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Kansas Citians share their own abortion stories at ‘Bans Off Our Bodies’ protest

Celeste Shepherd, and her daughter Addison, came to the rally Saturday. Shepherd, who has had two abortions, said she's been struggling since the Supreme Court draft was leaked.
Bek Shackelford-Nwanganga
KCUR 89.3
Celeste Shepherd and her daughter Addison came to the rally Saturday. Shepherd shared the story of her two abortions, and she said she's been struggling since the Supreme Court draft was leaked.

Hundreds of people attended a rally Saturday as part of a nationwide day of protest against the Supreme Court’s draft opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade.

More than 300 people rallied at Kansas City’s Mill Creek Park and marched around the Plaza on Saturday, joining cities nationwide to protest in support of abortion rights.

The “Bans Off Our Bodies” rallieswere organized by Planned Parenthood in response to a leaked opinion from the U.S. Supreme Court that would overturn Roe v. Wade.

Organizers told the crowd that the reproductive rights movement is not just about women.

“There are plenty of non-binary, trans-masculine, gender expansive, gender liberated people who are absolutely affected by decisions like these, and more than often left out of equitable health care options, leaving us to do a number of things that may or may not be safe for us or our families,” said Imije Ninaz with the Nafasi Center for QTPOC, one of the groups that organized the rally.

Mayor Quinton Lucas attended the rally. He said if Roe v. Wade is overturned, the city will do what it can to protect abortion rights in Kansas City.

“That's working with our public health institutions, it's making sure that we're actually working to reach out with groups like Planned Parenthood and so many others,” said Lucas. “These are conversations we've already started, and it's something that we think is vital to actually public health in Kansas City. So as I think some of our speakers said today, even if Roe was overturned, instituting Missouri's trigger law, that's not the end of us making sure we stand up for the rights of women.”

Hundreds of people attended an abortion rights rally on Saturday, May 14 at Mill Creek Park in Kansas City.
Bek Shackelford-Nwanganga
KCUR 89.3
Hundreds of people attended an abortion rights rally on Saturday, May 14 at Mill Creek Park in Kansas City.

Missouri is one of 13 states that’s passed a “trigger” law, meaning if Roe v. Wade is completely or even partially overturned, abortions would be banned completely unless in the case of a medical emergency.

In Missouri, a medical emergency is defined as a situation in which the pregnant person’s life is in immediate danger, or the delay of an abortion would cause “a serious risk of substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function.”

Saturday’s event provided a space for many to share their own stories of abortion. Poet and author M’Vyonne Payne told the crowd that she learned she was having an ectopic pregnancy after collapsing suddenly in 2018.

Doctors found that Payne was hemorrhaging internally, and she had to decide whether or not to pursue an abortion.

“But I am here, I was saved,” Payne said. “It was my right to be saved. It was my doctor’s right to save my life as I actually flatlined on the operating table.”

Ectopic pregnancies happen when a fertilized egg implants outside of the uterus. They are not viable and oftentimes put the life of the pregnant person at risk.

In February, Missouri lawmakers introduced a bill that would have made it a felony to distribute medications or “devices” to end a pregnancy, even in the case of ectopic pregnancies. After sharp criticism from Democrats, the ectopic pregnancy provision was removed.

The bill passed committee but then died at the end of the 2022 legislative session.

Protesters marched around Country Club Plaza on Saturday, May 14 to protest for abortion rights.
Bek Shackelford-Nwanganga
KCUR 89.3
Protesters marched around Country Club Plaza on Saturday, May 14 to protest for abortion rights.

Payne’s story was especially hard to hear for Celeste Shepherd, who attended the protest with two of her four biological children. Shepherd said she has had two abortions — one of which was an ectopic pregnancy, and the other an unplanned pregnancy when she and her husband were experiencing homelessness.

“Everybody's rights are being taken away,” Shepherd said. “We have the absolute right to say, ‘Hey, this is my body and I want to survive.’ That's bare minimum. Survival's bare minimum.”

