The Idaho Capitol was the scene of emotional protests Tuesday night, with groups clashing over the Supreme Court’s recent overturning of Roe v. Wade.
Local organizations opposed to abortion rights planned an event to “celebrate a new era in America.” But when more people showed up to protest the event than to attend it, tensions escalated, and two people were arrested by the end of the night.
The Boise event kicked off at 6:30 p.m. with a gospel band. Its musicians stood on the Statehouse steps, dressed as if for church, and sung Christian worship songs, their voices blaring through loudspeakers.
Supporters gathered below them on the right-hand side of the building, but the music was nearly drowned out by the sounds of chanting. A swarm of abortion rights protesters with painted bodies and handmade signs crowded together on the other side.
“Not your body, not your choice,” they shouted. “Two-four-six-eight, separate the church and state.”
Rebeca Castro, 29, ignored the chants. She had driven in from Fruitland and said she was determined to celebrate.
“I’m hoping Jesus does something tonight, like shake their lives,” Castro said. “Maybe they’ll get touched by the Holy Spirit tonight.”
She threw her hands up, smiling and dancing to the gospel music. She said she had prayed for the end of legal abortion her whole life and cried when she heard the Supreme Court decision.
“I was so excited I burst into tears, because I know of the hundreds and hundreds of babies being killed,” Castro said.
Law enforcement officers stood between the two sides and lined the steps of the Capitol to prevent anyone from approaching the line of women waiting to speak. Members of the right-wing Proud Boys and Idaho Liberty Dogs were on the anti-abortion rights side, many of them holding firearms.
Anti-abortion speakers discuss Supreme Court decision
Among the group celebrating the end of constitutionally protected abortion rights on the federal level were members of Stanton Healthcare, an anti-abortion pregnancy care center; Idaho for Life; Students for Life; and U.S. Rep. Russ Fulcher, R-Idaho.
When the main speaker, Stanton Healthcare CEO Brandi Swindell, finally took the podium to address the crowd, her words were angry, telling protesters they “couldn’t stop” the movement. She used words like “baby killers,” “forces of evil” and “slaves of sin” when speaking about abortion rights supporters.
“We are not afraid,” Swindell said. “We are not intimidated. We are born for this moment.”
The crowd shouted louder. People jumped on the Capitol bell and began ringing it. Swindell struggled to be heard.
“Every time the bell rings, you know what happens?” she asked the protesters. “A baby gets delivered.”
Abortion rights protesters arrested
Altercations between attendees, protesters and law enforcement resulted in two arrests.
Most of the attendees celebrating the end of Roe v. Wade, many of whom were seniors or parents with young children, avoided the protest line throughout the night. Members of the Idaho Liberty Dogs were much more willing to engage with the other side. They gathered near the protest line, some even crossing it.
Two women, including Cin Alfonso, co-founder of the Idaho Liberty Dogs, made their way to the protest side and sat in front of the bell to try to prevent further ringing. The women pulled out phones to take video of the speeches, but protesters quickly surrounded them with signs so they couldn’t see.
Arguing eventually escalated to pushing from both sides, and police approached to try to keep the protesters back.
Video shows Alfonso standing up to argue with protester Jessica Kumple, 28. Kumple pushes her and Alfonso tries to lunge for Kumple, but is held back by a police officer. Kumple was arrested and charged with disturbing the peace; Alfonso was not arrested.
Another protester, Avalon Hardy, 34, was arrested during the event for alleged battery of a law enforcement officer.
Idaho State Police made both arrests. The agency denied the Idaho Statesman’s request for body camera footage of the arrests, saying they were part of an ongoing or pending investigation.
Abortion rights protesters not deterred by arrests
When the women were arrested, the signs they had been waving fell to the ground, where they were picked up by Samm DeVore.
DeVore, a 31-year-old mother of four, said the issue of abortion hits close to home. She said she had an abortion for an ectopic pregnancy, which is when a fertilized egg grows outside of the womb. It’s a dangerous condition that often becomes life-threatening. A doctor at Saint Alphonsus performed the procedure, she said.
“Abortion saved my life,” DeVore said. “If I would have carried it to term, it would have killed me.”
Idaho’s trigger law, which will go into effect in August and ban almost all abortions, allows for exceptions when the pregnancy puts the woman’s life at risk.
Nonetheless, Tuesday’s event and protest “terrified her,” DeVore said, especially with all of the guns that were being carried, but she wasn’t willing to leave.
“It’s our responsibility to make sure our children have rights,” DeVore said.