YOUNGSTOWN – Dr. Alexis Smith choked back tears as she shared her abortion experience with several hundred people at a Bans Off Our Bodies rally Saturday on the steps of the Mahoning County Courthouse.
She was in medical school, already committed to $ 200,000 in education loans co-signed by her parents, when the relationship she was in ended. She then discovered her birth control had failed and she was pregnant.
“If I gave birth, I’d have to quit school, and I’d never realize my dream of becoming a physician,” Smith said. “I couldn’t pay the loans back (without a medical degree). My parents didn’t have the money either. Can I can honestly say it was the right thing for me to do, and I was thankful I could make that choice on my own. There are other stories like mine. It’s not black and white. Everyone is different. ”
Now a mother, Smith added, “Giving birth is not easy, sometimes deadly and leads to lasting changes. It’s not for everyone and should not be forced. ”
Saturday’s rally was organized by the Steel Valley Reproductive Justice Coalition after a Supreme Court draft opinion leaked earlier this month indicating a majority of justices were willing to overturn the court’s 1973 decision on Roe v. Wade, which established federal protections for abortion as part of a right to privacy.
In the draft opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito, he argues that the court’s ruling on Roe v. Wade was “egregiously wrong from the start. Its reasoning was exceptionally weak, and the decision has had damaging consequences. ”
Those at Saturday’s rally argued the consequences will be more damaging if the decision is overturned.
No opposition protesters showed up at Saturday’s event. Sally Perunko, president of Mahoning County Right to Life, said the organization has decided not to organize its own event at this time.
“It may just encourage an argument, a fight,” Perunko said. “That’s not what we want… Our big thing is to pray, pray for those people and for a peaceful end to this.”
While she is not happy about about the way the draft proposal became public, Perunko said, “We’re excited about that. We’ve been trying for years to get this passed. We believe that truly is a life, and we want to protect it. All life is precious and created by God. ”
Mahoning County Right to Life Vice President Don Priester agreed, saying if Roe v. Wade is overturned, “It returns the issue to the states, where it should have been and should have stayed there.”
Elizabeth Nalepa of the League of Women Voters urged attendees to vote in every election and to support candidates who support body autonomy.
“Vote and organize like your life depends on it, because it does,” she said.
Mandy Fehlbaum of the Steel Valley Reproductive Justice Coalition said those on the opposing side of the abortion debate have been more effective at lobbying legislators.
“We haven’t done a good job at holding our politically elected representatives to the same standard they have,” Fehlbaum said.
At the rally, Megan Arroyo of Youngstown described herself as a proud Puerto Rican woman and a single mother with 11-year-old twins.
“Becoming a parent made me more fervently pro-choice than I was before having children,” Arroyo said.
She has no regrets about her choice, but she questioned forcing women to carry a baby to term in a country that doesn’t provide universal health care, in a country where about 700 women die annually while giving birth and where economic and childcare inequalities make it difficult for many parents to raise their children.
“I’m terrified for my daughter and every other person in this country that still owns a functioning uterus,” Arroyo said. “You can’t take the organs of a dead body to save someone’s life without consent. Women in this country are about to have less rights than a dead body. ”
State Rep. Michele Lepore-Hagan, D-Youngstown, urged attendees to press their representatives to pass the Reproductive Freedom Act, an amendment to the state constitution that she is co-sponsoring.
After the rally, Christine Davis of Kinsman called it “a scary time for women” but was encouraged by the turnout, which was about 350 strong.
“I’m not alone,” Davis said. “I learned there is a community here in Trumbull and Mahoning counties. I learned something from every speaker. It’s good to get a different perspective, and it’s good for us to congregate. It only makes us stronger. ”