Many of Saturday’s speakers emphasized that abortion bans will disproportionately hurt marginalized communities.

“It reflects over and over and over that Black and brown women are constantly at the bottom rung and we are going to be affected the most,” Ninaz said.

Shepherd echoed that message, saying she hasn’t felt OK since the Supreme Court draft came out earlier this month.

“We're gonna see death. We're gonna see suicide. We're probably gonna see babies in dumpsters again,” Shepherd said. “And that terrifies me and pisses me off because if they're so concerned about babies, they wouldn't be pushing this forward. It's not about babies. This is about control, power, rich people getting richer, poor people getting poorer. Who else is gonna fight in their military if they don't keep us down?”

M'Vyonne Payne speaks to rally attendees. Payne shared her story of her ectopic pregnancy.
Bek Shackelford-Nwanganga
KCUR 89.3
M'Vyonne Payne speaks to rally attendees, sharing her story of her ectopic pregnancy.

Voting to protest abortion rights

Justice Gaston, founder of the Reale Justice Network — another of the event’s hosts — urged people in the crowd to vote.

“We can’t talk about Roe v. Wade without talking about voting. It’s our power, we must exercise it,” Gaston said.

In Kansas, the reversal of Roe v. Wade would not immediately outlaw abortion. However, a proposed change to the state’s constitution is on the ballotAugust 2. If passed, it would remove the right to an abortion from the Kansas constitution and give state legislators the authority to pass tighter abortion restrictions.

Organizers worry that the Kansas Legislature, where Republicans control a supermajority in both chambers, would then ban abortion completely.

Over the weekend, reproduction rights supporters began canvassing for a campaign asking Kansas residents to “Vote no” on the anti-abortion constitutional amendment. Kansans for Constitutional Freedom, a bipartisan reproductive rights coalition, said they had reached capacity with over 900 volunteers spread out across Johnson and Sedgwick counties.

If the amendment fails, Kansas would remain one of the few states in the region where abortion remains legal. The state’s clinics have seen an influx of patients seeking abortion services after bans in nearby states like Oklahoma.

The stakes in Kansas feel personal for Kelsey Walker, who couldn’t attend Saturday’s rally but has shown up at several other pro-choice protests in the city.

Walker said she has always been a pro-choice advocate, but in 2017, while living in Kansas, she discovered her baby had osteogenesis imperfecta type II, an often fatal disorder commonly known as brittle bone disease. All of the bones in her daughter’s body were broken.

“And what was more is that if one of her bones would've broken and perforated me, like I could have bled to death,” Walker said. “So unfortunately, her condition was also threatening my life, so my husband and I made the difficult decision to terminate the pregnancy at 18 weeks.”

Even if Walker’s baby were born safely, she likely would have died shortly after birth. Walker said that getting an abortion wasn’t easy, and she felt shamed for doing so.

“Unfortunately, because of the state regulation, they actually try to talk you out of having the abortion while you're there,” said Walker. “It's not that they're callous or anything, because lord knows those care providers were so compassionate and so caring to me, but they asked me six times during the procedure time if I wanted to have the abortion.”

At Saturday’s rally, many expressed fear for the future of reproductive rights in the nation. Hannah, who is 14, said she’s been really stressed by the potential of abortion bans.

Hannah said she grew up being sexually abused in her home. Although the abuse stopped last year, her abuser did not go to jail.

“If I started my period any earlier than 13 years old, which thankfully I started at 14, very recently, I could have gotten pregnant and I possibly couldn't have had an option to get an abortion,” Hannah said. “I would've had to have a rapist baby.”

Missouri’s 2019 abortion ban does not include exceptions for rape or incest.

“I want other little girls like me to be safe in their homes. Like, because I wasn't, I want others to be,” Hannah said. “It's so traumatic just to be alive afterwards. It just sucks. I don't want anyone to go through it.”

Bek Shackelford-Nwanganga reports on health disparities in access and health outcomes in both rural and urban areas.
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