BELGRADE — Bia Winter, 75, of Mount Vernon, and Jo Josephson, 80, of Temple, chatted as singer Andra Day’s “Rise Up” played over loudspeakers behind them and more than 60 area residents gathered to take a stand for women’s rights and denounce recently adopted anti-abortion laws in Texas they say bring women’s reproductive rights back centuries.

Jo Josephson of Temple attends a rally Saturday for women’s rights in Belgrade. The protest was in response to the Texas abortion law. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“It feels like we’ve been dragged back into the Dark Ages,” said Winter, a veteran civil rights activist. “I wouldn’t have thought we’d still need to have these battles.”

Josephson said women have always gotten abortions, and always will, and laws making them harder, or impossible, to get legally will only mean they wouldn’t be able to have them done safely.

The Belgrade event, organized by three local sisters, Melissa Furbush, Megan Oliver and Holly Hale, was one of several demonstrations in Maine and hundreds across the country.

“We heard about what happened in Texas and decided we wanted to make a stand,” Furbush said. “We wanted to gather with some like-minded people and bring awareness to what’s going on. So people know we’re not going to lie down and let this happen.”

The Texas abortion restrictions recently withstood an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, though President Joe Biden has vowed his administration will look at steps the federal government could take to ensure women in Texas have access to safe and legal abortions.

The Texas law, signed by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott in May, prohibits abortions once medical professionals can detect cardiac activity, usually around six weeks and before many women know they’re pregnant.

It is the strictest law against abortion rights in the United States since the high court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision in 1973.

People wave and cheer Saturday as a passing semitruck blows its horns during rally for women’s rights in Belgrade. The protest was in response to the Texas abortion law. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Signs held up at the Belgrade demonstration, which was on the village green, included “Women’s Rights are Human Rights,” “My body, my choice,” “Protect Women’s Health,” “Why am I still marching for this?” “Pro-choice, Pro-love, Pro-science,” and “Stop the war on women.”

Victoria Alexander of Belgrade, holding a “LIFE is precious” sign, came to the demonstration with two friends from Sidney to demonstrate against abortion and offer a view counter to that supported by the 60 or so people at the event.

“It’s not just all a woman’s body, when a woman becomes pregnant, it’s another life,” Alexander said.  “They don’t have a choice at that point. They don’t have a chance to say “yes, end my life.'”

Alexander said her mother got pregnant at 15, and elected to have her. She said the Texas law does not abolish abortions, allowing them up to six weeks into pregnancy, but doesn’t allow for what she called “late-term abortions that are very horrible.”

“I’m grateful I have my life, to stand up for others that never had that opportunity,” she said while standing alongside Route 27, with long lines of women’s rights demonstrators spread out on either side of her. There appeared to be no conflicts between the two groups.

After taking group shots of participants from the gazebo Saturday, Holly Hale grabs a selfie with other rallygoers in Belgrade. The protest was in response to the Texas abortion law. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Furbush said they anticipated there would be some form of counter-demonstration, but said the Belgrade event wasn’t meant to be about pro-choice or pro-life.

“We’re about women’s rights, I’m not sure there is a counterprotest to that,” she said.

The event drew mostly women, but several men, some kids, and a few dogs also attended.

OTHERS RALLY AS WELL

A Women’s March in support of women’s reproductive rights in Waterville later Saturday was organized by Elizabeth Leonard and Matthew Crane. They planned to gather at the Pleasant Street United Methodist Church and march down Pleasant to Park Street, then to Elm Street for speeches.

Speakers were expected to include Mindy Bergeron-Lawrence, who does a 13-hour solo demonstration in Waterville every summer at the Old Post Office in honor of former Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis’ 13-hour filibuster in 2013 to protect women’s reproductive and abortion rights in that state; Sonja Thomas, professor of women’s and gender studies at Colby College; Mary Dunn, an immigration justice activist; Betsy Sweet, lifelong activist, political organizer, and advocate for social justice; and Mareisa Weil, vice president of development and community engagement at Maine Family Planning.  

“The nature of the Texas law has deeper meaning to our civil rights,” said Leonard. “It’s so much more terrifying than it seems.”  

Leonard, who taught history for nearly 30 years at Colby College, has instructed courses on the Civil War, American women’s history and race. Leonard has also been an activist and organizer with Poor People’s Campaign.  

“Since I have been retired, I’ve been much more active,” said Leonard. “I believe Waterville and the surrounding area is full of people who want to speak up, but don’t think they can organize things.” 

Crane said organizing this event required him to further educate himself on reproductive rights beyond abortion.  

“As a white man, it is my obligation to stand with people whose rights are under attack,” said Crane.

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