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Reproductive Rights Rally Held on 50th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade
By Brittany Polito, iBerkshires Staff
12:38PM / Monday, January 23, 2023
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More than 50 people stood out at Park Square on Sunday to mark the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

Pittsfield, Mass. — Community members joined nationwide standouts on Sunday to mark 50 years since the now-overturned Roe v. Wade decision secured reproductive rights.  

In a post-Roe society, many fear that all freedoms are at stake. 
Greylock Together co-founder Jessica Dils recounted marching for gender and civil rights with half a million others in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 21, 2017, and said this feels like "an old wound." 
"I don't know how else to call it but being 53, having this all of my life and having constitutional rights taken away, assaulted, disregarded, this is so much more than our reproductive health care and justice and rights," she said. 
"It's really about all of our collective constitutional human rights, and really about dignity and freedom and if we can't take the flag back on this one, what can we?" 
More than 50 people gathered in Park Square for the Berkshire Democratic Brigades "Bigger Than Roe" standout. Participants held signs with slogans such as "my body my choice," "we won't go back," and "we need to talk about the elephant in the womb." 
Virginia O'Leary, who helped organize the event for the Brigades, has been standing up for reproductive rights since 1973, said she won't not stop. 
Though O'Leary was glad to see Sunday's turnout, she is not as happy about how long she has been in the fight. 
"We will not stop.  We all have a right in this country to behave in accordance with our values and our consciences," she said. 
"And I would no more mandate that someone who did not agree with me had to behave in a particular way.  I anticipate and insist on the same respect." 
Marietta Rapetti Cawse, who also helped organize the event, said it is important to recognize the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision and the fact that abortion is still legal in Massachusetts. 
Chair Michael Wise said reproductive rights should not be a matter of a political majority vote. 
"The court was absolutely wrong to send it back but they did," he added. "And so now we have to be sure that it is defended by majority vote." 
Frank Farkas, also of the Berkshire Democratic Brigades, described it as a wedge issue for Republicans that garners a few votes but is against the will of most people in the nation. 
"What hypocritical is that the forces that supported the Supreme Court decision, they say they're concerned about life before birth, what about life after birth?" he said. 
"They seem to be unconcerned about fighting for issues like child care for the children, adequate nutrition, decent schools, for protecting kids against gun violence." 
Attack on Democracy
Dils feels the apparent end of Roe v. Wade is just the beginning of an erosion of humanity, adding that the people assaulting reproductive rights are also attacking other civil rights, such as with the LGBTQ-plus and immigrant populations. 
"It's all in the same soup of people who have and want to maintain power and control over others, and that's just not what democracy is about," she explained 
"As much as we claim to have that democracy, it's something that we can't take for granted." 
Greylock Together co-founder Wendy Penner also asserted that the attack on freedoms goes further than reproductive rights. 
"It's really important that we continue to gather and fight so that we don't lose our freedoms," she said. 
"Our rights are under assault and we can't be naive and I'm just really struck by how [Saturday] was the six-year anniversary of the Women's March, which was a time of great hope, and I hate to think where we would be if we hadn't done all of this work." 
Alisa Costa of Engaged Community Consulting was in the midst of reproductive justice work in New York State 20 years ago. If she was asked then if Roe would be over overturned in the future, she would have said "yes."
She said the right wing has been slowly doing the work to overturn the decision, leading to the events of June 2022. 
"Over the last 20 years, it's been like watching a slow train wreck," Costa added. 
Regardless, she was devastated at the "inevitable collision." 
"I cried out because I know what will come next: a patchwork of laws across the country that would leave women in even more desperate situations, knowing women will die," she said. 
Berkshire NAACP President Dennis Powell said citizens are responsible for everything that is happening in the country and to democracy.  
"We don't take enough care and interest in the vote that we give up, that's why we end up with habitual liars in the house, habitual liars as president," he said. 
"This is on us. We the people are supposed to be directing our government but that's also very difficult to do because unfortunately, we the people are very divided. We don't come along with the same message. We don't stand up and protect those that are considered not having a voice." 
Powell pointed to enslaved people who were considered property and regularly raped by owners, adding that people allowed it to happen because it wasn't happening to them. 
"You use your voice when you use your energy. It's got to be inclusive because as we can see now, look where we're at. We put the power in the Supreme Court to reverse that decision. We did that," he said. 
"We did because we don't pay attention. We don't take the interest in the law. We've got to do more than just stand out like we did today. We need concrete action. The time is now, not yesterday. It's right now and we've got to come together with one common voice otherwise we are disrupting ourselves." 
Domestic and Sexual Violence 
Susan Birns, an Elizabeth Freeman Center board member, highlighted the importance of reproductive rights to survivors of domestic and sexual violence. 
"With the [Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization] decision last June, the Supreme Court handed the decision about whether to limit or protect the legality of abortion back to the states," she said. 
"We're lucky to live in Massachusetts, one of the only 11 states whose Supreme Courts recognize that their state constitutions protect the right to abortion, but millions of other American women now live in states that do not offer this protection and nine states outlaw abortion even in cases of rape and incest." 
Birns challenged audience members to imagine being forced to bear the child of your rapist in the case of incest and the "horror and injustice" of giving birth to an offspring and sibling at the same time. 
She reported that one in four callers to the National Domestic Violence Hotline experience reproductive coercion, which includes forced sex and sabotage of birth control methods. 
One in seven rape survivors becomes pregnant and violence often escalates when their partners are pregnant, Birns added, as the number one cause of death of pregnant women or women who have recently given birth is homicide. 
"Sexual assault and domestic violence are efforts to dominate, humiliate, and control. Survivors report feeling powerless as one of the most common outcomes," she said. "Denying women the right to make their own reproductive choices is a particularly powerful means of exerting control over them and that is what this conservative Supreme Court has done."
Birns also pointed out that the loss of federally protected abortion affects all women but is a serious threat to vulnerable populations with the fewest resources. 
She called for preserving existing reproductive rights, expanding access to these rights that include abortion, contraceptives, and sex education. 
"The war against women including the way against reproductive rights is not a war we intend to lose," Birns concluded. 
Costa said that while abortion care is legal in Massachusetts, it is not easily accessible for all. 
"I want to be perfectly clear, while access to abortion care is legal in our state, it's still not easily accessed by everyone," she said. "There are travel barriers and financial barriers and racial and cultural barriers to overcome ... I urge us to solve the problem for those who struggle the most." 
Christine Bile, who is a mentor of social work students at the College of Saint Rose in Albany, N.Y., and a member of the Rites of Passage and Empowerment Program, said the overturning has instilled fear and anger and a lack of access to fundamental health care for women who are cisgender, gender non-conforming, non-binary, and transgender. 
"A woman's success depends on her overall well-being and ability," she added. "The ability to live without the mental burden that her want and needs for her body and future do not matter. Because they do." 
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