Eric Douglas Published

Hundreds Brave Downpours At Abortion Rights Rally In Charleston

We Dissent Abortion Rally 1

Several hundred protesters came together Saturday, filling the Kanawha Boulevard side of the state capitol with chants, personal stories and speeches about abortion rights at the “We Dissent” rally.

The rally was organized by West Virginia FREE, the ACLU of West Virginia, Planned Parenthood, West Virginia NOW, and the Women’s Health Center of West Virginia.

Hannah Davis Abortion Rally

Eric Douglas
West Virginia Public Broadcasting
Hannah Davis came out to the We Dissent rally in support of abortion rights.

Attendees at the rally stood in the rain, carried signs and cheered, but they each had their own reasons for being there. Hannah Davis was there because, she said, abortion is healthcare and necessary.

“When my mom found out she was pregnant with my sister and then found out she had stage two breast cancer, there was serious talk about terminating the pregnancy,” Davis said. “She didn’t have to, but in the event she needed to, and not having access to it, I would have grown up without a mom. That scares me for the future.”

Just two weeks ago, on June 24, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, sending the question of abortion rights back to the states. Twenty six states are expected to implement an outright abortion ban or significantly curtail access to it in the coming weeks. West Virginia has a 19th century law still on the books that makes seeking, or providing, an abortion a felony punishable by between three and 10 years in jail.

That law, originally passed in 1849, well before West Virginia became a state, was never officially repealed by the state legislature. Attorney General Patrick Morrisey issued an opinion saying he felt it was still viable and enforceable, but that he felt it could do with legislative attention to make sure.

Gov. Jim Justice has promised a special session of the legislature to do just that, but in a press briefing Friday, he noted that he was nowhere near calling it because the House of Delegates wasn’t ready to have that discussion.

With the uncertainty surrounding the West Virginia law, the Women’s Health Center of Charleston, the state’s only abortion provider, stopped the procedure immediately upon hearing the Supreme Court’s decision.

Rita Ray Abortion Rally

Eric Douglas
West Virginia Public Broadcasting
Rita Ray offered her personal story during an abortion rights rally in Charleston.

A number of the speakers at the rally told personal stories of facing abortion themselves. One of those was Rita Ray. She had an abortion in 1959, years before it was legalized by Roe. In a quiet voice, she described a back alley abortion and being sent to a hotel room to wait it out.

“I am here today, because I am outraged that the US Supreme Court has taken away a right that women have had for almost 50 years,” she said. “A right to control their own destiny, a right to control their own bodily autonomy. And now states are trying to pass restrictive laws. We’re going back. We’re going back to the god knows what century — hundreds of years and in progress for women.”

Another of the speakers, Jamie Miller, described being raped at 16 years old and discovering she was pregnant. She said she was in despair when she took her pregnancy test in the bathroom at the Town Center Mall in Charleston. But a stranger told her about the Women’s Health Center and gave her the phone number. She credits that stranger with saving her life.

“Any reason for any one’s choice is a valid reason and theirs alone,” she said. “It took me 30 years to say aloud that I had had an abortion. It was like a light had been switched on when I heard Dr. Ford’s testimony during the Kavanaugh hearings and I woke up and I just started talking and telling everybody and I have not shut up. As I stand here today, it literally blows my mind that my 16-year-old self had more bodily autonomy than any of us here today.”

Danielle Walker Abortion Rally

Eric Douglas
West Virginia Public Broadcasting
Del. Danielle Walker, D-Monongalia, closed out the rally with a fiery speech on the importance of abortion rights and getting out the vote to secure those rights.

Del. Danielle Walker, D-Monongalia, addressed the crowd with a fiery speech, detailing her own abortion.

“When I got outside there was some folks out there who felt that we weren’t worthy of health care. And that was someone dressed like Jesus, with a big old cross, just yelling at me,” Walker said. “And I see my baby crying in the backseat holding on to his Tickle Me Elmo. He asked me, ‘Mommy why is Jesus yelling at you?’ And I said, ‘It’s an imposter.’”

Walker also called on the attendees to register to vote and to register five others to vote as well. She brought a number of local candidates for elected office onto the stage and encouraged people to vote for them to make a difference in the fall.

Following the speeches, the protesters marched along Kanawha Boulevard while chanting slogans before dispersing.

No counter protesters were present at the event.

Editor’s Note: Rita Ray is a former executive director at West Virginia Public Broadcasting and still serves on the Friends of WVPB board.