Youngstown march for women’s rights

Protestors chanted and held signs as part of a demonstration for women's rights.

By C. Aileen Blaine

On Oct. 2, several hundred individuals of all genders, ethnicities and ages carried colorful signs and wore T-shirts with phrases such as “Women’s rights = human rights” and “Don’t tread on my womb.” The group marched down Wick Avenue in protest of diminishing women’s reproductive rights. 

The demonstration was a part of the Women’s March campaign, a nationwide organization advocating for social topics such as reproductive, LGBTQ, civil, disability and immigrant rights and more. The Oct. 2 marches took place in major cities such as Washington, Seattle, Chicago, Houston and nearby communities such as Akron. 

Led by Youngstown State University sociology professor Amanda Fehlbaum, Youngstown marchers wore masks despite the heat as they trekked down the avenue. They held signs high, chanting “You say no choice, we say pro-choice” and other phrases. The group came to a halt at the foot of the Mahoning County courthouse, where a lineup of speakers waited. These included YSU mathematics professor Alicia Prieto and the Rev. Joseph Boyd of Unitarian Universalist Church of Youngstown.

“I’ve been invited as a member of the community who cares that women have access to health care and have the support of law to govern their own lives, including their own bodies,” Boyd said. “Reproductive health, reproductive freedom and the health of our democracy is at stake.”

The speakers stressed the importance of voting at the local and state level and continuing to speak out against injustices against women and minority groups. Individuals in the crowd expressed their support, too.

“I’m here today because I’m a human, and I deserve human rights, and I think it’s pretty basic,” Krysti Brea, an abortion rights supporter, said. 

Kim Akins, president of progressive women’s group The Salon and an attorney specializing in corporate, criminal and family law, said the march is a way to protect the rights of those who have uteruses and to keep society from regressing to times of antiquated mentalities.

“Where we are in this moment is that the forces of regression want to take us back to a time when women didn’t have the right to choose … where the LGBT community could not choose to be married,” Akins said. “I want to continue to recognize the America that I grew up in … and to make sure that we continue to move forward.”

A group of protestors holding signs for the rights of women.

Since Oct. 2, the Supreme Court has upheld the Texas law that makes abortions extremely difficult to obtain for residents within the state. Ohio abortion laws are trending in a similar pattern as Texas’ in what is called an abortion “trigger” bill proposed by Ohio GOP senators. This means that if the Supreme Court determines the landmark Roe v. Wade case to be unconstitutional, Ohio laws will automatically ban abortions in nearly all cases except when danger to the mother’s life is present. 

The marchers were met with criticism in the form of a small group of counterprotesters standing across the street bearing signs opposing abortion. Few of the individuals wore masks. 

Alisha Brownlee, one of the anti-abortion demonstrators, said she wants abortion rights supporters to consider that “science proves fetal life begins at conception.”

“I know there’s that big statement out there — ‘follow the science,’ ‘trust the science’ — but it’s hard for me to understand how pro-choice people aren’t following the science when it comes to abortions and life starting at conception,” Brownlee said. “Being someone who is very pro-life, I wanted to be here to share that there are other opinions are out there in the U.S.”

Akins said she respects anti-abortion advocates’ right to difference of opinion just as she values her own.

“I respect their right to have a religion that informs them of what they do,” Akins said. “What I want from them is the equal right to decide what my religion informs me, and that both of our religions stay the hell out of government.”