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'I'm scared’: Kansas City women fear erosion of civil rights after Roe is overturned

A crowd of people hold signs and shout. Some are raising their fist. The signs indicate they are abortion-rights activists.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Members of the crowd chant during a rally at the Jackson County Courthouse in Kansas City on Tuesday where protesters gathered to decry the leaked Supreme Court draft opinion indicating the landmark Roe v. Wade decision will be overturned.

The U.S. Supreme Court appears ready to strike down abortion protections. Kansas City residents who rallied in front of the Jackson County Courthouse Tuesday worry more severe legislation could follow.

A crowd of around 200 people in front of the Jackson County Courthouse joined thousands of others around the country Tuesday protesting a leaked draft opinion by the U.S. Supreme Court indicating the landmark Roe v. Wade decision will be overturned.

Kansas native Ashanti Spears addressed the protesters, who alternated between chanting slogans and listening to different speakers. She said she fears overturning Roe v. Wade is only the beginning.

“It’s not just because of the consequences that it could have now, but upcoming votes in different legal precedents that could be overturned,” she says.

She fears lawmakers could push for more draconian measures if Roe v. Wade is overturned. She was concerned that the rights of other marginalized communities, including dark-skinned people like her, could be targeted.

“I’m afraid,” Spears says. “It’s not just about abortion rights. It’s about human rights. It’s about civil rights.”

The draft opinion from the Supreme Court, obtained and published by Politico, set off a firestorm of reactions Tuesday from both sides of the abortion debate. The document indicates that conservative justices on the court will vote to overturn the 1973 landmark ruling that the U.S. Constitution protects a woman’s right to have an abortion.

Parkville resident Denise Childers says she was stunned when she heard about the leaked document Monday night.

“I thought, ‘This is baloney,’” she said. “Is this really happening?”

Childers’ 50-year-old daughter immediately called her, crying, asking if her rights don’t count. That propelled her to join Tuesday’s rally.

Childers says she knows the document is not a final vote on the case but also says she understands that Roe v. Wade will likely be overturned.

“Like President Biden said, this goes beyond the right to get an abortion,” Childers says. “It goes into all your rights to choose.”

A crowd of about 200 people gather. They are holding signs and listening to a speaker in front of the Jackson County Courthouse.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Around 200 people gathered in front of the Jackson County Courthouse on Tuesday chanting slogans and urging the crowd to vote and continue fighting if the federal protection is eventually overturned.

Anti-abortion advocates cautiously optimistic

While many anti-abortion activists applauded the draft opinion, many expressed a cautious optimism.

Reached by phone ahead of the rally, Bishop James Johnston of the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese said it’s too early to celebrate the leaked information as a victory for the pro-life movement.

“It just underscores the importance and the urgency of this whole issue, how significant it is for individuals, communities, families, as well as our nation,” he said.

Johnston says even if the Supreme Court does overturn Roe v. Wade, anti-abortion advocates will still have work to do.

“No matter what happens when this final decision comes, the whole question of abortion is not gonna go away,” he says. “It'll simply go to the states and and their citizens and their elected officials.”

Missouri Right to Life wrote on their website they echo a statement issued by Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch who said, “We will let the Supreme Court speak for itself and wait for the Court’s official opinion.”

Missouri is one of thirteen states that has a trigger law banning abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned. The Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis is the only remaining abortion provider in Missouri.

Abortion would still be legal in Kansas if Roe v. Wade is overturned. The state has just two remaining clinics that provide abortion services — in Wichita and Overland Park. But Kansans will be voting on an amendment in August that would give lawmakers the power to regulate abortion.

At Tuesday’s rally, many speakers urged the crowd to vote in that upcoming Kansas election.

“Our rights are under attack. We don’t need allies. We need co-conspirators. We need to keep showing up and doing this work,” Spears said. ”This is not a game.”

As KCUR’s general assignment reporter and visual journalist, I bring our audience inside the daily stories that matter most to the people of the Kansas City metro, showing how and why events affect residents. Through my photography, I seek to ensure our diverse community sees itself represented in our coverage. Email me at carlos@kcur.org.
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