Nearly 50 years ago, USF alum Joan Zacharias remembers celebrating the 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, which set the precedent that states couldn’t pass legislation that infringed on a person’s right to an abortion.
In the same year, then 15-year-old Zacharias was confronted with the decision of whether to receive the operation herself. Hailing from a small town in Ohio, she feared her teenage pregnancy would hold her back from exploring the world and reaching her full potential.
“An abortion saved my life,” Zacharias said. “When I was 15, I got pregnant and it was the year that abortion became legal, and that was very lucky for me because I was able to terminate the pregnancy early and get on with my life.
“If I had not been able to get an abortion when I was 15, I would still be living in a small town in Ohio. I never would have been to college and made a life for myself.”
On Friday morning, the nation woke up to the news that the Supreme Court had overturned the decision in a 5-4 ruling, ending the federal protection of abortion rights.
Now, five decades later, Zacharias joined USF’s Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) chapter and over 100 other people during a Saturday protest near the corner of North 56th Street and East Fowler Avenue to march and fight to protect the same right she said saved her life.
Guest speakers started airing their frustrations and passion to combat the overturned decision beginning at 4:30 p.m. Everyone in the crowd reinforced the sentiments by cheering and waving their signs, which were welcomed with honks of support from oncoming traffic.
Before marching the streets, the protestors rehearsed chants that commended elected officials and the Supreme Court Justices who let the protection be retracted and would amplify their assembly for the next two hours.
Chrisley Carpio, a lead SDS organizer who organized the gathering, said this is a war her organization has been fighting since last year. Between Texas and Florida passing and designing anti-abortion laws, the club has been on high alert waiting to protest another blow to reproductive rights, according to Carpio.
“It’s been extremely demoralizing,” she said. “The movement is not going back to where it was over 50 years ago, we’re just not going to let it happen. [The Supreme Court] doesn’t represent the youth who are speaking out against these bills, they don’t represent the women, who are more than half the population.”
Friday morning’s news left junior business advertising major Delaney Dean in tears understanding the health compromise the decision could pose on people with uteruses across the nation. She said it’s especially heartbreaking to see gun safety laws intended to protect children in schools be rejected, while a 50-year-old landmark decision was proudly overturned.
“It was really big in the news a couple of weeks ago, and then it stopped getting talked about so it really came out of nowhere,” Dean said. “It’s honestly just helpless. I definitely cried and I saw a bunch of my friends’ stories that they were also super impacted by it.
“Then it also came at the same point as all of those gun laws were just not passed, so it was really hurtful that guns have their rights but I don’t.”
Although she’s going to continue marching in protest, Zacharias is pessimistic that the Supreme Court is going to stop overturning landmark decisions. She said that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ opinion on the recent ruling, which expressed intent to review cases involving same-sex marriage, foreshadows a dark future.
“I think that a lot of us are feeling scared, especially because we were out marching for this back in the day and here we are again,” Zacharias said. “I didn’t know that they could take rights away from us like this. I don’t think they’re done. They’re not done. They said they’re not done.”
Carpio said efforts to support reproductive rights need to go beyond marching. She said it’s important to continue being an activist in the community and identify candidates that are truly representative of the people.
Considering this is her second go-around protesting for the right to an abortion, Zacharias said the recent decision should be a call to action for the next generation to get out and fight for their freedoms. She said the movement will demand support from everyone, even those who aren’t directly impacted by the change.
“The next generation is going to have to pick up the banner and lead on. But I’m here today for solidarity and so is my husband,” she said. “We’re not going back. You heard the mood of the people today and we’re not going back. We’re going forward, then we’re going to win.”