When Planned Parenthood Community Organizer Mariam Shah mentioned the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, a wave of boos swept over the crowd in front of the San Luis Obispo County Courthouse Friday evening.
The roughly 300 people assembled were there following the news that day of the court’s final decision on the landmark case, which came weeks after a draft opinion was leaked indicating an end to the constitutional right to abortion.
“I think we really just felt that people would need a space to breathe, or be angry, or share stories,” Shah said during her opening comments at the rally Friday. “Please feel free to do all of the above.”
Planned Parenthood Central Coast Action Fund hosted the vigil Friday evening as similar vigils were held in other locations around the United States.
“I wanted to be here and support my fellow women and just, I don’t know, drive forward the message,” Cal Poly student Jenna Eissmann told The Tribune at the vigil. “This is ridiculous.”
In front of a sea of signs and protesters at the steps of the courthouse, San Luis Obispo Mayor Erica Stewart opened the evening’s speeches.
“I’m not here as mayor, even though I’m very proud to be in that role,” Stewart said. “I’m here to speak my own truth today. Like many of you, I opened the news today and felt like I had been punched in the stomach.”
Stewart went on to remind the audience that their greatest “superpower” is hope and to exercise their right to vote in the coming months.
Practicing abortion surgeon Dr. Susan Robinson also spoke during the rally, sharing her own experiences performing late-term abortions and forewarning the audience of the precedent the Supreme Court’s decision sets.
“Don’t think this court is going to stop with Roe,” Robinson said. “This morning Clarence Thomas said that the court has a duty to correct the errors of the decisions based on the Fourteenth Amendment, which established the right to contraception.”
Planned Parenthood Generation Action President Ben Vargas spoke on his experience volunteering with the organization for the past seven years and urged those in attendance to give back to pro-choice non-profits.
“My mom the other day asked me, ‘Why are you so invested in this fight?’” Vargas said during his speech. “I told her, ‘This is the bare minimum.’”
The final speakers included Director of Operations for the Gala Pride Center Serrin Ruggles, community member Quinn Brady and Women’s March of San Luis Obispo Co-founders Andrea Chmelik and Dawn Addis.
Chmelik urged the crowd to not become disheartened by Friday’s announcement.
“Absurd is the Supreme Court decision today, not your hope,” Chmelik said.
Addis, who is running to represent the Central Coast on the California State Assembly, encouraged the crowd to vote in the November election as a way to make change.
“You need to find champions for abortion care,” she said. “Not all politicians are the same.”
The rally began dispersing around 6:45 p.m. with no march planned for after (unlike the rally that took place in May after the initial opinion was leaked).
During her final comments, Addis asked the audience to take the evening to reflect on the day’s events.
“I just want everyone to get home safely, please do not engage with any counter-protesters,” Addis said. “The vocal minority has had its day — its day is done.”