Article updated at 7:20 p.m. Saturday, June 4:
Hundreds of community members and representatives of local organizations rallied at South Park on Saturday, urging Kansans to oppose a constitutional amendment that would remove legal protections of abortion in Kansas.
The crowd unified its energy, chanting sentiments such as “Bans off our bodies” and “My body, my choice.”
Pat Willer, Susan Laubsch and Amii Castle organized the event to encourage people to vote “no” to the “Value Them Both” amendment on the Aug. 2 ballot, which if passed would clear a path for the Kansas Legislature to ban all abortions in the state of Kansas, even if someone’s life is endangered or the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest.
Willer, who is chair of the Douglas County Democratic Party, said the purpose of this event was to draw attention to a centralized goal.
“Our message is very focused. It’s about stopping this terribly extremist bill because it affects all of us,” Willer said.
Ximena Ibarra-Quintana, an incoming senior at KU, attended the event with friends. Ibarra-Quintana is involved in an organization called URGE (Unite for Reproductive & Gender Equity), which focuses on reproductive justice for young Black and Brown people, and wanted to stand in solidarity.
“I’m just here to support the folks that organized the rally and fight against this amendment coming in August. It’s going to take all of us,” Ibarra-Quintana said.
Those in attendance heard from a range of speakers, all of whom have participated in community activism. Organizers praised the number of young people who have stepped up as leaders. Here is the full list of speakers:
• Alina Matejkowski, incoming junior at KU and volunteer at the Dole Institute of Politics
• Carol Cadue-Blackwood, Lawrence school board member and enrolled member of the Kickapoo Nation
• Amber Sellers, a Lawrence City Commissioner involved in the League of Women Voters of Lawrence-Douglas County and the NAACP
• Amii Castle, faculty adviser to the ACLU of KU and board member of the ACLU of Kansas
• Xayden, incoming sophomore at Lawrence High School
• Melinda Lavon, chair of Vote No Kansas
• Kenna, a recent Lawrence High School graduate who participated in her school’s recent walkout for abortion rights and is an incoming freshman at KU
• Arabella, incoming sophomore at Lawrence High School and the 2022 Kansas Youth of the Year award recipient
• Rev. Peter Luckey, United Church of Christ pastor and former senior minister of Plymouth Church in Lawrence
The leaked opinion from the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health case indicates the majority of the United States Supreme Court intends on overturning Roe v. Wade, which would declare there is no federal constitutional right to abortion care. In 2019, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled a right to abortion, so even if Roe v. Wade was ever overturned, Kansans would still be protected.
Castle explained how the “Value Them Both” amendment is now a threat to that right and causes direct harm to anyone who can become pregnant, including women, transgender men and nonbinary individuals.
Because deciding to seek abortion services is tough enough as it is, Laubsch said she wants everyone who seeks abortion services to receive unconditional love and support.
“Having an abortion is a hard decision. No one wakes up and wants go through that, but we should have that option if it’s needed,” Laubsch said.
Sellers said although access to safe and legal abortions is the immediate issue at hand, amendments like the one on the Aug. 2 ballot threaten equitable health care for everyone. Sellers also highlighted that the efforts of Black and Brown women in this movement have long been overshadowed and called for the centering of their voices.
“The tip of the iceberg is abortion rights, but don’t be fooled by what’s on the surface. By voting no, you are giving rise to a reproductive justice movement, and our country has some reckoning to do,” Sellers said during her speech.
Throughout the rally, volunteers moved through the crowd with voting information, ensuring people were registered to vote. Event sponsors also set up tents and tables where they provided resources, such as informational flyers and merch. One sponsor, Kansas Abortion Fund, shared that the organization provides financial support to people who need assistance in Kansas.
Other event sponsors included the Douglas County Democrats, ACLU of KU, Planned Parenthood Great Plains, League of Women Voters of Lawrence-Douglas County, Bloom Midwifery and Lactation, Vote No Kansas, Lawrence DSA, and Kansas Youth Power Coalition.
There was brief controversy at the beginning of the event. A group of counterprotesters arrived around 10 minutes after the start, holding signs, and people in the crowd booed and told them to leave.
During a speech, one counterprotester walked toward the front and stood facing the crowd with a sign and later playing audio out loud from his phone. Alana Winner, resident of Lawrence, quickly took her dog and sat directly in front of him. She was one of three or four people to sit or stand in his way, blocking his sign.
“Him coming into a safe space with that sign just angered me. Abortion should be a woman’s choice,” Winner said.
Lawrence police shortly told the group of counterprotesters they needed to leave as Vote No organizers had a city permit to use the park. The group then stationed themselves on a nearby sidewalk facing the street for the remainder of the event.
Once the speakers concluded, those in attendance marched from the area by the gazebo up to 11th and Massachusetts Street, crossed the street, and looped back to the start. Organizers planned on the march going through Massachusetts Street, but Laubsch said a threat of violence via a Facebook post caused them to shorten the route for everyone’s safety.
Police were aware of the threat, but no physical acts of violence ensued, and the event remained peaceful.
Voters will decide on the amendment in the Aug. 2 election. You must be registered to vote by Tuesday, July 12. You can quickly make sure you’re registered by visiting KSVotes.org.
Video by Jack Ritter:
More photos by Christina Craig and August Rudisell