown University, said that Americans lives are “at risk.”— Alexa Gagosz (@AlexaGagosz) June 25, 2022
He said women are more likely to die in the US than Australia when giving birth.
“How many more women have to die before we realize this is a horrible decision?” #RoeVWade pic.twitter.com/v3YQOiaaH4
Dr. Mark Ryan also mentioned that Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo cut Medicare funding twice while she was governor of Rhode Island. “We need a system that does not discriminate against people,” he said, adding that the General Assembly should have passed the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act this session.
Another speaker emphasized, “Abortion rights are human rights. Abortion rights are trans rights. Abortion rights are worker rights.”
Rhode Islanders have gathered in droves here in Providence on the Rhode Island State House plaza and lawn. They are cheering for expanding abortion rights here, but are also expressing their disappointment + anger over #RoeVWade being overturned.— Alexa Gagosz (@AlexaGagosz) June 25, 2022
Stay tuned with @Globe_RI pic.twitter.com/haSes1vjxa
Bella Robinson from COYOTE RI calls the US Supreme Court “full of fascists.”— Alexa Gagosz (@AlexaGagosz) June 25, 2022
She said she is sick of “fake feminists” who “don’t support the choice of all women.”
“It’s my vagina and I have the right to speak to my doctor about it with respect.” pic.twitter.com/EdNXiXw4Ul
Charlotte Peters from the @WomanProjectHQ talking about how overturning #RoeVWade will hurt health clinics that provide more than just abortion services.— Alexa Gagosz (@AlexaGagosz) June 25, 2022
She later said, “In recent years, we’ve seen a wave of anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ legislation in our country.” pic.twitter.com/2cYlhydsof
Live: The The Womxn Project HQ is hosting a US Supreme Court Decision Day Action: Rally and Call to Action at the Rhode Island State House. #RoeVsWadePosted by Carlos R Munoz on Friday, June 24, 2022
The rally had been entirely peaceful until, about 90 minutes into the event, one counter protester shouted. Rhode Island state police asked him to leave.
The bald man in the middle is the one who suddenly began shouting on the state house steps was here the whole time. More than midway through he moved toward the speaker and was immediately surrounded by crowd members. Some say they were punched. #RoeVsWade pic.twitter.com/xqLkgJSy4n— Carlos R. Munoz 📰 (@ReadCarlos) June 25, 2022
At one point, there was a fight and Jennifer Rourke, a Womxn Project board member, was punched in the face.
Rourke did not appear to be injured but was upset.
It wasn’t clear how many people were involved in the incident, Rhode Island State Police Lieutenant Peter Filuminia told the Globe late Friday night, however two counter protesters were arrested on charges of disorderly conduct, one male and one female. They will be held overnight and arraigned Saturday. A Rhode Island state police K-9 unit assisted, Filuminia said.
This article has been updated with additional reporting from the event.
maria caporizzo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her @mariacap. Carlos Muñoz can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him @ReadCarlos and on Instagram @Carlosbrknews. Alexa Gagosz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her @alexagagosz and on Instagram @AlexaGagosz.