At rally in Montclair after Supreme Court leak: ‘Hell no, Roe won’t go’
Montclair-area residents, activists and leaders — including New Jersey First Lady Tammy Murphy — took to the streets Tuesday after a leaked Supreme Court draft opinion seemed to show a majority of justices are ready to overturn the right to abortion established in Roe v. Wade.
The draft opinion, written by Justice Samuel Alito, was obtained by Politico and published Monday night.
On Tuesday evening, the Planned Parenthood Montclair Center held a “Bans Off Our Bodies” rally in front of its 29 North Fullerton Ave. building — joining a movement of demonstrations and online activity in protest of the draft opinion. A final vote in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, which deals with a 2018 Mississippi law barring abortions after the first 15 weeks of pregnancy, is expected in June or July. The draft opinion would overturn Roe, letting the legality of abortion be decided on a state-by-state basis.
The country is at a crisis moment, Roslyn Rogers Collins, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan New Jersey, said at the rally.
“No matter how much we have been preparing for this time, today is coming as a shock and disappointment,” Collins said. “Today what seemed as almost impossible is almost our reality.”
Collins said she has been working at Planned Parenthood since she was 16 — marching and rallying around threats, defunding, attacks against reproductive healthcare and women's health and more. But never before has she “been so afraid for outpatients and their access to healthcare,” she said.
“We must turn our outrage into action,” Collins said. “We are furious, but we will fight back in New Jersey.”
The news is “literally disgusting, but sadly not a surprise,” Murphy said at the rally.
“We cannot sit this one out because it does not directly impact us,” she said. “While New Jersey proudly moves forward, we must stand up and demand that every American woman has the same freedom that every New Jersey woman has.”
In January, Gov. Phil Murphy signed the Freedom of Reproductive Choice Act, codifying and expanding reproductive rights in New Jersey.
“With this legislation, if Roe v. Wade were overturned, the right to reproductive choice would be protected in New Jersey,” the governor’s office said in a press statement at the time.
The New Jersey Supreme Court has recognized the right to abortion under the state constitution and has said the protection extends beyond the federal constitutional protection, Glenmarie Matthews, a Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive health, said in a Q&A provided by Rutgers. Matthews is also director of the Reproductive Choice Program at New Jersey Medical School.
On Tuesday, the governor addressed the draft opinion during a news conference in Lambertville, saying the court — which saw three seats filled in nominations by then-President Donald Trump — can’t be trusted to protect women’s reproductive rights. An abortion is a decision that should be made between a woman and her doctor, he said.
“Quite frankly, while enraging, this news is hardly surprising,” Murphy said. “This is exactly why we took the step we did earlier this year in enshrining every New Jerseyans full reproductive rights into state law.”
Murphy called on Congress to “immediately pass federal legislation protecting the reproductive rights of all Americans.” And if Congress chooses not to protect reproductive freedom, Americans need to elect a Congress that will, he said.
“If the court takes this awful step, this decision will have no impact on New Jersey state law or the full right to reproductive freedom under our state law,” Murphy said. “Here in New Jersey, instead of hoping for the best, we prepared ourselves for the worst.”
The draft opinion is unacceptable, Mayor Sean Spiller said at the rally.
“There was a time when decisions were made between a patient and a doctor about reproductive freedom, reproductive rights, and certainly reproductive healthcare,” Spiller said. “Now there's an effort to say, well, that's a decision that should be made between you, your doctor and the Supreme Court.”
Rallying and organizing are important, but one of the most important things is to get out and vote, Spiller said.
“We've got to vote for pro-choice officials at all levels of government,” Spiller said. “And we've got to understand that there is a lot on the line in these midterm elections right now.”
Councilman Peter Yacobellis said at the rally that he’s been furious since the document was published, and unable to sleep. His mother gave birth to him when she was 17 years old, and people tried to sway her on both sides of the abortion argument, Yacobellis said.
“She ultimately made the decision to have me, but she made that choice,” he said. “She had that choice.”
Since Senate Republicans refused to conduct hearings for the nomination of former Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court — keeping the seat open in the last year of then-President Barack Obama, and then later confirming Trump nominee Neil Gorsuch — Republicans have been changing the standards and targeting the rights of American people, Yacobellis said.
“And now I have to worry — are they gonna take away my right to marry my fiance?” Yacobellis, Montclair’s first openly gay council member and founder of LGBTQ group Out Montclair, said. “That's what I have to go to bed thinking about because there is no limit to what they're gonna go after.”
While in New Jersey, the right to abortion is guaranteed, “rights without access are meaningless,” Erin Chung, director of external affairs for Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan New Jersey, said at the rally.
“There is much more to do in New Jersey to ensure that everyone, regardless of income, insurance coverage or immigration status can access the care they need to make their own personal decisions about their bodies and their lives,” Chung said.
Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan New Jersey is planning days of action in the coming weeks, Chung said. She asked those in the crowd to volunteer.
“Advocacy isn't for the weak of heart, and it's a marathon, not a sprint,” Chung said. “We could use your voice, your heart and your passion.”
Andrea Jimenez, a fourth-year Rutgers student and member of student group Our Revolution, spoke at the rally about her experience having an abortion in 2019. Jimenez said she was 19 years old and in a toxic, abusive relationship when she found out she was pregnant. A sophomore in college with $120 to her name, she realized she did not want to keep the child, she said.
“I quickly realized that if I kept this child, I would be putting my life into jeopardy and the life of my child and I was not about to do that,” Jimenez said. “I was fortunate enough to have the resources and the access to get an abortion. And I am thankful every day that I made the choices that I did, and I was able to make those choices.”
But not everyone is “as fortunate” as she was, she said. According to the Centers for Disease Control, indigenous women are twice as likely to suffer pregnancy-related deaths as white women. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, in 2020, American Indian and Alaska Native individuals ages 15 to 19 had the highest birth rate of any demographic measured.
And a ban will not stop abortions, Jimenez said.
“It will not stop those who are desperate and in danger from making the choices that are best for themselves,” she said. “You are only stopping safe abortions. And as a result, you will kill thousands of living women.”
At the Montclair Township Council meeting Tuesday night, council members shared their concerns about the opinion.
Seeing the draft opinion was “a gut punch,” Councilwoman Lori Price Abrams said at the meeting. The ban would be a “gross infringement on bodily autonomy and healthcare rights of women.” she said.
“I have a daughter who's 25 years old — we all know lots of people for whom this is gonna be a huge impact,” Price Abrams said. “And I fear that it opens a door to other infringements.”
Women's rights are being destroyed by the Supreme Court justices appointed by Trump, Councilman Bob Russo said at the meeting.
In a statement released Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Mikie Sherill said she was shocked by the Supreme Court’s draft decision and “overturning Roe threatens women’s safety and diminishes their economic future.” Sherill also attended the Tuesday rally in Montclair.
“The majority of Americans stand behind the reproductive rights enshrined in the landmark 1973 case and reversing it goes against both settled law and the will of the people,” Sherill said.
The opinion represents “a tyranny of the minority,” she said.
“The extreme right has attacked our voting rights, women’s rights, and continues work to undermine our system of democratic elections,” Sherill said. “The forthcoming partisan opinion — which includes the votes of three Trump-appointed justices — carries out a decades-long attack on this constitutional right and a rollback of law that has been settled for half a century.”