Chants of “My body, my choice!” could be heard up and down Main Avenue on Sunday as activists marched from the Durango & Silverton Railroad Depot to Buckley Park in a peaceful demonstration that advocated for women’s reproductive rights.
The event was organized by Indivisible Durango, the local chapter of the national Indivisible group with more than 5,800 groups across the country.
More than 250 people attended the women’s march, with Indivisible Durango organizer Karen Pontius estimating that about 400 people showed up to join the demonstration in the park.
The northbound lane of Main Avenue was blocked off by city staff members to facilitate the event, and Durango police escorted the procession, with one vehicle driving ahead of marchers and another trailing behind.
The Durango Women’s March followed similar marches held Saturday for women’s reproductive rights that unfolded in cities across the nation. The Durango demonstration amassed at Buckley Park, where four speakers shared their personal stories and perspectives about a woman’s right to choose whether to have an abortion.
Several protesters carried signs referencing a restrictive Texas abortion law that went into effect Sept. 1.
Last year, Colorado voters rejected Proposition 15, a bill that if enacted would have banned abortion procedures in pregnancies over 22 weeks in most circumstances.
The speakers were Laurie Meininger, Debbie Myers, Lainey Severson and a woman who introduced herself simply as “E.” Teal Lehto, who emceed the event, also spoke briefly.
Meininger, who serves as the president of the nonprofit, nonpartisan League of Women Voters of La Plata County, said in her speech that she was just nearing 16 years old in 1973 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution protects a woman’s choice to have an abortion “without excessive government intervention.”
She said that freedoms hinge on women’s ability to make choices and that society benefits when women have the right to be in charge of their own bodies.
“When women have access to family planning in whatever form it is that they choose, they go on to run countries and start businesses,” Meininger said. “Their daughters stay in school. The trajectory of their lives, their communities, their nation changes because they have control over their own lives and their own bodies.
“... Yet, here we are again,” Meininger said.
Meininger said more abortion laws have been passed in 2021 than in any previous year since 1973, which elicited boos from the crowd.
“I think we gathered here would all agree: Bodily autonomy is a personal right,” she said. “The League of Women Voters believe that every person has the right to access and privacy with their health decisions, including their reproductive decisions.”
Meininger holds a master’s degree in social work and public administration. Her last assignment was from the U.S. Department of State in which she was the acting ambassador for the U.S. Embassy in Freetown, Sierra Leone.
Meininger has also served as the executive director of the Shanta Foundation based in Durango, which works to develop underserved villages in Myanmar to alleviate poverty. She has led multicultural teams across the world, including in Iraq, Latin America and Micronesia.
Meininger encouraged attendees to use their vote to shape the future into one that is inclusive of women’s right to choice and bodily autonomy. She said the impact people can make individually multiplies by the number of people whose lives are touched by the activists in attendance and said they need to spread their message beyond the confines of Buckley Park.
Myers, a five-year member of Indivisible Durango and Planned Parenthood, and a women’s health nurse practitioner of 30 years, shared her personal story of a friend who needed an abortion at the age of 21, but who lived in Louisiana where abortion was illegal in 1971.
“She was on birth control pills, she was going through a very stressful time in her life, and she forgot some pills,” Myers said. “Who’s ever done that before?”
One day, Myers’ friend began experiencing cramps and visited the emergency room to determine if she was pregnant. Her test was negative, but sometime later, Myers said, her period never started. So she went to a gynecologist who informed her she was pregnant after all.
“My friend, knowing that she was not in a financial situation or a life situation that would have been a responsible place to raise a child, decided that she needed to get an abortion,” Myers said.
The friend asked other friends for advice or references of where to get an abortion in Louisiana. Eventually, she started talking to sex workers about where and how to get it done.
“Fortunately, this story did have a good ending,” Myers said.
Myers’ friend was able to have a safe abortion, unlike others who had to resort to “back-alley abortions,” she said. She elaborated, referencing one activist’s sign featuring a coat hanger.
“For those of you who are younger who might have seen a poster with a hanger ... women were so desperate that they actually used a coat hanger to try to get a baby, to try to get a fetus out, to try to have an abortion,” Myers said. “And they died trying because they hemorrhaged.”
Severson, a 2016 Fort Lewis College graduate who works in event coordination, shared her story of a stalker who threatened her physical safety and who she said could still threaten her safety and her life if he were to return to Durango.
Severson said she had to get a restraining order against the individual and that if he were to show up again to pursue her and she ended up pregnant, she wouldn’t hesitate to go out-of-state or even out-of-country to have an abortion performed, if the circumstances necessitated it.
Severson said reproductive rights are not just for women, but for men also, and that the issue of reproductive rights also affects nonbinary communities. She also explained how Planned Parenthood, which is known for providing access to abortions and has repeatedly come under criticism by opponents of abortion, facilitates many more services for both women and men who have nothing to do with abortion procedures, such as cancer screenings, testing for sexually transmitted diseases and contraception.
“I am sick of protesting this stuff, I’m sick of standing up here talking about this,” Severson said. “It’s our body, our choice, and these people that are making these decisions are saying, ‘Oh, it’s my body, my choice, I’m not going to wear masks, I’m not going to get vaccinated.’”
Severson continued to illustrate the apparent irony of abortion opponents who use similar “pro-choice” arguments to justify foregoing COVID-19 vaccinations and said that people can’t “have it both ways,” and that as soon as one takes another’s rights away, they are signing up to have their own rights taken away, too.
Lehto, the event emcee, announced that next weekend another demonstration is planned, Indigenous People’s Day of Rage, which will kick off with a giveaway event at 10 a.m. Sunday at the Durango Transit Center that will transition into a march at 10:30 a.m.