Thousands of abortion rights supporters march to Capitol

People of diverse backgrounds gathered to demand better access to reproductive health care in the state.

A+reproductive+rights+protest+is+held+in+front+of+the+Minnesota+State+Capitol+in+Saint+Paul+on+Sunday%2C+July+17.

Ray Shehadeh

A reproductive rights protest is held in front of the Minnesota State Capitol in Saint Paul on Sunday, July 17.

by Olivia Stevens

Michele Bevis was one of thousands rallying at the state Capitol on Sunday afternoon for increased access to abortion care in Minnesota. She said she came to fight on behalf of her nieces, daughters and granddaughters, in addition to herself.

“I want them to have privacy in their lives,” Bevis said. “It gives me some hope to see all these other people. I’m hoping the politicians are watching and care.”

About 5,000 people marched from St. Paul College to the Capitol to protest the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and listen to speakers express continued support for abortion rights.

Representative Ilhan Omar speaks to a crowd advocating for reproductive rights in front of the Minnesota State Capitol in Saint Paul on Sunday, July 17. (Ray Shehadeh)

“This is a stark reminder that once a right is won, it has to be protected,” U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar said on stage. “I wonder how many of us imagined we would be here again.”

The rally was organized by UnRestrict Minnesota, Planned Parenthood, Gender Justice, ACLU of Minnesota and ERA Minnesota, Jewish Community Action and the Minnesota Coalition for Reproductive Choice. The event attracted people of all ages to protest on the Capitol’s lawn on a hot and humid day to increase access to reproductive health care both within and outside of Minnesota.

UnRestrict Campaign Director Abena Abraham said Black people will be criminalized at an especially high rate in a post-Roe world, and that for her, racial and reproductive justices go hand in hand. According to data from the Minnesota State Department of Health, Black people represented 30% of those who received abortions in Minnesota in 2019.

Abraham said she is optimistic about the future of the abortion rights movement and hopes it will gain more activists of color and LGBTQ+ activists. She said UnRestrict’s strategy to fight abortion restrictions differs from movements before Roe.

“Organizing has changed so dramatically for us in terms of being more inclusive, having different ways of connecting with people,” Abraham said. “Years ago, it focused a lot on the federal level, and I think the work now is a state-based problem. So I think that there’s just more opportunity for people to organize locally with their neighbors and to really teach the next generation what’s happening because this is gonna be a long fight.”

Toward the end of the rally, Minneapolis Ward 2 Council Member Robin Wonsley Worlobah and Ward 10 Council Member Aisha Chughtai announced a campaign to fund abortion in the city, partnering with organizations Our Justice and Pro-Choice Minnesota. At the rally, they called on Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey to invest in making abortion more affordable and accessible in the city budget that is expected to be announced mid-August.

The Council passed a resolution promoting access to reproductive health care, including abortion, on May 12, and Wonsley said now is the time to “materialize that commitment.”

“Every person should have the right to access safe and affordable abortion in a city that prides itself on being a liberal champion,” Wonsley said. “We should want to protect our rights here for our residents but also seek to be a refuge for many working class people who no longer have that right.”

A group of students from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities chapter of Medical Students for Choice sat in the shade, watching the speakers. Brianna Wenande, a student at the University’s Medical School, said the group educates medical students about reproductive health care and its importance.

“We came out today because we are angry,” Wenande said. “We can’t provide equitable, comprehensive health care without being able to provide abortions, and it’s not just going to stop at abortion … These are things that people need, that we need to provide as health care providers.”

Thousands of protesters gathered outside of the Capitol holding signs and wearing T-shirts advocating for reproductive rights. (Ray Shehadeh)

Gov. Tim Walz reaffirmed his support to expand reproductive health care access in Minnesota during his speech, saying he will protect everyone within the state and from other states who seek an abortion. Walz is running for reelection in November and said his campaign opponents support a statewide abortion ban while he opposes restrictions on abortion.

“We will not go quietly off into the night,” Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan said during her speech. “We will march in the thousands to say we will not go backwards and as long as we are in this office … we will fight like hell to protect your rights.”

About a dozen anti-abortion protesters gathered across from the lawn during the rally, holding signs and chanting into a bull horn. Cristian Pascari said abortion is not a reproductive right and that “sexualized culture” is to blame for outrage about the overturn of Roe.

Pro-abortion protesters gathered around the group of anti-abortion protesters, drowning out chants with their own.

Renata Solum, who is pregnant, said she hoped to protect the future rights of her unborn daughter by making her voice heard at the rally.

“We’re having to fight for something that, frankly, we thought we could take for granted, that I wish I hadn’t taken for granted,” Solum said. “Not enough people understand the medical realities that a lot of people face … I guess there’s a foil in their mind for this perfect little baby and they don’t think twice about the life that’s carrying it.”